A recent start-up brought in $500,000 in revenue in less than four days. After expenses, the profits are already over $200,000. And all this happened through the sale of a single $5 product.
This is all the result of just one man — comedian Louis CK. He calls his start-up an “experiment,” and so far, it’s been a rousing success.
Louis hasn’t always been quite so lucky. His first television show was cancelled. He’s only ever released a handful of video specials, usually through niche distributors like HBO and Comedy Central.
If you haven’t seen his material, that’s understandable. He’s the crass, envelope-pushing, take-no-prisoners type of comedian that George Carlin was in the 1970’s. His material isn’t for everyone. He’s been so risqué that (just to keep creative control) he had to accept a surprisingly small budget for his new TV show.
That’s why his so-called experiment is so important.
You see, Louis CK recently recorded one of his stand-up shows at the Beacon Theater in New York. Rather than follow the traditional route of having some company edit it and put it on a DVD to sell for $20, Louis CK turned to the Internet. You can only buy his latest show online, and only from his website. No iTunes, no Netflix, no HBO.
But here’s the real treat: It only costs $5 to download. That’s about a quarter of what the big companies would charge for the same video.
That’s the benefit of direct downloadable content. It’s cheaper for consumers. And at the same time, the artist has more creative control over what he can do and how it’s presented.
A few lessons stand out: First, invest in yourself. In order to get the exact content that he wanted, Louis CK taught himself how to edit video. As he says, “I do love to learn. It's all I feel like I'm ever doing. It's really the best you can do in life, is learn. You can't really do anything right. You can just learn.”
That’s a great lesson of capitalism. You’ll never be perfect, so don’t wait for perfection. Try out an idea, and whether it succeeds or fails, you’ll have learned something.
Second, take advantage of economic and technological changes. Louis CK is fulfilling one of the great prophecies of the 1990’s about the Internet: It’ll level the playing field.
Yes, he could have made more money selling his new show through more traditional areas. Yes, he had to put up his own capital this way. But he’s shown us that people with a small but passionate following that might not be able to make it through more traditional channels can succeed by taking advantage of today’s “direct to the consumer” technologies.
Finally, recognize that small can be good. Not every soda company is going to be a global behemoth like Coca-Cola (KO). But you can still do exceptionally well and see fast growth like Hansen Natural (HANS).
Experiments in capitalism don’t always succeed so clearly or quickly. Over time, however, the end results of these experiments are new, better, and faster ways of producing and making things. Louis CK is a hero of capitalism for showing so clearly that it works.
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