It makes my day when I receive an email from someone who says something like, “I’ve been a fan since the first video!” It’s hard to believe that was in 2007, over 13 years ago.
At the time, we were new and different. Our style of videos attracted attention just as YouTube was becoming a major player and people were becoming curious about social media. The viral success of those first videos, RSS in Plain English and Wikis in Plain English, took us by surprise and changed our trajectory. Starting then, we became known as video producers and explainers, despite having no prior experience.
While Common Craft has covered a lot of ground over the years, our story is really about what hasn’t changed. In many ways, Common Craft is the same company it was in 2007. We are still a husband and wife team who works from home and produces explainer videos. We’ve never had employees and don’t plan to. We’ve never had formal office space or investors or a board of directors. Those are things we chose not to have.
You might assume that being in the creative business means we are focused on our craft and our business is an afterthought. This perception looks even more convincing knowing that we don’t have employees and work from home. To a business-minded person, we probably don’t appear serious about our business because we haven’t grown. I get it. That’s how success is supposed to be measured in the business world.
The reality, our reality, is that we are entrepreneurial, but playing a new and different game with different goals. Over the last decade, we’ve experimented with a number of business models, including creative services, licensing, a marketplace, distribution partnerships, online courses, and a subscription service. That’s the game. We are small, agile, and entrepreneurial enough to test what’s possible and discover ways to do business that reflect who we are. We serve a relatively small audience that supports us.
The question becomes: Who are we?
Sachi and I are very different people who share a similar view of the world and our place in it. That view is based, in part, on the idea that we can decide who we are and want to become. We can choose to live unconventionally and run our business in whatever form we want, as long as we can support ourselves and keep our customers smiling. We have choices and that’s the revelation. We all have more choices than we realize.
At the heart of this perspective is a belief that too many people live their lives according to the expectations of others, whether it’s family, peers, or society at large. These expectations, which can be helpful and productive, also serve as blinders that prevent new ideas from seeming reasonable and possible. They keep us focused on what’s normal and proven.
Early on, we decided to ditch the blinders and devote ourselves to living the lives and running the business that reflected our values and what we alone thought was possible.
That’s why we’ve remained small. We wanted a business that could be a laboratory. We believed, because of the internet, that two people could design a business that solves a problem for a global audience without sacrificing our happiness, health, and autonomy. That has been our goal for a decade and we’re closer than ever to reaching it.
Today, Common Craft operates according to our own design. The company is a membership service for educators who teach technology and digital responsibility. Educators and organizations become members of Common Craft to use our library of videos and downloadable visuals, which are digital products that scale easily. This model means that we own and manage every part of the business; our website, our videos, our members, our income, our time, from our home. I personally feel this is the future of business. Small, agile, and scalable.
I hope that our story can serve as inspiration. We don’t have to do what business culture says we’re supposed to do. All the expectations and obligations you feel may be blinding you and putting you in the same box with everyone else. If that’s where you’re comfortable, that’s great. But if you’re ready to take off the blinders and test what’s possible, then we’re here to be a model.
In September, I’ll publish a book called Big Enough – Building a Business that Scales with Your Lifestyle. It’s a guide to building an unconventional business that values more than the bottom line. It tells the story of Common Craft over a decade and all the experiments we ran in search of the life and work we wanted.
If you’d like to read a sample chapter and be notified when the book arrives, you can sign up here.