Category Archives: Entreperneurship

The Tiny Mba: A Book Review

The Tiny Mba by Alex Hillman is just the kick in the butt I needed to stop making excuses and actually start seriously thinking about what business would be viable for me to start today. It’s not a 200 page book that I could put off reading because I didn’t have time or because I found it too intimidating. In fact it can be read in just 30 minutes and each page is basically just a sentence or two. Basically it is a series of short snippets of advice from someone experienced with business. 

I might not have been the exact audience the book was looking for, because I don’t have an existing business. Side projects yes, and some that generated a bit of revenue, but nothing consistent. So I can only speak about The Tiny Mba with regard to what it gave me, which is a different perspective on what it means to start a business. 

Since this quarantine has started, like lots of other people I have been experiencing far less enthusiasm and motivation to work on anything let alone starting a business. I guess if I had to be honest, I was pretty discouraged after my Foot in the Door book launch didn’t live up to my expectations. It was kind of a bummer and I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be trying to start a business at all if I couldn’t even sell a book. 

The Tiny Mba gave me a different perspective. It made me realize that I was farther along than I had been giving myself credit for. At one point, Hillman advises never to go into business with someone who hasn’t at least had their own solo venture at some point. This helped me to stop seeing my book as a failed experiment, and rather see it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. 

It was also encouraging to read that Hillman’s first business was freelance web development, because I am a web developer myself in my day job. Another piece of advice Hillman has is to start the business you can start today if your dream business is not within your reach right now. Like many bits of advice, it is incredibly practical and also deceptively simple. It made me realize that starting a business isn’t nearly as far out of my reach as I thought it was. I could start a solo tech consultancy today, it just wasn’t my dream business and so it didn’t seem as appealing. 

Another business I could start today involves monetizing a web version of an ancient viking board game I coded some years ago. With the advice from this book I realized that because that online game has significant traffic already, and because I have back end development skills now, I could monetize a multiplayer version of the game relatively quickly. 

These two ideas I listed weren’t as sexy as what I always had in mind. That’s why it was simultaneously discouraging to admit that my dream business was farther away than I wanted it to be, and encouraging to think that starting a profitable business was actually a lot closer than I thought. Another point that really stuck with me, and one that came with a book recommendation I am going to pursue, was about passion. I think a ton of wannabe entrepreneurs get stuck with passion. 

Lots of people want to start a business they really care deeply about, but then fail to come up with anything that could generate revenue. I think I fit pretty clearly in that boat myself. My side projects so far have really been passion projects. Games, for example, are notoriously difficult to sell. Many of the games I created in the past, with the exception of the one I mentioned earlier, did not get many downloads or plays. 

Over and over again, I kept falling in the same trap. If I’m not immediately passionate about it, it’s not for me. The Tiny Mba talks about a different approach… that you can cultivate passion rather than needing it to be immediately present. This resonates with me because I have seen the same philosophy applied to motivation. Sometimes I get stuck in a cycle where I wait for motivation to strike to start on a project, but nine times out of ten I am not that motivated when I get started. Rather than motivation coming before action, I have found that action comes before motivation when it comes to my side projects. So it follows naturally that the same thing could happen with passion. 

I fear I might have gotten off topic talking too much about what the book did for me personally. The thing is I believe The Tiny Mba can do the same for you. It’s an extremely fast read, but it leaves you with stuff to think about for days and even weeks to follow. It strips away any excuses or delusions you have about business, but without condescension. In fact it is one of the more encouraging books I have read on the subject of starting a business. It gives you a reality check and a push in the right direction, which is exactly what I needed.

My Indie Hacker Year In Review

This past year was a big one for me. I got motivated about starting my own business, and making a name for myself as a creative woman coder and indie hacker. This blog was one of the accomplishments from this year. I had to take a few months off to write my book. This year was in many ways the most productive one I’ve had in my career. So let me summarize my indie hacker year in review:

  • Published a book about my journey getting into software development
  • Got that book to #1 most downloaded spot in 3 categories during KDP Select free promotions
  • Started an email list and grew it to 300 subscribers
  • Switched from front end to full stack developer
  • Showed my game at a public event in my city
  • Was waitlisted to show my game at a much larger public event (Super MAGfest)
  • Learned about React, Redux, NodeJS, MySQL, Microservices, Typescript, ES6, and Cypress
  • Grew my Twitter following by 300 users (in the last 2 months!) after letting my account stagnate for several years
  • Had three blog posts featured on the front page of Hackernoon

One of my proudest accomplishments of the year

I didn’t start 2019 with a concrete list of goals. All I knew was that I wanted to do something that involved both being creative and coding. But I can say for sure I did not expect to accomplish this much a year ago. I was feeling the entrepreneurial itch and I knew I wanted to create and sell something. That was pretty much it. I knew that in order for something to sell successfully, I would need some kind of platform.

Blog

That was where my blog came into play. The thing is, I blogged before and always ran into the same problem. My blog wasn’t niche enough, at least that was what other people kept telling me.

It wasn’t until I read a book about multi-passionate people and how they can be true to themselves. I decided launching a blog might be a possibility after all. I realized that I was interested in game development, web development, creative expression, and indie hacking. I thought I could merge all of those interests into a creative coding blog.

Originally the blog was called “Multimedia Minds” and it wasn’t connected to my personal website. Over time I became dissatisfied with the title and thought that merging it with my website made more sense. I already branded myself as a combination of UI and game development, though I think creative coder is much easier to understand and doesn’t involve having to explain to myriad of skills involved in being a UI developer.

Later on I realized could use my blog as a funnel to interest people in my book. Thus far I had written a wide range of posts I thought I ought to focus more for a while on the tech industry. Then my blog would rank higher for programming related content. So for a few months now I’ve been blogging about different cultural aspects about working as a programmer. From attitudes about work-life balance to how engineers get promoted and what kind of problems programmers can face in the workplace.

Book

I wish I had created more hype and setup a preorder page for my book before I released my book. Despite some of my mistakes I’m still satisfied with the progress I made. I’ve learned a lot about Amazon ranking and keywords, as well as how to run giveaways to drum up more interest. I posted my book to a lot of directories that share free books. I was running promotions where I would give my book away for a limited time. That helped with getting downloads. Now I’m very happy to see my book on the first page of results for my focus keyword.

I started growing my e-mail list as part of my planning ahead for when I was going to sell a product. For the first few weeks I actually grew it the most by giving my book away for free. That was, before I enrolled it in the KDP Select program. It helped to get my e-mail list started but after a few weeks interest seemed to dwindle. I wondered if it made more sense to try to sell my book. It’s pretty funny to think that if I hadn’t made that jump I would never have know how successful my book could be. Looking back on that decision really puts things in perspective for me.

Expanding Reach

Twitter was a good place that I knew could work as a funnel for my book as well as a way to extend my reach. I had a Twitter account for years, but it never really took off and I decided to reinvestigate why that might be. I decided to try out two services that I discovered through Product Hunt. They help to schedule tweets in advance by creating content libraries that can cycle through different types of content that you want to share. This has been a lifesaver for me, because its hard to be constantly active on a platform that updates so quickly. The other tool focuses on following people. It chooses people to follow based on the hashtags that they use and the type of content they write about. I don’t expect to use that tool forever, but it’s connected me with a lot of cool new people. It has broken me out of the rut that my Twitter account was in for so long.

My post about UI Developers on Hackernoon’s homepage

I realized that I could get also more reach on my posts if I shared them on other coding related websites. Initially I contributed to Code like a Girl, but later I got ambitious and decided to submit some articles to Hackernoon. Not only did they accept my posts, but they actually featured several of them on the home page. This was really a big boost for me. I no longer doubt my writing skills or that I have something worthwhile to say. So that’s probably one of the biggest wins I had in 2019.

Game Development

That was a lot of talk about my book and my blog. Obviously writing is a big part of my life, but as a multi-passionate person it is far from the only part. The year in game development was not as productive as some of my past years in terms of actually making games. But it was by far the most productive in terms of finding my game developer community. Actually showing my games to real people and getting connected. After years of fear I take the risk and submit my game to some local events. The first one was at a library in my city. It filled me with so much energy and joy. I showed a game that I had worked on by myself, that had very little exposure. People really responded to it and were impressed that I made it by myself, which meant the world to me.

Super Magfest is a huge convention that I love to attend

The next step was to submit my game to bigger events. The biggest event in my area is called Super MAGfest (Music and Games Festival). I figured if my game was accepted to the indie showcase there, I could really feel like a professional. Unfortunately, it was not accepted BUT it was waitlisted which was still a big motivator for me. Especially because the games I submitted were not ones I had toiled over for years. In fact, the one that was waitlisted had taken me less time than the other one I submitted (which was rejected outright).

Day Job

There is still one area of my life I haven’t covered, which is my actual day job. I hope one day to be a full time indie hacker making interesting apps or games for people to enjoy. There is still a lot I’m learning from the startup where I’m currently working. This startup trains everyone as a full stack developer, so I am learning a lot about back end technologies that I did not know. It’s exciting because it fills that gap in my knowledge and means I can really become a one woman development team. It is also a little bit overwhelming considering all the other things I have been working on this year.

So that was a really long post. I wasn’t intending for my indie hacker year in review to be this long but when I started thinking about everything that happened this year, its not surprising. I was going to also write about my goals for 2020 in this post. But considering the length it is already, I think it’s best that I save it for next week. Overall I’m pretty happy with what I have accomplished, and I think I took some really important steps toward actually becoming an entrepreneur. Selling my first product, gaining traction on my blog, and building a social media following are all steps that I feel I have taken. That being said, I know there is still a long road ahead. As a quick preview: building my email list, finding my tribe, and creating a community are all goals I have.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Marketing Your Product: My Experience So Far

About a week has gone by since I published “Foot in the Door.” I intended to write a new post last week but there was so much marketing to do that I felt overwhelmed. This online oversaturated world we live in has forced us all to become marketers. We must shout from the digital rooftops in order to be heard above the din. That is usually a necessity for marketing your product, unfortunately.

My original cover, I changed it since then

Selling things has never been my strong suit, in fact I would say it is one of my biggest weaknesses. The only way I have gotten better at it is through slow and painstaking practice. Though I have had a Twitter account for years, I find it difficult to post every day and come up with witty retorts. My biggest successes in the past have always been when I took advantage of a young service or platform and been one of the early adopters.

When the Amazon KDP service was still young and most people thought self-publishing was a terrible idea, I uploaded a few of my short stories for free on the platform. Because there were so few items like that available at the time I received a tremendous number of downloads.

With this book I knew that wasn’t going to be an option. I wanted to work on building a list of subscribers for a newsletter. One where I could share the interesting creative coding content I come across every week. My research indicated that solo-preneurs benefit greatly from having their own email newsletter. Sadly, I had been putting it off for a while.

I also noticed providing free content in a landing page/email subscription being a common strategy across the web. I wanted this book to be accessible to anyone who wanted to learn to code. However, I felt that it would be counterintuitive and unproductive to charge people. Especially because the book is still quite short. I also knew from my past experience that my distribution would be reduced if I charged people for the book.

Though my main lane of distribution would be through my newsletter landing page, I decided a week after launch that it wouldn’t hurt to make a paperback version of my book available through the Amazon store. After all, I could order author copies and organize giveaways. Not to mention, Amazon had far wider reach than me. Might also grow my audience.

Being involved with the Women Make community of creative women in (primarily) tech was immensely helpful. The community helped to support each other during the month long “Just F*cking Ship It” Challenge. It also helped that I had already written a portion of the book a year prior, but lacked the motivation to finish it. Since my marketing skills are less than stellar, having my book included in the final product page when the challenge was over also acted like extra free promotion.

A screenshot from the Just F*cking Ship It Challenge Product Feature Page

Another way I shared my book was on Facebook groups. I found relevant groups related to creative coding, software engineers, learning to code, and women in tech. I wrote a paragraph about the book and shared the link. Then I made sure to tweak that paragraph of text. If it was a group for self-taught programmers, I made sure to mention I was self taught.

There are also several blogging platforms I re-post to, including Dev.to, Medium, and (more recently) Gamasutra. On Medium there are publications like “Code Like a Girl” that I submit to in order to extend my reach. These can be a toss up in terms of how much of the audience ever clicks the link back to my blog and discovers my free book.

Finally I made my first Product Hunt page, which was probably the most nerve wracking part of my marketing process. I love to browse Product Hunt and see all the curious, strange, wacky, and actually really useful and interesting applications makers launch on the platform.

The Product Hunt homepage

I did not end up getting featured on Product Hunt that day. But, I did get more upvotes than I was expecting and even a few followers. Also, Product Hunt gets a lot more visitors per day than my blog. So it’s still a great way to bring more subscribers and have another permanent backlink to book. There is also a search feature on Product Hunt. That means if people are searching for books about learning to code or breaking into the tech industry, they might very well come across mine.

So now for some stats! I believe in sharing data with other makers because that is how we all grow. So far I have 284 subscribers, a number I’m pretty happy with. That’s just 2 weeks after the release of my book. Of those 284, 54% have actually opened and clicked to download my book. I’m less happy with that number. However, I imagine because of filters and robots thats closer to the number of real people wanting to read my book.

A screenshot of my landing page performance from Mailchimp

I’m hoping to raise that number to 500 within the next month. Going to keep posting on social media regularly. Although Facebook gets the most clickbacks, I also share on LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Pinterest. I think so far I underestimated LinkedIn the most. I am happy I decided to give that platform a try.

Hopefully this data will help you as you work on marketing your own product. As makers I believe we should support each other. If you have something interesting to share that you are working on, you should post it in the comments! I look forward to hearing about it. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, you can follow me on Twitter now @nadyaprimak. If you’re interested in learning more about my book, you can check out an excerpt here.

Foot in the Door Book Excerpt

Below is an excerpt from my book about my journey learning to code and teaching myself after graduating from college with an art degree and little idea of what I was qualified to do next. I had taking some coding classes but I didn’t think I’d get any opportunities to be creative if I chose that career. For a while I thought I would be a designer, but I quickly learned that working with clients was not my cup of tea. That was when I discovered creative coding, and taught myself to code by making games.

There were a lot of people that helped me along the way but also times where I really felt like I could use a guiding hand to help me with some scary decisions. I hope that this book can act as that guiding hand for people who are just starting out their careers and are interested in tech.

Memories

My start in tech happened well before I actually had the title of “Engineer” or “Developer”. It started in a small town known primarily for being home to one of the most liberal (and most hipster) colleges in the country. I had mixed feelings about attending school there and was pressured in part by my parents to apply to schools in Ohio (they were moving there at the time).

Moving to Ohio meant leaving behind my friends and boyfriend (at the time) in Minnesota where I had gone to high school. We settled on Oberlin because it gave the opportunity to study lots of different things. At the time I was passionate about at least a dozen different things and had no idea what I was going to do for a career. Naturally I wanted to put off that decision for as long as possible, hoping I would figure it out during college.

I was always interested in technology, but before starting college (and also during a fair amount of college itself) my leanings were toward art and writing. That’s not to say I didn’t spend a ton of time in front of screens — my unofficial babysitters were my Gameboy, Nintendo, and PC running Windows 2000 —but as a kid my best friend was an extremely talented artist.  Drawing together was one of our favorite past times. I loved to go to museums and could stare at my friend’s art for hours. I also loved to read and wrote numerous short stories in middle school, and wrote for my high school paper. 

Basically, I was a creative generalist and loved all things that involved the imagination. However, my parents kept pushing me toward a practical path, because they were still struggling with their own careers and worried about employment options for creatives  in the USA. Of course they were right to worry, since very few artists succeeded in getting their work into a gallery, let alone selling that work for enough money to make a living. However, I learned in my late teens that there was another option- which sounded much more practical than being a writer or an artist. It was an area of overlap between art and the internet, and it was called web design. 

Technically I began learning to code a lot earlier than college, though I didn’t know it yet. I dabbled in web design during middle school and high school, when I participated in roleplaying forums and later decided to create my own which had a very generic look that I wanted to modify. Essentially it was just a monochrome colored forum with no background images or icons, and I wanted the forum to look like it was part of the website where I described the world the roleplay took place in. I wanted the design to fit the mood of the world. 

Essentially I was using CSS to make these changes. Unfortunately it was back when there was no such thing as developer tools (which would allow you to see the CSS alongside the site and actually make modifications to see the visual changes in real time) and no documentation. So the level of frustration accompanied with something as benign as altering the background color was shockingly time consuming. Despite all that,  I enjoyed the challenge and it was fun and rewarding to see my websites come to life. 

By the time I was starting college  I was thinking web design was a pretty likely career option. Then I found out that Oberlin does not actually have a design degree. What it did have was a creative writing degree,  one of the best undergraduate creative writing programs in the country. If I had known that my future would be pretty much solely focused on web development, I probably would not have given Oberlin another glance. 

Though I knew art was probably not much of a viable career, I thought maybe if I got into the creative writing program I could become a successful writer. All thoughts of design and technology basically went out the window at this point. There was still a part of me that hoped to become a bestselling author, and that snowflake wasn’t going to melt so easily.  I suppose the snowflake never fully melted, since I am writing this book.

It took a number of events in college for me to revisit web design. The first was that I was never accepted into the creative writing program, the second was the economic recession which happened while I was at Oberlin, and the third was breaking up with my long distance boyfriend, who had a tendency to put down my technical skills because he was insecure about his own. 

Even as I continued to take art and design classes, I began to wonder if it was the right path for me. I enjoyed aspects of it, such as the strategic thinking that was necessary to identify audience and tone. But the 2D limitations of the medium frustrated me, and my classmates and professors who were more interested in conceptual work didn’t always mesh with my desire to master craft. 

I wondered if I could do more with design if I started learning how to code. I also wondered if a career in design was going to be sufficient to make a living wage. Hearing from friends and acquaintances that they couldn’t find a job didn’t help. The future was starting to look a lot scarier than it had before. It seemed that technology was a major threat to many other fields. Though I had never doubted this before, when I looked at designer portfolios online I could hardly find any that were made by beginners. I was extremely intimidated by the senior design portfolios that I came across, and wasn’t sure that I would have what it took to compete. I even considered transferring to another school.  

It wasn’t until I got a job working for the Oberlin Office of Communications that some of my fear about post college life was assuaged.  If you are in college or soon to be starting college, I highly recommend that you also find some sort of part time employment. I did all sorts of things and learned a lot about myself in the process, possibly more than I learned from all the classes I took combined. 

I did some freelance work as a graphic designer, and this taught me how to work with people in different age groups and what it was like being in a client-contractor relationship. It also showed me that freelance work involved being very good at navigating different personalities and clearing up any confusion, while also putting your foot down repeatedly. In addition there was the age old mantra: the customer (or client) is always right. That meant that even if I knew a design decision might turn out to look poorly, I often had to make compromises for the sake of pleasing the client. It also meant that sometimes I might have to change something I was really proud of because the client didn’t like it. 

Here is a list of some of the other jobs I took while  in college: obituary writer, photographer, interviewer, dance instructor, and archives assistant. I hope this helps to illustrate that people come into tech from all sorts of backgrounds, and there is not one clear cut path. I’ve met women who used to be social workers, physical therapists, filmmakers, and everything in between.

Takeaways

Not everyone who enters programming goes to college. I went to college, but much of what I learned there did not directly apply to my future career. Non traditional students come from all sorts of backgrounds, and by talking about my degree I am not trying to imply that it is necessary to get a job as a developer. In fact, it is not necessary at all. 

What is necessary, however, is a passion for learning. That is the main thing I got out of college, and the main thing that I think is important to understand for those thinking about entering the field. In front end development especially, there is a new framework to learn every couple of years. So feeling comfortable with learning to code and not hesitating to ask questions when you have them are crucial skills.

There are many ways to practice learning how to learn. As a non traditional developer, you will probably end up teaching yourself a lot of the skills to get your first job. It’s important to know what techniques help you learn best. I learned in college that it’s easier for me to master new information when I can translate it visually. In the absence of that, I learn better if I am writing my own notes as the teacher is talking, especially if I translate it into my own words.

Another important thing I learned in college was time management. Especially during my programming classes, which I talk about in the next chapter, I had to get pretty good at estimating how long the homework would take me, and stay disciplined on the weekends to get it done.

I don’t know if I would have had the discipline to get through my classes without the support of my professors. That is the nice thing about college: you get in-person mentorship and structure to get through your work. But there are plenty of students in college who spend their time at parties, neglecting their assignments, and simply failing to pass their classes. So obviously college is not the answer for everyone. It’s also very expensive, especially in the case of liberal arts colleges like Oberlin. 

What I’m trying to say is that it’s important to get those basic skills and knowledge about yourself and how you want to approach learning to code before you sink in to any serious programming training–especially if you are considering something like a boot camp where you have to stay dedicated to your work for three months straight, with longer hours than your standard 9-5. Picking the right courses and learning approach is crucial, as my next story will hopefully illustrate. 

My own husband experienced the problem of taking the wrong course for his learning style and sadly, never gave programming another chance since. He graduated with a degree in history and was feeling lost after college, not knowing what career to pursue. He took some classes in psychology in Cleveland and volunteered with Spanish-speaking immigrants at an organization downtown. I suggested that he try learning to code, because I knew he was determined and hard working enough (he now works as an attorney and graduated from Georgetown Law University). 

I regret that I encouraged my husband to take the course without taking a more careful look at the content. The biggest problem was that the course switched gears dramatically halfway through, from teaching C to teaching Javascript, two completely different languages. For someone like my husband, who dislikes sudden shifts in general, this was devastating. He began to believe that learning to code was beyond him.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.


Why I Don’t Make Art For a Living: How Capitalism Kills Creativity

I’ve been writing a lot about game development and coding so far on the blog, especially from a creative coder perspective. However today I am going to empathize the “creative” more than the “coder”. I initially created this blog with the help of a book called Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick. I discovered her after listening to her amazing TED talk . Basically this blog is my platform to celebrate and share my many passions with readers, instead of forcing myself to fit into a specific niche mold. This post explores the question about whether capitalism kills creativity, and how I have personally found that it’s difficult to focus on creative expression when trying to sell my work and make it marketable.

To bring this back around to the topic of art consumption, I have always thought of art as the center of all things, because artists can make work about almost any topic under the sun, and in almost any form, and still have it be recognized as art. I won’t get into an art history lecture here but if you’ve ever been to a modern art museum you will know what I am talking about. I think that makes art, in many ways, the original Renaissance Business. Why business? Because artists need to eat, too.

A little more background about me before going further. I have been working professionally as a developer for four years. However, I actually majored in Visual Arts in college and still have a lot of passion for the arts. When I was in school I imagined myself being a graphic designer and selling photography and illustration on the side. In my sophomore year I got my first DSLR, a Canon 60D and I was utterly thrilled. I was also lucky to have a family that loved to travel far and wide.

I used to take my Canon 60D with me every time I travelled

As you can guess by now, I took a lot of photos. I also knew a fair bit of photo editing with Photoshop, because it was the same tool I used for graphic design. I loved to tweak my photos and create vibrant, luscious imagery of nature. Unfortunately for me, there was already tons of these images on the internet. I didn’t think about that while beaming at some of my best photos. What I was thinking about was how great my photos might look on someone’s wall. Or how with my nice fancy camera I could print them out at large sizes.

You can probably guess where this is going. Like millions of other people on the internet, I decided to open an online store. There were quite a few platforms to choose from: DeviantArt, Shopify, Etsy, Cafepress, Fine Art America, and all of these other options. I did several hours worth of research and settled on Fine Art America, because I liked how I didn’t have to deal with any of the shipping or printing, and basically just had to upload my digital files and set my prices while letting the platform do the rest. Below are some of my photos, for context:

At first I was hopeful. I saw visitors looking at my images, sometimes commenting. I decided to share on Twitter and Facebook. Got some more visitors. A few family members bought some prints in the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that was all that ever came of that shop. Even today I still get visitors checking out my photography, because I haven’t bothered to take down the shop.

That was when it hit me. Being a skillful artist, photographer or otherwise, was not enough to see any success selling your work online (not implying that I believe I am exceptionally talented, just that I put in many hours to hone my craft). In fact, being a skillful artist didn’t even mean that you would get noticed. It might have worked years ago when artists relied on selling to local communities that didn’t have access to a tool allowing them to view beautiful art with one simple click or keyword. Back then, seeing a skillfully painted landscape or illustration might have been at least a little bit rare.

You have to advocate for yourself to make it as an artist in the twenty first century

Perhaps that is not entirely fair of me to say. I have sold a few small creative items over the years. Once I had some illustrations featured in a magazine, and I’ve drawn some portraits in a park for donations that people seemed happy to hand over. Some might even accuse me of being delusional. What was I expecting, that posting some art on the internet would actually mean something? I admit, I was naive. But I think there is something sad about the state of art consumption. It seems the business acumen of an artist ends up being more of a contribution to success than the years they spent perfecting their craft. Maybe this is nothing new though, after all, we know Van Gogh died penniless and hated by many.

Yet I wonder even if artists who were successful in the era of Impressionists would be able to succeed in today’s online world. There are so many things an artist needs to know in order to be able to sell their art to make a living. First, they must be active on social media. They must be active members in several online groups or communities. They must post updates of their work frequently to their followers lest they lose interest. Finally, they must be in tune with popular culture and understand things like SEO, content management, and web hosting. Then they must continuously keep their finger on the pulse of the creative industry they are in. That was when it hit me. Could this mean that capitalism kills creativity?

Competition for selling art online is fierce

Naturally I didn’t know all of these things at the time. My thinking was that I could simply put up my photos and people would come and buy them. I wasn’t ready to devote hours of my day to promoting my new photography store and getting my name out there. I thought my photography could stand on its own, but I realized that was simply not the case. The store has been up for five years now but the only sales were in those first couple weeks.

Fast forward to 2018. I was missing graphic design after working for 3 years as a front end developer. My husband was in law school and after work I was often bored while he studied. Recently I had finished reading The Handmaids Tale. I knew that on Etsy, people liked to buy posters, purses, and mugs with quotes on them. My thinking was that maybe I could sell digital prints with quotes from feminist literature. I bought Photoshop and started to collect quotes from books and authors I liked and download beautiful cursive and italic fonts that would make the quotes look more like a work of art than simply text on a page.

My most popular print on my Etsy shop, Literary Ladies

In many ways the Etsy store I created with these feminist literature inspired quotes was exactly the kind of thing that most marketing gurus and even other successful artists encourage creatives to do. Find a niche that fits into popular culture, create a style or brand, and make items that fit into it. Finally, they must create a store only for selling those items, and make it easy for consumers to purchase.

Sure enough, following these guidelines did lead to some moderate success. Certainly a lot more than my photography store. I sold dozens of my download-able designs (I didn’t want to deal with printing and shipping myself), though most of them were all purchases of the same thing. A Wonder Woman quote (see image above) that I made after the Marvel film was released.

If I had to be honest, this was the most discouraging part of all. It meant that unless my quotes were centered around something popular, nobody would buy it. Even if it was a specific niche with a specific brand. I had been more interested in finding quotes from literature, but those quotes sell in much smaller quantities. It felt like if I wanted to make art for money, I wouldn’t ever be able to follow my heart. Instead I would need to follow hours of research based on trends and popular culture. That concept essentially sucked all of the joy out of making art.

Screenshot of a site letting you buy posters. A good example of how capitalism kills creativity: everything has to be pop culture related.

Perhaps this is more of a philosophical question, but isn’t true art the kind that comes directly from the heart, and brings the artist joy? I don’t mean to disparage people who make art for a living, because I have tremendous respect for them. Especially Japanese animators who toil away under extreme deadlines and often work themselves to death because of the time consuming nature of the art they make. In this case, capitalism kills creativity by literally killing the person. What I really hold at fault is capitalism, and how it turns art away from joy and into another corporate product for consumption. A product that can be broken down into business components instead of creative spirit.

Even if the artist actually enjoys the art they are making, the value of the art is considered so low that it is considered OK to burn them out and basically, torture them. To me, that is a sign of a culture that does not appreciate art at all. It’s a sign that maybe capitalism kills creativity after all. Although my Etsy shop and my Fine Art America website are still up, I don’t really have any expectations that they will ever turn into actual businesses. In fact, I’m not sure that I want them to, because making art is one of the few joys of adult life and I don’t want that joy to be stolen away from me.

Some people say that if you do what you love at work, you never work a day in your life. I would argue that, at least under a capitalist system, if you do what you love at work, what you love could eventually become what you hate. That is why capitalism kills creativity. That is why I have continued to work as a front end developer and make creative works like games, drawings, and generative art as a hobby and passion. I wish this wasn’t the case, but sadly after my past experiences that is what I have concluded.

The most overused quote on the internet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the state of art consumption, and what you think could be improved. Do you think capitalism kills creativity? Are you a professional artist? Hope to become one some day? I know this op-ed may be a bit depressing, but by no means do I want to discourage readers from making art. The world needs it, even if it goes under-appreciated.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.