Code is Easy. Money is Hard.

Another autumn, another new blog. This time it was a requirement for a school program.

So far, it has been focused on the problems of learning a new programming environment, language, blogging platform, and how all the pieces fit together from a technical perspective. But that is not the point of the program, and I would be sadly mistaken to think that because things are going well on that front, I’ve got it licked.

This is a startup immersion intensive. The goal is not for us to be competent developers, it is for us to become tech startup founders. This is an entirely different problem, and it hits my terror points pretty hard.

A long time ago, I alluded to a post I wasn’t writing. Then I didn’t write it. Then I didn’t write anything for a long, long time. And what I wasn’t writing about was…

can I whisper this? (… money)

We haven’t gotten to the business part yet, except in an “Intro to Canadian Business” course at the university, but I can see it on the horizon. I’ve already identified it as my most likely point of failure, on account of… it’s been a consistent point of failure in my previous attempts to start any kind of business, no matter how small. Money, to put it bluntly, freaks me out.

I’ve done end runs around this. I’ve set up my financial systems so that the bills get paid automatically, so that I only have to touch them occasionally. But every time that something needs to be adjusted, or something as simple as a cheque needs to be be cashed, I delay and avoid. This applies as much (or maybe more) to money I have as to money I owe. I’m pretty good at making sure that everything is paid. But I suck at things like monitoring investments, or even reading the reports. I’m sort of… um… embarrassed to need it. Certainly embarrassed to want any more than the bare necessities. It’s a stand-in for resources and access to resources, and in a world in which the distribution of resources is so blatantly unequal, I’m embarrassed about taking more than my fair share.

This is my starting point… and it’s more than mere embarrassment. I have deep shame around this issue. It’s not personal shame; it’s the shame of a class. When I have so much, how can I ask for more? And this is where I have found myself for years. Isn’t this (whatever it is) good enough?

So let us assume that I’ve considered that perspective. Given it a good thrashing about, shall we say? Gone at it from a million directions, found that with the perspective of myself as an individual, it’s got a good point. Certainly what I have now is good enough. My roof has been replaced, and the windows don’t leak. Barring unforeseen disaster, we shall be able to keep the cars on the road, everybody fed, and the house heated through the winter. The income is higher than the outgo. And I can even go visit my friends from time to time.

Life is good.

But my perspective may be wrong.

Warning: Rocks Ahead

Now, bear with me, because for this next section we must tread perilously close to trickle-down economics and the divine right of rulers, and I don’t want us to trip and fall upon those particular rocks. But let me propose (and I’ve been thinking about this a while) that it’s not about me.

This summer, one of my friends said to me, “We need people like you to have money and power.” It was part of a larger conversation, but the gist of it was that when those of us who are educated, skilled and dedicated to The Good Work (in whatever guise) don’t learn how to gather sufficient resources, The Work goes undone. Or it is done in snatched “spare” minutes. Or it is done with construction and tissue paper and then stacked up against billion dollar marketing budgets. It may be done joyfully, exuberantly and with a sense of beauty and community. But it is also done on the backs of unpaid interns, overworked staff members, and overextended volunteers. And in the face of the enormity of the resources arrayed in support of the status quo, our work for change frequently looks and feels absurd.

I’ve been hearing this, and ideas like it, for years. But this time it was said in sacred space, in an open truth-speaking community, and I heard it: This is not about you. It is not about your ego. It is not about you claiming resources. It is about using what you know to gather the resources to get this work done. It is about joining a community of people who want permaculture and social justice and environmental responsibility to be the foundation upon which their society is built, not fringe extras.

And right now, with so much of the planet in private hands, that means money. It means getting past your (my) squeamishness. It means taking responsibility for a larger piece of the world, possibly for a piece of the world larger than you can currently envision. This is my current challenge, much larger than deploying a chat server.

So, I’ve also been taking courses on getting good with money, on a deeper level than “being able to move it around and keep your household afloat”. A couple of years ago, I took Heart of Money from Mark Silver. This got me a fair distance along, but I needed to take several passes at it. Prior to that I took Tara Sophia Mohr’s Playing Big program, which was where I first realized that I could not become successful at anything else as long at the money thing was holding me back. I’m currently taking an (even more challenging) program that links money, sexuality, and power, but we’ll leave those thorny questions for another day.

The most concrete exercise I’ve done recently was part of the first session of Alexis Neely’s Money Map to Freedom course. (Accelerated version!) What I’m liking here is that she points out that what you think you need and what you actually need might be far apart – and that you should be aiming for the life you (really, really, really REALLY) want, not the one you think you’re supposed to want. In my case, I’m pretty happy with the size and style of my house. I don’t want a fancier car or a big sailboat. I want more time for gardening in the summer, more time for work in the winter, regular trips to visit friends and family and one cool vacation per year. I don’t really need to be a millionaire for any of that. In fact, I’ve pretty much got that. This was validating.

But her question isn’t “What do you need to live on?” It is “What resources do you need to be of service?”

That is more daunting. It demands a certain amount of… arrogance? Self-confidence, at the least. “My work (over here) is too valuable for me to be spending my time on administrative tasks. I need (eventually) to earn enough to be able to hire an assistant.” I can hire a housekeeper. (They will almost certainly do a better job than me.) I can’t hire somebody to be my startup founder. That’s my job.

I ran a very first pass at “what does a budget look like with employees”, and the number at the bottom was staggering. Outsourcing design, hiring some dev, a single full-time (not very well paid) employee, office space, phone, internet, real marketing, conference travel, appropriate current technology, taxes, health insurance, legal fees, accounting services, plus still being able to keep my house and family in the manner to which we have become accustomed (that is, with a not-leaking roof, heat in the winter, a car that runs, regular trips to the grocery store and occasional trips to visit friends and family). I went back up the list, double checked my assumptions. Some of them were high, but not insanely so. I suspect some of them were much too low.

$42,000 per month. $504,000 per year.

I hyperventilated. My shoulder spasmed. And then I said: Right. That’s my task then. I’ve got to be able to deal with that number before I try to talk to anybody about money. Because you can’t go into an investor meeting and say, “We’re… um… projecting, 6. Um. Million. Dollars (uptick in voice) in revenue?”

(This came about from the exercises in Alexis Neely’s accelerated Money Map to Freedom, which she is currently running over 2 weeks for free. The full program is 6 months long and costs $4000, but the nuts and bolts are here:

One response to “Code is Easy. Money is Hard.”

  1. Your friend is right. Working in the not-for-profit industry for 2 years now has taught me in no uncertain terms that doing GOOD work takes real money and real resources and no amount of “because it’s a good cause” pries that out of other people’s hands as a general rule. If you have to deal with business people, and at the end of that day, that’s who you WILL be dealing with, you’ll have to be able to make real business cases for why their money should be with you. Changing hearts & minds takes time and time takes money and not so much ego and arrogance as the sheer bloody-minded determination to get there. You NEED to believe in what you’re doing and be wiling to do the work to get there.

    Or you need to accept that you’re not the one who wants to really change the world and just go about your life living the way you want to.

    Either is okay. The former gets more done but by holy hannah, it’s harder.