Ya On Point About The Help Machine’s Plan for a Better World

TL;DR – In this post, I explain why The Help Machine is making Thigment videos, the big ideas behind it, and how successful media could mean funding for other non-profits into the 22nd century.

Sometimes, people ask me to explain the approach I’m taking with The Help Machine. Essentially, a kind of product roadmap. If I was to sum it up, this the overall approach.

  • Make loveable characters that Help people
  • Build a big YouTube audience
  • Give as much money as possible with the money the company earns to causes that matter
  • If the media is successful, then the Help Machine can help people until the 22nd century with the stuff that’s created

Everything that follows is a summarized elaboration of how I came up with that approach. It’s an elaboration, because it lays out how I came to the above. It’s a summary, because each elaboration is a summary of lots of spreadsheets, documents, research, business plans, marketing plans, and more.

Read on if you want to know more!

  • Please Steal This Idea: Altruistic Media
  • Observations about Media, Non-Profits and More …
    • Non-Profits in the United States need to derive 33% of their income from donations
    • Media Franchises are some of the most profitable ventures on Earth.
    • Author Copyrights last for 70 years after the death of the author …
    • Individuals are bound by their conscience, companies are bound by their corporate charters …
    • Benefits companies build altruism into their business models
  • The Strategy …
  • Production Conditions
    • Media is a tough, strange business
    • I know how to make media, but not yet how to achieve big success …
    • YouTube is competitive, but is forgiving of iterative content. In fact, it requires it.
  • The Tactics …
  • The Market …
  • Putting it all together
  • What Did I Learn to make sure the Help Machine Stays On Point?

Please Steal This Idea: Altruistic Media 

I think one thing that worries a lot of artists is the idea of someone stealing or copying your ideas. I don’t know why, but I never worry about that. In fact, the core idea of The Help Machine is something I want other people to steal. That core idea is the notion of creating successful, profitable media, that funds programs to help other people. If you can create something meaningful, magical, and enduring in media, that creation can earn income for decades. If you can, in turn, guarantee that some of that income is going to help other people, that means you can fund programs that make the world a better place for the same amount of time. That’s the big dream at the heart of The Help Machine, the idea of making media that helps make the world a better place for everyone.

One of the primary reasons why I want The Help Machine to succeed is that I want to show that the model, of building altruism into the business of the media a company creates, is possible, desirable, and replicable. That’s part of the dream; with wild success can come imitators. And if people knew that this was possible, it could become the norm in the media business, and for artists around the world.

The goal, my life’s work, became clear.

GOAL: Build a successful, for-profit media company based on original characters and concepts as a way to perpetually fund programs that do good in the world. 

I came to this conclusion after some key observations about media, non-profits, and more …

Observations about Media, Non-Profits and More …

Non-Profits in the United States need to derive 33% of their income from donations

Non-Profits need to derive 33% of their income from donations. The more successful a non-profit is, the more donations it needs in order to maintain status. The purpose of a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation is to do public good. Think of Sesame Street. They are a non-profit, and they intend to do good, like many other non-profit corporations. Most people would agree that through their programming, through the things they fund and do, that Sesame Street fulfills that mission.

What most people don’t realize, though, is that success for a non-profit can be a double-edged sword. No matter how much we love Sesame Street, their success has a hidden price. Like, if Sesame Street made $200 million in a year from the licenses on its characters, it needs to ensure that it also gets ~$100 million in donations. Just because we love them, they are not exempt from that need to derive 33% of their income from donations.

Imagine the pressure at that company. Every year, the more successful they are, the more donations they need. Imagine if you’re a successful company. People would think it’s bizarre that a non-profit corporation that can earn so much revenue still needs money.

It’s the law. A non-profit corporation that doesn’t meet that quota can permanently lose that non-profit status. Imagine the public reaction if the United Way announced they were losing their non-profit status, due to lack of donations. Most of the public probably wouldn’t understand that.

Observation: Non-Profits are required to do good with their profits, but need to generate at least 33% of their income from donations, every year. The more successful a non-profit is outside of donated income, the more pressure it places on the non-profit to get donations.

Media Franchises are some of the most profitable ventures on Earth.

Some of the most profitable ventures on Earth are media franchises. Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, The Muppets … a long list. Disney purchased Star Wars from George Lucas for $5 Billion!

Observation: Media is incredibly lucrative!

Author Copyrights last for 70 years after the death of the author …

Copyright, and the libraries that companies build, are a key to that largesse. In the present, copyright lasts a long time. If a single person (or in some cases multiple individuals) are recognized as the author of a work, the copyright on that work lasts until 70 years after the day they died. If a company is recognized as the author of a work, then the copyright lasts for 70 years from the date of publication. For a lot of media companies, it’s in their best interest to identify a single creator or author for certain works. Like, Superman is one of the most recognized characters on Earth. The copyright on Superman will last until at least 2033; if copyright protections are extended again, it could last even longer.

Observation: Copyright laws mean that a successful media property can earn income exclusively for the holder of the copyright for at least a century in many cases.

Individuals are bound by their conscience, companies are bound by their corporate charters …

When Disney bough Star Wars from George Lucas for $5 billion, he decided to use some of his new wealth to build low-income housing. Disney will try to maximize the profit they earn from the property, because it’s bound by its corporate charter and governance to do so. Disney’s board of directors, it’s public charter, it’s status as a for-profit venture requires that it make as much money as possible, within the confines that it operates. While Disney does donate to public good, and arguably, it’s content is also a public good itself, there is nothing in the DNA of Disney that requires they do public good.

George Lucas altruism, though, is whimsical in a sense. Luckily, he’s a man of conscience, and does do the right thing (despite what some fans may think). So in the particular with George Lucas, he’ll do the right thing. It’s his money, to do with as he pleases. Luckily, that includes altruism.

But, if George Lucas had a different character, if he had no conscience, there’d be nothing to bind him to his commitment to low-income house. Suppose he decided instead to build a giant statue of Darth Vader on his property? Or decided, no, I want to build hotrods. It’s his right to do so. He’s not bound by a charter, a board of directors, or anyone. While he might get some criticism in the media for such an action, in the end, people would see it as perfectly reasonable.

Observation: For-Profit Media companies are not required to do good with their profits, but are bound by their charters and Boards. Individuals may do good, but are only bound by their conscience.

Benefits companies build altruism into their business models

Newman’s Own, Warby Parker, Tom’s Shoes, Method, there are all familiar, well-known brands. The business model they follow is called a ‘Benefit Corporation.’ In this concept, a for-profit venture builds charitable giving directly into businesses. Like, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses for every pair purchased, and has other rules about giving. The company is bound by their governance to do so.

Sesame Street, while not a benefit corporation, follows a similar model, via non-profits. However, as noted, they are in a quarter-by-quarter, year-by-year bind. While the licenses on their characters and media generate income, they still need to guarantee 33% of their revenue comes in from donations.

A company like Warby Parker, however, has no such restriction. It’s restriction works in a different way; namely, they are obligated to donate income and material based on their charter. Thus, the more income Warby Parker earns, the more good it’s obligated to do.

Observation: Benefit Companies can build altruism into their business models, and into their operating documents, which obligates them to do good with some of their profits. The more profit they earn, the more good they do.

The Strategy …

If you put those observations together, a picture becomes crystal clear …

  • Non-Profits are required to do good with their profits, but need to generate at least 33% of their income from donations, every year. The more successful a non-profit is outside of donated income, the more pressure it places on the non-profit to get donations.
  • Media is incredibly lucrative!
  • Copyright laws mean that a successful media property can earn income exclusively for the holder of the copyright for at least a century in many cases.
  • For-Profit Media companies are not required to do good with their profits, but are bound by their charters and Boards. Individuals may do good, but are only bound by their conscience.
  • Benefit Companies can build altruism into their business models, and into their operating documents, which obligates them to do good with some of their profits. The more profit they earn, the more good they do.

So, okay, from those observations, you can see a simple strategy emerge …

Strategy: If I develop a media franchise with mass market appeal through a company with altruistic principles built into it, then I can successfully generate income for at least a century for worthy causes.

Ok, cool. If I want to make the idea happen, all I have to do is, like, create the next Muppets, or Superman, or Star Wars, or holy cow. Am I nuts? What kind of hubris must a person have to think such a thing is possible?

You have to have the right kind of hubris. You have to know that it’s possible. You have to reach for it, and go for it. You have to be the right kind of humble. The kind of humble where inside, you are constantly trying to get better at what you do, try new things, fail, learn, and keep going. The kind of humble where outside, you go ahead and be brave, and tell people, “Here are the things I think I’m great at!” And the kind of humble where you know you can always get better, if you work it enough, and believe, and work, and practice, and work some more.

Am I nuts?

Yes. Yes I am. It’s possible to do it. Anyone can do it. With the right luck, and mindset, that strategy is possible for anyone to execute.

Including me, and anyone who comes along. In fact, there’s never been a better time than now to try.

Conditions

There’s a series of things I have to keep in mind about trying to execute that Strategy, and thus achieve the big dream.

Media is a tough, strange business

Making successful media is difficult! But also, not impossible. Sometimes it takes decades. Sometimes it happens right away! And sometimes it fails, and fails big. And sometimes, a media property ‘fails’ when it first comes out, but then over time, makes money back.

Like, here’s some facts I know about some of the aforementioned famous media properties.

  • The Muppets took twenty years to develop into a TV series
  • Sesame Street was a huge success when it debuted, which enabled The Henson Company and the Children’s Television Workshop to branch out into other works
  • Star Wars came from the inability of Lucas and company to obtain the rights to Flash Gordon, but Star Wars was a nearly instant hit
  • The author of Rope Burns, the book that spawned Million Dollar Baby, was over 70 before the book was published.
  • Waterworld was a 90s era film that cost $175 million, and earned $263 million in global box office the year it was produced
  • Titanic was a 90s era film that cost $200 million, and earned $2,163 million (or $2.163 billion) in global box office the year it was produced

Condition: Media success is unpredictable, and failures can be expensive

I know how to make media, but not yet how to achieve big success …

I have expertise putting down cameras, organizing productions, and making things. Through stuff I’ve made over the years, I have expertise in short form content (from commercials to other video shorts). My friends have helped me make these things over the years, including some very talented artists who offered incredible help! Machines, a short film I made in 2001, has screened in film festivals around the world. Safety Folder, a comedy short film my friends and I created, also has screened at festivals. I made a short film called ‘Voicemail Revenge’ that won the ‘Guerilla Filmmaking Award’ at a 24 hour film festival. I’ve produced commercials. I’ve acted, even winning a small acting award in Vancouver, B.C. for a monologue I created, a long time ago.

But, I haven’t made a big feature film. I haven’t created a lasting character with impact. I’ve earned money creating industrial and commercial work, but not with entertainment. I’ve written lots of screenplays, plays, short films, created characters, written comics, but no one has paid for any of it.

So, that’s the reality. I’m not a famous creator. But, I know that media is unpredictable, to a certain extent. While it sounds Quixotic, there’s a truth to the idea that stopping the creation of art is the only sure-fire way to stop the possibility of financial success. In other words, if you stop trying, you end the possibility of success.

I know a lot about writing, scripting, characters, performance, directing and producing. Enough to know, I shouldn’t try to do it all myself, but also enough to know that if I needed to, I could. I could start with just me.

Condition: I have success and expertise with the production of short form content, but am certainly not big, famous, or wildly successful at it. Yet. I know enough about how to make things that I can try, on my own, first. As long as I keep trying, I have a chance at success.

YouTube is competitive, but is forgiving of iterative content. In fact, it requires it.

If you look at YouTube from a distance, it looks like a platform where the most successful people on it found ‘instant’ fame and fortune. There are some true overnight successes on YouTube. Think of PewDiePie. He worked for a year or two, built up a huge audience, which then built into an even bigger audience! It happened within the span of a few years, not a few decades. Lisa Nova worked for years before she found a large audience, but once she found it, she built (along with her brother) the successful Make Network (which was later sold to Disney for record profits). There’s also Hosea Jan Frank (aka zefrank1), who vlogged before YouTube, worked on the platform since it’s inception, and only found success in the last few years after developing the ‘True Facts …’ series of videos. Those are the ones that feature a narrator that sounds like Morgan Freeman talking about some amazing, humorously described true facts.

In other words, it’s just like any media property. Unpredictable. But also, accessible. You don’t need millions of dollars to build an audience. You can spend millions, and find no one. While the platform is growing in terms of paid content and long-form content, it still supports short-form. You can produce interesting work, and start as an artist of one.

Condition: YouTube is a great platform for hosting short form content, experimenting, and building audience at low-cost.

The Tactics …

If you put those conditions together, and filter them through The Strategy, another picture emerges …

  • Media success is unpredictable, and failures can be expensive
  • I have success and expertise with the production of short form content, but am certainly not big, famous, or wildly successful at it. Yet. I know enough about how to make things that I can try, on my own, first. As long as I keep trying, I have a chance at success.
  • YouTube is a great platform for hosting short form content, experimenting, and building audience at low-cost.Non-Profits are required to do good with their profits, but need to generate at least 33% of their income from donations, every year. The more successful a non-profit is outside of donated income, the more pressure it places on the non-profit to get donations.

Tactics: Use what you know about short form creation to iterate content on YouTube

The Market …

With that in mind, I looked for market. And I realized something. There are multiple markets that could be served with neat, short-form content delivered by some cool characters.

There are a lot of parents want their children to be kind, moral, compassionate, happy and successful. They are less concerned about religion and dogma, and are more concerned about universal human truths they want their children to learn. They may not be able to monitor all the content choices their children are making, due to lack of time. The media content their children are consuming are undermining their goals for their children. They need help from people they can trust to meet these goals. They need help from media that reinforces the values they want their children to attain. We could make that media.

There are hipsters, who want to find new, kitschy content, that love to engage with and watch children’s media (like Steven Universe, Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, My Little Pony’s Friendship is Magic, and more). They need help finding light entertainment to relieve stress and create enjoyment. We could make that media.

There are technology workers who want to understand software development tools. Most of the content made for them is fairly dry, and not particularly interesting. They need helpful media that teaches them how to use those tools. With all the experience gained in the software industry over the years, we could make that media.

Children love adorable characters, as do their parents (sometimes!), and the aforementioned hipsters. Kawaii culture is big among tech professionals. So, that’s three groups that like adorable, funny, interesting characters.

I could use these market observations to build out some objectives at a strategic level. Namely, make content for the aforementioned people. How do I know that it’s working? Via some objectives.

  • Build an audience of 100,000 on YouTube.
  • Get there by building an audience of 100, 1000, 10000, then 100,000. And do it on my own timetable.

Putting it all together

If you put it all together, and summarize it, something emerges.

The goal is to build a successful, for-profit media company based on original characters and concepts as a way to perpetually fund programs that do good in the world.

The strategy to get there is to develop a media franchise with mass market appeal through a company with altruistic principles built into it, then I can successfully generate income for at least a century for worthy causes.

The objective is to build an audience of Parents, Hipsters and Technology Professionals of at least 100,000, and do so on my own timetable.

The best tactic to get there is to create short form, iterative content on YouTube featuring adorable, funny, interesting characters.

And something important to remember. People in my family tend to live to be very old. If I can live until I’m at least 80 years old, and my copyright last for 70 years after the date of my death, that means my copyrights would last until the early 22nd century. That’s an awful lot of good that some creative work can do, long after I’m gone.

Or, to put it even more simply, this is what The Help Machine is all about …

  • Make loveable characters that Help people
  • Build a big YouTube audience
  • Give as much money as possible with the money the company earns to causes that matter
  • If the media is successful, then the Help Machine can help people until the 22nd century with the stuff that’s created

What Did I Learn to make sure the Help Machine Stays On Point?

Writing this was a reminder about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how I’m doing it. Maybe the strategy and points are all crazy! Posting about it publicly lets people decide for themselves. I learned I can do that, and keep going. This also helped energize and remind me why I’m doing this. Writing the summary version of all the projections, business documents, and more, was clarifying!

Hopefully, it was interesting for you, too. And gave you something to chew on. Not literally. Unless you printed this and decided to chew on the paper. No judgement either way.

Important Stuff About Me That Is Important!

effdot

Fred Chong Rutherford, that’s me, has been working on the internet since the late 20th century in a variety of digital product and project management roles. I’ve been very lucky, and gotten to work with a lot of smart, incredibly talented people over the years to make cool digital stuff. I spend my time thinking about technology, people, and the how to look sideways at problems to find the best solution. I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients like Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, EA, Tetris Online, NBC Universal and Xbox over the years. I’ve worked in product and project roles for a few companies, including IDT, The Topps Company, Viacom, Time, Inc and some start-ups. I’m currently at American Express.

Short films I’ve written, produced and or directed have appeared at film festivals around the world, including The Kino Short Film Festival, San Diego Comic Con, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites Independent Film Festival, StockStock and more.Short films I’ve written, produced and or directed have appeared at film festivals around the world, including The Kino Short Film Festival, San Diego Comic Con, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Satellites Independent Film Festival, StockStock and more. I also love puppets, and do my best to help the Thigments make the videos they like to post on YouTube. I live in Brooklyn, NY, because it’s awesome. Twitter | Facebook | G+ | Instagram | IMDB |

“You on point, Phife?” – Q-Tip
“All the time, Tip.” – Phife Dawg

LEAVE A COMMENT