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Ask HN: How to change the world with no profit model
21 points by tswicegood on Jan 14, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 17 comments
I just had one of those amazing ideas. You know the kind. Song birds sing a little louder (or maybe quieter in your perfect world). The sun always shines and it's 76ยบ F with no wind. All after this idea is put into practice.

Here's the hitch -- it'd be impossible to make money off of. Seriously. It's a decentralized system. I could position myself as a main aggregator, the go to source for information about this system, but by its very nature others could try to do the same.

So... to my question. Should you follow an idea that's literally world changing if you realize right up front that ever making money (not even a profit, just bringing money in the door) is, if not impossible, at least very hard?

This is almost exactly what an open source software foundation does. For example, consider the Apache Software Foundation. The Apache web server and the other projects they work on provide massive amounts of value to the world, but they don't sell them. It is sustained through donations, I believe, and it seems to be working just fine for them.

Without knowing more about your idea, how can we judge whether it's worth it to follow through with it?

What makes you think the idea is world changing and that you can execute on it well enough to change the world? If it's not going to make you rich, you might as well post it here and see if anyone else has an idea for monetizing or scaling.

Think about bittorrent. They are making money. Check it out http://www.bittorrent.com/ Just because you are decentralized does not mean you cannot control the tunnel! And if you change the word, there will be lots of job offers. Think about the founder of the internet, he certainly won't ever have to worry about unemployment. Serve humanity and humanity will serve you. A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Good speed, and do not listen to the naysayers. I have set out on an amazing journey myself, and the more I depanded from the universe - by giving away what I had to give of my talent- the more I got back. Not that you should go hungry. You can manage in balance.

I hope you don't mind, I used your comment (with credit) in my blog post response to this question: http://devgrow.com/profiting-from-non-profits-theres-always-...

The gist of my argument is basically the same - there are several examples of people developing game-changing ideas that have no real business model, yet they are still able to profit it from them in some form or another.

By all means, information wants to befree.Though"depanded"shouldbe fixed to "demanded"

This is probably one of the best use cases for open source. You can try to change the world, and if you can convince other people that you're going in the right direction you may just get tons of invaluable help.

I think you should follow on it, or if you don't have the time to do that without a decent monetary outcome, at the very least open up the idea, in this thread or another. See if it resonates with people. If so then let's get started, and then see what comes out of it.

I think there are ways to monetize anything, you just have to figure out how. This is something I have struggled with for years and I have done a lot of volunteer work in my life and read up on fundraising. "Not for profit" work does not mean there is no money involved. It is a different means to fund it and there are different priorities involved, but unless you want your project dying on the vine for lack of money, you need to look at possible ways to monetize it, even if it isn't well-suited to a for-profit/business model. However, I think to a large degree, for many things, that is a matter of choice.

TV: Sells ads Cable: Sells channels

Radio: Sells ads Satellite radio: Sells subscriptions

Medical care: Lots of not-for-profit hospitals and foundations out there. Medical care: Lots of for-profit doctors, dentists, physical therapists, etc. out there.

And so forth.

EDIT: Please note I say this as someone who has been giving away life-changing/world-altering advice for years and has spent time hanging out with others who have been giving away their work for free for a long time. From what I have seen, those folks are mostly pretty bitter about it and the services they offer are seriously constrained by the lack of funds. I decided at some point I will make a profit at it or do something else. Nothing else makes long-term sense. It just isn't viable otherwise.


If your idea is going to change the world for the better and has zero economic value to you, perhaps you'd like to share it with us...

If it's world changing, has no conceivable means of profit and has a cost (even a cost of your time) you can ask for donations. If it's world changing and doesn't, then it's win-win.

In most cases like this, the original creator will be always be the "authoritative" source, so unless you really screw that up, you'll always have an advantage over others who try to profit from your work.

It's important to find some way to get money from this project - otherwise it will just end up as another abandoned half-finished open source project that you don't have time to continue work on and gets prioritized behind other work that puts food on the table.

Maybe you can think a little outside the box and try to get sponsorships directly from companies who are more friendly towards open source projects and communities? Find a way to pitch the idea to a bunch of individuals and companies who might donate and see where it goes.

Tell that to Tim Berners-Lee. Last I checked he was not a gazillionaire

While TBL may not be a gazillionaire, he makes money because of WWW so he's not a counter example to the "figure out how to get money" suggestion.

If there's no profit involved, you could probably share the idea and gauge feedback that way.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2006 Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank



Just merely that you have the thought of a business model in the back of your head. Is going to affect how you build this.

Yes, if you can figure out how to eat while you're creating it.

So it's like the Internet? That's been done :)

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