Internet and Entrepreneurship: How Internet Has Driven Down the Cost of Starting and Building Business
Welcome to our new series Possible If You Want, powered by Grameenphone, exploring the power and possibilities of the internet. Over the perhaps last 20 years, the internet has reshaped our world. Today, we communicate and connect differently. We shop and consume differently. We build companies and solve problems differently. The internet has penetrated and transformed almost every area of our lives.
This series is about our innate possibilities, the power of the internet, and what happens when we bridge the two. We’ll be interviewing some of the country’s successful technology entrepreneurs and learn about their vision, their take on the power and possibilities of the internet, how they personally and their businesses use technology to tackle some of the pressing problems of our society and much more.
All the stories will be exclusively published in Future Startup and you can find them here.
Thanks to the ubiquitous availability of smartphones and access to mobile internet across the country, we are entering a new phase of internet, where internet is no more about access alone, it becomes a tool for creation and entrepreneurship.
Over the past two decades, the Internet has transformed both our individual lives and businesses. Internet companies have become dominant across verticals. Today, some of the highest valued companies in the world are internet companies. At the same time, the internet has empowered individuals to access and pursue opportunities that were not accessible to individuals before. In Bangladesh, ubiquitous access to mobile phones and mobile internet has amplified this transformation.
This new reality is now changing many other areas of our lives and business.
Until now, the internet has largely been used for access and consumption. Mobile operators such as Grameenphone have played a critical role in enabling access to the internet for a large number of people. We are, however, entering a new phase of the internet where the internet is being used for creation. In the coming years, access to the internet will not mean much anymore, thanks to the ever-decreasing price of smartphones and mobile internet, but the impact of the internet will far exceed what we can imagine today.
The past decades were about access to the internet. Companies like Facebook and Google and Grameenphone are basically about access to the internet and internet services. We have seen the rise of ecommerce, ride-hailing, and other consumer tech services in Bangladesh in the past years.
More and more people today are accessing the internet and internet-enabled services. The smartphone revolution over the past decade has made access easier for people across regions. Today, some 99 million people have access to the internet in Bangladesh (BTRC, 2020), thanks to the ubiquitous availability of mobile phones and mobile internet across the country.
Until now, the internet has largely been used for access and consumption. Mobile operators such as Grameenphone have played a critical role in enabling access to the internet for a large number of people. We are, however, entering a new phase of the internet where the internet is being used for creation.
Internet and creation
Access to the internet has now come to a point where we are increasingly getting into the deployment phase of the internet.
People making live shows from their living room on Facebook Lives and women making TikTok videos are glimpses of the future of internet-enabled creation and the power of individual creators.
Today, we have influencers on social media platforms and stars on TikTok.
Internet’s Deployment Phase: Broadly speaking, you can divide the internet age into two phases: penetration and deployment. Penetration is about bringing people on the internet. Deployment is two things: 1) about developing and offering services and products and solutions to the people who are on the internet. 2) people creating and building new services and solutions using the power of the internet.
Although we have a long way to go to bring everyone in Bangladesh on the internet, the growth has been consistent.
If you look into the two phases of the internet age – 1) penetration or bringing people on the internet 2) deployment – building services and solutions for these users – we are on both sides of the spectrum. Bangladesh already has a user base that needs services and solutions on the internet. Building for these users and using the power of the internet offers an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Internet, entrepreneurship, and individuality
The internet has driven down the cost of starting companies. Today, you can use a no-code web builder to build a website, AWS for hosting, digital distribution channels for distribution, and go on to build your venture. Starting a business has never been this easy or inexpensive. It has never been this inclusive either.
On Facebook, you can create a page using which you can share knowledge, build an audience, and sell products. A growing number of people, who have something worth sharing and disseminate or sell, are doing it and thus creating opportunities for them.
There are online education platforms today such as Skillshare and Bohubrihi that allow independent professionals and teachers to create courses, sell them, and make money out of it. Bohubrihi does all the work – providing the creators with equipment to prepare courses, market the courses, and sell them. Creators only create the courses and in turn earn revenues.
There are other platforms such as Substack that allows people to create email newsletters and monetize them through paid subscriptions. There are now newsletters run by individuals that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.
Individual writers today can monetize their writing across mediums. Mediums, the platform for online writing, are now allowing writers to make money by putting their work under a paywall. In fact, independent writers and bloggers are making money through both subscriptions and donations.
Take, for example, Stratechery, the paid newsletter written by inimitable Ben Thompson. The newsletter and blog draw millions of readers and the newsletter has thousands of paid subscribers turning Ben Thompson into one of the most influential technology analysts in the world.
Maria Popova, one of my favorite authors on the internet, runs Brain Pickings, a blog, all alone. Brain Pickings draws millions of views every month and is considered one of the most intellectually rich online destinations for intellectually curious people. Popova takes donations and now organizes ticketed events.
Then there are YouTube stars. Popular video content creators on Google’s video platform now generate hundreds of thousands in revenue.
The Internet empowers individual creators like never before. You have some unique skills, the internet enables you to effectively monetize it. You can build an audience and monetize in more than one way.
There are paid subscriptions where users pay a fee for accessing creations of a creator. Over the past years, the subscription has become one of the hot trends across verticals. It is not a hot trend yet in Bangladesh but it will be soon.
Then there are donations. You can ask your audience to pay some amount of donation and there are examples of that as well.
There are examples of generating revenue through advertising. There are examples of selling skills and services such as online courses.
The internet has driven down the cost of starting companies. Today, you can use a no-code web builder to build a website, AWS for hosting, digital distribution channels for distribution, and go on to build your venture. Starting a business has never been this easy or inexpensive.
Everyone is a broadcaster
The reflection of this reality that everyone with some skill can create, directly reach an audience, and eventually take a shot at monetization in some way has never been clearer in Bangladesh than during this pandemic in the form of live shows on Facebook and YouTube and Zoom Webinars.
The number of people running some sort of online show amid the lockdown is likely to surpass the number of people watching these shows. This is a testament to the power the internet offers to individuals with something to share. All you need is a smartphone with an internet connection.
It is a reality that not all of these shows are worth watching and will eventually survive but some of them will. More importantly, it tells about an opportunity the internet offers to individual creators that you can create and reach an audience. Now some of these shows that we are seeing amid the pandemic will survive and are likely to pick up speed and turn into something bigger eventually.
It reflects a clear shift in how we access information in a world where the internet dominates access, empowers individuals, and the power of old institutions such as newspapers who acted as gatekeepers in the past is in decline.
Today, the sources of information are fragmented and no one has a monopoly over access to the audience. Creators today no longer require to rely on old gatekeepers to reach an audience or monetize. They can simply do it themselves.
Internet and niche
In 2008, Wired magazine’s founding editor Kevin Kelly published what now a widely referenced article on the power of the internet and niche titled 1,000 true fans where Kelly explained “To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients, or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
Kelly showed that the internet allows creators to build direct relationships with their users and that in order to build a viable operation one does not need a million users but a thousand who would be willing to pay for the products and services of the creators.
A16Z’s Li Jin goes further. In a recent article, she suggests that 100 true fans should be enough to begin your journey as an independent creator in the age of the internet.
The Internet not only allows niche, it empowers small groups. The internet is good at empowering niche because it can better enable discovery. This is yet another example of how the internet is increasingly powering individuals to pursue their individual creativity and make a living out of it.
Take, for instance, on Substack there are successful newsletters on running marathons, on China matters, and on many other niches and small topics that do not interest a large audience but still these newsletters attract a sizable audience because on the internet people can easily find their tribes.
What to do
What can you make out of this knowledge? If you are someone with some unique skill, you can try monetizing your skill using the direct to consumer power of the internet. You can make art and reach your audience. You can create podcasts and distribute directly to your listeners. You can create videos and directly reach your viewers.
1. Find worth sharing skills or ideas: Pay attention and find your worth sharing ideas and skills.
2. Identify your niche: Identify your niche and create for them. Don’t make art for everyone. Of course not for a large audience on day one. Make art for your people. Your tribe as Seth Godin puts it. When you make art for your people, you stand for something, you have a distinct voice that your people will recognize and identify with and that will help your tribe to find you out.
3. Own your content: Owning your content is important on the internet. Does not matter where you share your art, make sure you own your content.
4. Aim for mastery: If you are a writer or a painter or an analyst, or a podcaster aim for mastering what you are doing. If you are making a podcast on farming, aim to be the best at what you do. So much of what you find on the internet is crap that anything good often receives huge attention. Good works are almost always scarce.
- The Internet empowers individual creators. It does so by the means of convergence of three essential powers: 1) allowing individuals to directly reach an audience 2) allowing individuals to directly monetize their audience 3) empowering niche through a means of better discovery. On the internet, there is no small topic or a small group. Everyone has their own tribes. This is fundamental to the nature of the internet and allows individuals to monetize their skills no matter how niche their skills are.
- This trend is about to unleash a new torrent of entrepreneurship and innovation. In the coming years, more and more people will be able to monetize their skills.
- We are seeing the rise of a new breed of platforms empowering these individual creators.
The sheer number of live video shows on Facebook in the past few months amid the pandemic drew the ire of many people on the internet. It is true many of these shows are seldom a result of deliberate thoughts and planning and many would not last long. However, chances are there that some of these shows will survive and turn into something meaningful even beyond pandemic. Most importantly, these shows prove the point that the internet enables individual creators to create more freely and reach an audience that has never happened in the past.
Links and books
The following suggestions are useful for learning more about the new age of individual creators and how internet is enabling creators to monetize their skills:
- 1,000 True Fans
- 1,000 True Fans? Try 100
- Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis
Photo credit: Cover photo by G&R