The First Challenge (part 1)
The challenge with transferring money -- compensation -- from Knowledge Consumer to Knowledge Worker -- is easy to understand:
The vast majority of users of the World Wide Web do not have an electronic way to pay for something.
Most Web users do not have a credit card or bank account number that can be used to pay for something on the Web.
There is simply no way to stuff cash into your PC's floppy or CD drive, to send money electronically via the Web.
And so the Knowledge Revolution is virtually on hold.
With over 5 billion mobile phones in use globally, however, today most Web users do have a mobile phone.
What if FanBox could get electronically connect to the billing systems of the world's mobile phone companies?
Then, simply by entering their mobile phone numbers into the FanBox web site, users could pay for content (knowledge, media, blogs, music, video and film, etc).
The charge would then appear on their phone bill or get deducted from their phone's pre-paid balance -- and FanBox could then route the money to the owner of the content (the Knowledge Worker).
Accomplishing mobile billing connectivity turned out to be the mother of all challenges.
But FanBox employees have always been up to taking on huge challenges.
This seems to stem from a belief that the employees share, a “Core Value” as they call it.
FanBox employees have four (4) core values -- and one of them is WTAWTAW (pronounced W - Tah - Tah) -- and it stands for “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way”.
We'll discuss all four Core Values in another chapter, but for now, what WTAWTAW suggests is that "there is ALWAYS a real solution for accomplishing absolutely ANYTHING you can imagine".
WTAWTAW suggests that the solution is not always immediately apparent, but the more you believe in your idea, the more likely "people, events, situations or circumstances will mysteriously arise to your rescue".
There are many examples of breakthroughs and coincidences that allowed FanBox to move forward when it hit an obstacle -- simply out of everyone's belief in WTAWTAW as a Core Value.
In order to achieve mobile phone billing system connectivity, FanBox employees met with mobile phone companies all over the world.
Overall, the idea was interesting to phone companies, but they all asked the same question:
"What other mobile phone company have you done this with"?
And FanBox's answer was always "None… You have the opportunity to be the first!"
This was not an answer they wanted to hear.
Opening up their billing system to an outside company seemed completely out of the realm of possibility and reality for these multi-billion dollars companies.
Over a three-year period, the FanBox team met in-person with mobile phone companies from over 100 countries – asking for mobile billing connectivity.
Each and every time, FanBox employees were rejected.
Given the company's lack of financial resources, all that travel was paid for by employees using their personal credit cards, family members, and even by taking out mortgages (loans) on their homes.
As the months passed, the dream of igniting the knowledge revolution sometimes seemed further and further from reality.
All of the employees eventually ran out of money as they rushed around the world to speak to mobile phone companies.
The level of sacrifice on their families and personal lives was severe, as they often went weeks at a time without a solid 8 hours away from work.
Even when they weren’t working, they couldn’t stop thinking about the challenge… surely if they could just think harder, they could find a way to solve the issue.
They knew that time was not on their side. With each passing week and month, they were more likely to run out of sources of money to pay their rents.
They knew that most of the other employees were running out of time too, so they felt guilty with every moment that they weren’t at least mentally wrestling with the challenge that, as the core value WTAWTAW suggested, surely had a solution.
This inability to “turn off their brain” for even a little while, over a long period of time, for many people created “mental burnout”.
FanBox employees were often mentally exhausted – and the more exhausted they were, the harder they wanted to push their brains to get solutions.
In those days, “burnout” – a condition where the employee basically breaks down mentally and emotionally, was the number one reason that employees were forced to leave the company. It was often a matter of survival from a health perspective.
In other words, mental burnout was a much bigger issue for employees than running out of money – which is surprising because there was absolutely no compensation for years.
The idea that motivated FanBox employees was so powerful that once they understood the implications of solving the challenges, they would always “find a way” to make ends meet – even if that meant giving up their apartments to live with a friend or stranger, going without any money whatsoever for entertainment, health care or, sometimes even food.
Indeed, malnutrition (caused by employees not eating) become such a big issue that a group of employees started providing other employees with lunch and dinner, to make sure they could and would eat on a regular basis.
Today, lunch and dinner are provided to FanBox employees, who still often simply “forget to eat” for many hours.
There is ample proof at FanBox that an idea has the ability to inspire and lift people to levels of existence where their bodies will simply not crave energy from food for long periods of time.
It was a tough time indeed, and many questioned the wisdom of not raising money from investors, to buy time for the company to figure out how to convince the mobile phone companies to take a chance and open up their billing systems to FanBox.
But each time the employees discussed the merits of raising money, they ended up reminding themselves that if they did take money from investors, they might sacrifice their ultimate objective of giving most of their revenues back to the community and to the local charities – something that will be discussed in a later chapter.
They also knew that there still existed a large amount of other challenges still ahead of them to bring the entire vision to life… so if they started taking money from investors, they would need to continue to do that for years, until all those challenges were solved.
That would mean that eventually they would lose control of the company to investors, who rightfully would be looking to maximize profits to themselves and their funds – hence the company’s mission would ultimately not be realizable as those investors would, of course, refocus the company on maximizing profit to its shareholders.
Having had prior experiences, they also realized that the largest likelihood for success would arise out of whatever path created the most team motivation – and motivation was clearly maximized by the simple fact that time was not on their side.
In other words, they believed that not having millions of dollars in the company's bank account created a sense of urgency that would force the breakthroughs and creativity needed to solve the many challenges ahead of them.
On the flip-side, they feared that being well-capitalized might make everyone a bit more “fat, dumb and happy” – meaning it would rob them of some of their motivation -- which would have a detrimental effect on their ultimate success – even though in the short term having money would make them both look and feel more successful.
Later, when we take a look at some of the inventions that arose out of the team’s struggles, it becomes easy to understand and even quantify that line of thinking….
When we do, it will become more apparent that perhaps most, if not all of FanBox’s breakthroughs and inventions resulted from the high levels of pressure that the team operated under.
It was a very tough time, and this period lasted for over three years.
The team simply did not give up hope or quit.
Some people were forced to quit -- usually because of mental and emotional burnout -- but when they did, they made sure to train a replacement, who took on their challenges with new energy and excitement, amidst the heroic examples that the past and current employees had left.
Surely if just one mobile phone company could give FanBox access to its billing system, the concept could be flushed out with live customers, and that would make it easier for other companies to jump on-board.
WTAWTAW suggests that there is always a way… and to find that way, you need to keep at it ... not give up... and keep trying different approaches.
If an approach fails, learn why it did and add that to the list of successful “knowledge nuggets”.
No idea or approach is “too dumb or not worth trying”.
One of the employees, Brandie Smith, had such an idea – which we’ll explore in the next chapter.
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