About ten years ago I spent a couple of weeks working on an organic farm in the jungles of Belize. On the farm I met an American urban gardening student who told me all about his new business idea. He was going to charge Starbucks to drive to all their coffee shops in his van and take away all the used mounds of coffee grinds. Essentially waste disposal. Then he was going to use the coffee grinds to grow mushrooms in paper bags and then was going to sell the bags of mushrooms back to Starbucks to sell in their store. The idea was that he could make money twice off the coffee. Get paid to collect it, get paid to give it back with its new use case, the mushrooms.
I don’t know if he ever got around to it but I’ve since heard of identical businesses doing really well. Ingenious. And years ago, I heard a story that apparently this type of business model happens on bigger scales. I heard that apparently some Scandinavian countries charge the UK to take all of its wasted plastic, only to sell it back as new recycled plastic products. Apparently they make money twice. Ingenious.
Growing up I always wanted to be the entrepreneur that would make money twice like that. But now I realise that, just like you if you use Facebook for instance, I’m actually Starbucks or the UK in this story. I pay twice. Not with money but with my attention.
If I go on Facebook I see ads, that’s how they make money the first time by selling ad space to advertisers. Then I behave a certain way. I click here and there, and scroll my cursor that way and like this and that and they sell that data to advertisers to inform their advertising decisions. They make money twice off the advertiser, first for the data, then for the ad impressions.
As for me I pay twice with my attention. First by exposing myself to profit motivated advertising messages cleverly inserted into my 'social' stream. Second by getting sucked into the ‘Hook Cycle’ (this is the name of the cycle used by designers to addict us to product like facebook) I watch more ads and give more of my attention and more of my data. Because I hang out more on the site, if I was 80% likely to buy Product X, by the time they’ve finished with me I’ll be 100% likely.
We think these products are free, and we think we're the customers when in reality we're volunteers feeding the machine and paying twice for the privilege of growing their empires.
As for the mushrooms and coffee, my mum tried it at home by putting coffee grinds into empty milk cartons in the warm airing cupboard. They emerged beautifully! Now for lunch.