From this day forward, everything I create for Ungated—my courses, workshops, one-off coaching sessions, templates, etc—will be available on a “choose your own price” basis.
This is, without a doubt, the scariest sentence I’ve ever written. Full stop. It goes against everything I’ve been conditioned to believe about marketing and entrepreneurship.
So what the hell is going on here? Have I lost my mind? Am I setting myself up to be taken advantage of? Will I regret this a year from now as I’m living in a cardboard box?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I suspect this one change will result in a larger, more impactful business than I could otherwise create. Paradoxically, reducing the financial friction to access my best work may help me earn more money in the long run.
Market Economies & the “Transaction Dance”
My big shift here is from operating Ungated within a Market Economy model to a Gift Economy model. The difference between the two boils down to trust, relationships, and reciprocity.
In a market economy, the transaction itself is somehow both sacred and profane.
I have something you want—a course, a service, a tool, etc. And you have something I want (money). Then we engage in a mutually beneficial exchange where we both come out satisfied, at least in theory.
But in order to get to that cathartic point of transaction, we have to engage this elaborate, uncomfortable ritual first. I call it the transaction dance.
On my end, I bring out my boldest marketing promises, write some slick copy, and whip together as much social proof as I can muster. Perhaps we jump on a sales call. Maybe I sweeten the pot by throwing in a discount, or some bonuses. Or perhaps, if I get desperate, I can turn up the temperature a bit by creating a sense of urgency and scarcity.
Everything I’m doing here is in the spirit of persuasion, or even coercion. I’m using these marketing tactics to pull your emotional levers so that you'll "agree" to a transaction. Put more bluntly, I’m manipulating you to separate you from your money. Even if I’m friendly and subtle about it, that’s what’s happening.
You, in your half of the transaction dance, are likely well aware that the internet is full of charlatans selling lame education at sky high prices. So you’re looking for reasons not to trust me, and to hold on to your hard-earned money. Can someone else solve this problem for a cheaper price? Has anyone left reviews of Rob’s course? Are his promises too good to be true? Is this guy a total huckster?
These are the points of resistance I have to overcome with my various tactics if we’re ever to make it to the point of transaction. It’s quite a dance.
No matter how you shake it, the transaction dance comes with some weird, emotional friction. Even when the exterior of it appears super friendly, below the surface, the entire thing is built on both parties distrusting one other.
But here’s the worst part.
Once the transaction is done, there’s no bond holding us in relationship any longer, no incentive for us to stay connected. We’ve both supposedly gotten what we came for. Focusing so much of our energy on the transaction depersonalizes and commodifies both of us, making the whole process feel cold and inhuman.
Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that markets and transactional relationships work extremely well, and are necessary for most types of entrepreneurship, especially at the higher levels of business. The world wouldn’t be what it is today without market economies.
But for my creator business—where the sole purpose is to make cool shit and earn true fans—the market model has always felt a bit uncomfortable, even as I’ve gone out of my way to make it less antagonistic. The transaction dance still rubs me the wrong way.
Yet I’d never considered there might be a different, better way. That is, until last month, when I stumbled across the idea of economies built on gifting.
How Gift Economies Work
Gift Economies, unlike their market counterparts, are built on a foundation of generosity, trust, ongoing relationships, and reciprocity.
In this model, we can avoid the awkward transaction dance altogether. There’s no reason for mistrust or suspicion. No need for coercion or manipulation.
Here’s how it’s going to work with Ungated.
I plan to offer everyone in the world, regardless of where they live, or their financial circumstances, my best work, with no expectations. It’s my gift to the creator community.
We’re not talking about “content marketing” here, where I give you a taste of the good stuff in hopes of upselling you into something substantial. We’re talking about the premium shit—my best, most complete thinking on how to thrive as a creative entrepreneur—available on a “choose your own price” basis.
My only role in this new dance—the gift dance—is to act with radical generosity by default. It’s on your end where this dance gets really interesting and spicy.
Maybe you choose to pay me up front for a workshop, because you already trust me, and you know it’ll be great. Or maybe, as I suspect will be the case for most people, you’ll hold off. And that’s fine, because I’m just some random guy on the internet. I haven’t helped you solve a problem yet, or led you to a valuable insight. But I’m willing to offer my products as a gift, and earn your trust.
But if my product does satisfy your needs, or is transformative in some way, my bet is you’ll genuinely want to reciprocate the value I’ve added to your life. Not because I’ve coerced you, or because I’m playing mind games. But because you’re human, and we’re hardwired to reciprocate when people are generous towards us. It’s a crucial ingredient in the social glue that holds relationships and groups together.
That word “reciprocate” is an interesting one, because it can mean any number of things.
At the bottom of my courses, there will be another “choose your own price” form. You’ll have the ability to pay me for the first time, or in addition to what you initially paid. This will be the easiest, most direct way to reciprocate.
But it might also mean becoming a True Fan (ie, an annual, recurring member). It might mean joining The Vanguard (my lifetime membership). Or it might mean going to my new page on Buy Me A Coffee, and, uh, buying me a coffee or three.
Speaking of coffee, you might want to get creative, and reciprocate my gift by sending me a few bags of beans from your favorite local roaster. It might mean offering an in-kind service to help me improve Ungated. Or, it might mean enthusiastically telling all of your creator friends about this crazy Rob guy who’s giving away valuable, transformative shit for free.
All of these things are generous, delightful acts of reciprocation. And they’re all valuable in my book. There are no wrong answers.
And that’s the beautiful thing about this model. It’s about long-term relationships. It’s about giving and receiving without expectation. It’s about trust. It’s about giving a middle finger to cynicism, and unshackling our most generous, creative selves.
On my end, the plan is to keep creating and offering new gifts. So if you choose to spend your time and attention here, there will always be an abundance of new, worthwhile work you can access freely. And there will be plenty of ways to keep our relationship healthy and balanced, even if you can’t afford my work within a market model.
Why I Think This Will Work
Maybe you already think this model is rad. Or maybe you think it’s crazy. Either way, there are a few logical reasons I believe this Gift Economy thing will work for me.
And again, when I say “work,” I mean nothing short of building a thriving True Fan business that allows me to do work I care about, create financial abundance, and live on my own terms.
I’m not compromising my vision of what I want out of life in order to adopt this model. I genuinely believe the Gift Economy path will get me to where I was already going, but faster, and in a way that vibes with my deepest values.
Here are my top three reasons I think this’ll work.
- I produce quality, non-commodity work
- I’m going to reach wayyyyyyy more people this way
- I’m playing a long game that’s focused on earning “enough”
Let’s break each of these down.
Transformative, incisive, non-commodity work
This whole experiment would fail miserably if I shared a bunch of generic tips for how to “10X your twitter growth” or whatever. People can get that shit anywhere. And if that’s all that existed behind the Ungated paywall, it certainly wouldn’t feel like a generous, meaningful gift. There’d be little reason or desire for anyone to reciprocate.
So the first reason I’m bullish on the Gift Economy, and the most important, is that my work is genuine signal in a world of noise (at least I think so).
Not only does it meet my definition of “quality,” but it’s not a commodity. In other words, my work makes and keeps meaningful promises. And because it’s built on a different set of principles than everything else in the “creator/marketing education” space, it feels viscerally distinct from the competition.
In a world where 95% of marketing and entrepreneurship advice is short-sighted and manipulative, and actively dissuades people from becoming lifelong fans, I'm leaning into the less sexy, but more meaningful 5% that matters for fostering long term relationships and trust with your audience. That's a huge differentiator for me.
Point being, what you find here, you won’t find elsewhere. I’m injecting the very essence of my worldview, my personality, and my values straight into the veins of this project. I’m hellbent on creating work that I myself would find useful and insightful, even if that looks nothing like what everyone else is doing.
If I deliver the goods, build deep relationships, and help creators transform their lives and businesses, I have zero doubt the Gift Economy model will work. Especially if I reach a lot of people.
Word of mouth on steroids
If the above point is true—that my work is unique and valuable—I suspect adding the Gift Economy into the mix will be like throwing gasoline into the fire of word of mouth marketing.
After all, if there’s one thing that hinders word of mouth, it’s forcing people into the transaction dance.
I mean, what’s the likelihood of you recommending a $500 course to a friend? What if you know that it will genuinely help them, but they can’t afford it right now? And even if you do recommend it, what’s the likelihood of them enrolling and giving it a shot?
I’m no betting man, but I’d guess those odds are astronomically low.
On the flip side, how would you feel about recommending the same course—one that genuinely helped you—knowing that your friends can get it for free? And how many of your friends are likely to give it a real shot based on your enthusiastic recommendation, knowing that it’s safe (and expected) for them give it a try without handing over money first?
Pretty stark difference, huh?
In other words, I suspect the Gift Economy approach, combined with work that’s actually worth sharing, will lead to an organic word of mouth wildfire, the likes of which would be possible no other way.
Generous, high quality work will lead to happy customers. Happy customers will lead to genuine recommendations. And the Gift Economy model will make it far more likely those recommendations will be trusted and acted upon.
The beautiful thing about this dynamic is that it compounds over time. The more people come into the system, the higher the likelihood of people reciprocating through word of mouth. And the more people come in, the more likely it is that a few of them will really, really want to pay me.
Playing long term games, with long term people
I fully expect that tens of thousands of people will take advantage of this dynamic, and never pay me a dime. And that’s ok. I hope my work still helps those folks build lovely creator businesses that make the internet a friendlier, more vibrant, abundant place.
This is all fine, because even if the vast majority of people never want to pay me, I trust that I will still be able to thrive financially based on the few people who do.
After all, this is a True Fan style business. I’m aiming for “enough” instead of endless growth. If I can get to 1,000 or more people happily paying $100/year to support me, in addition to random one-off payments and gifts, my financial needs will be more than met. (Especially considering this is just one of three businesses I run, and I’ll also be doing some affiliate marketing and whatnot).
My bet is that by attracting way more people than I otherwise would, I’ll also attract more of the people who deeply vibe with my work and approach. And again, it’s not the masses I’m counting on to make this business successful, but the handful of people who “get it” and want to help.
Make no mistake, this business exists to serve and delight the latter group. It’s a highly specialized, deeply opinionated, niche media ecosystem. It’s for discerning creators who want to make 1,000 True Fans their reality, and who understand that 95% of traditional marketing advice does more harm than good towards that goal. For these people, Ungated will be an oasis of generosity in an ecosystem full of predators. It’ll be one of the few places where you can truly let your guard down and learn some useful stuff, without wondering what games I’m playing as I try to monetize your attention.
In that context, I have a hard time believing that people won’t reciprocate. Maybe I’m an idealist. A softie. A pollyanna. But I’ve met a hell of a lot of creatives and entrepreneurs over the last eight years, and damn near all of them have been good, principled, generous people. And I suspect that if I’m generous with the new folks coming into my world, and build relationships with them, and give them ways to reciprocate, a good many of them will.
A few more things that excite me
To be honest with you, there are a lot of unknowns that come with adopting this model. I’m sure I’ll discover all sorts of things, good and bad, that I should have considered beforehand. But hey, that’s life.
That said, there are a few stray benefits I’ve been thinking about that I’m super excited to lean into.
First and foremost, I don’t have to sell anymore. Like, ever. There will be zero hesitation or friction when pointing people towards one of my products if I think it’ll solve a problem for them. And if they need more information or context, we can jump on call to see if it’s a good fit, no selling required.
I also suspect this will make me about 100x less hesitant to post about my products on social media, because I know everyone will be able to access them freely. In a Gift Economy context, me sharing paid products across social networks goes from an act of uncomfortable self-promotion to an act of radical generosity at the snap of a finger. And that’s rad.
In fact, this model throws a wrench into my entire conception of marketing, as the emotional dynamics have changed. What does marketing look like in a world that’s not built around the transaction dance? I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out!
Also, I’m pretty sure this frees me up to make more non-commercial stuff. I don’t have to file off my rough edges, or make things because I think they’ll be "popular" with my market. Instead, I can go deep in the areas that aren't sexy, but are legit impactful. I can make the work I want to see in the world. I can follow my curiosity, explore new terrain, and take some risks, all without being tied to “best practices” or “guaranteed results.” That’s so liberating.
So yeah, that’s my spiel. I’m now operating fully within the context of the Gift Economy. It’s real. It’s happening.
If you want to be one of the first people to step through these doors with me, feel free to grab a copy of Find Your Niche, or book a coaching session. They’re both free of charge, unless of course, you’d like to gift me something in return. 😊