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I wish I could give you a firm timeframe. I wish I knew what it was myself! Growing a grassroots movement is unlike any other entrepreneurial endeavor on Earth. The sooner, the better, though—ideally in the next year, given the financial burden I’m personally carrying on behalf of the project.
When I first opened Details, I committed to not taking a paycheck for three years. I also resolved to spend my entire first paycheck on something completely frivolous. I had to give myself a reward. I believe that, as an entrepreneur, holding back on that first paycheck has to be part of the business’s DNA. The businesses that fail the fastest are the ones where the entrepreneurs pay themselves soonest. For me, this is purely a business decision.
So what was that frivolous purchase?
I walked around with my first paycheck for about a week. One day, I had to go downtown to visit our engraver. He took me by the hand and brought me to a family-owned jewelry store. He said, “This is my sister Cinda. She wants a bracelet. Do something nice for her.” I walked out with an exquisite bracelet at a very friendly price. I’ve worn it almost every day ever since.
On your website, you invite people to help underwrite your costs. To paraphrase Sara Palin: How’s that Tip Jar thing workin’ out?
Very well. Because we’re getting so much web traffic, our server costs are going up exponentially. That’s why I put up the Tip Jar. It’s amazing how fast $5 donations add up. These contributions have secured the website. The graciousness of hundreds of people reaching into their pockets has kept us on the web.
You have a very strong social mission. Have you considered taking The 3/50 Project nonprofit?
I’ve been back and forth about this. There are pros and cons on both sides. There’s no obvious benefit to going nonprofit, and there’s a lot more paperwork and red tape. For now, it’s wait and see.
Any pushback about your doing this as a for-profit business?
No. Remember that we’re doing all this for free, and we’re not making a profit.
Although it’s technically a business, what you’ve really done is launch a movement. Where do you see it in five years?
My approach is to take things one year at a time and to lay the groundwork for future growth. Marketplace circumstances fluctuate really fast. It doesn’t make sense to plan too far ahead.
However, I believe some things will stay the same. We’re all overworked and worried about money. We’re all trying to save. This creates a condition I call “commuter consumerism.” At the end of the workday, we go into autopilot mode. We do our essential tasks and then collapse in a heap. We’re all moving so quickly! We go to the big box stores because we think that’s where the savings are and we don’t see the small independent businesses. We see the big shiny objects but not the small objects in between.
None of this is going to change anytime soon. Independent businesses will continue to need the support of campaigns like ours. What we’re saying resonates very positively. What we’re doing won’t die on the vine.
Any closing thoughts?
Yes. First, it’s important to know that we’re emphasizing balance. We’re not asking people to change their behavior dramatically. We’re simply asking them to stop and think for a moment. We’re suggesting that you can balance things better, and inviting them to do so if they’re able.
Second, while I thoroughly enjoy being the voice of the project, the real heroes are the small business owners around the country. These are the people who have breathed life into The 3/50 Project and continue to do so every day. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. I know how hard they work. That they’ve found the time to run with this blows my mind.