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Master class

A young entrepreneur can’t make the sums add up, so he seeks advice from a wise guru

This article first appeared in issue 239 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

The Master sat, crosslegged, as the young man huffed and puffed his way up the mountain. He motioned to him, urging him to sit, and passed him a flask of water. It was a high climb, and a hard one. He waited patiently until the younger man had recovered enough to speak.

“They tell me you know things, that you have answers,” the younger man said.

The Master’s eyes twinkled. “What is it you seek?”

“I’ve made a website. It’s a –”

“I know what a website is. Go on.”

“It’s very good and people like it.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, but there’s a problem.”

“A problem?”

“Yes, a problem. It’s not making enough money. It’s too popular. The bandwidth bills are killing us.”

“I see. And you’ve tried things?”

“Yes. We sold advertising. Little banners and boxes. Tasteful.”

“Go on.”

“It didn’t work. The users blocked them.”

“Did you try something else?”

“Yes. We made an app, moved everything out of the browser so the ad-blockers didn’t work.”

“It didn’t work?”

“No. They just moaned about the ads and threatened to quit.”

“Ah yes, users tend to be rather vocal. So ads weren’t working?”

“No. We even made them look like friends’ genuine messages, but they wised up to that pretty quick.”

“Clever.”

“Yes. So we decided to take a different tack.”

“You did?”

“Yes. We started aggregating the data, selling it.”

“Selling it? To whom?”

“Marketers, mainly.”

“I see. And did that work?”

“It did ...”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”

“You’re right. It worked for a while, but then everyone else started doing it, so the price went down. Way down. So we tried to get more data, more focus, but that didn’t work either.”

“The users revolted?”

The younger man sighed. “Exactly. They want the site to be free, and ad-free, but private too. They’re chucking massive images around, HD videos for Christ’s – ah, sorry.”

The Master didn’t mind.

“We’re bleeding money.”

The Master sat for a moment. “And this is the answer you seek? You want me to enlighten you, to tell you how to monetise your user base?”

The young man nodded.

“Ok,” said The Master. “Give me a dollar and I’ll tell you.”

The younger man fumbled in his overcoat until he located his wallet. He handed the wise guru a dollar.

The Master took the bill, folded it, and started to laugh.

“See?” he cackled. “See?”

The younger man frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Give me another dollar and I’ll explain,” The Master said, giggling and waving the dollar bill in the air.

It took another moment, but at last the younger man realised what The Master was trying to tell him, and why The Master was now jiggling around and singing “Money” by The Beatles.

He shook his head, and kicked The Master off the mountain.

Photography: Iain MacLean
 

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