Once upon a time, there were people who became artists and writers and entrepreneurs, and then there was everyone else who watched from the sidelines. People who worked in banks and hospitals and estate agents and supermarkets. People who made career decisions at sixteen or seventeen; who put aside creative aspirations or entrepreneurial tendencies in favour of a more practical college course or a potentially stable career.
Some of this is down to lack of encouragement – the career guidance counsellor who says “Now, painting pictures isn’t really a job, but what about accounting?” And some of it is common sense. Lots of people have a creative side, but not everyone can make a career of it. And if we did, there’d be no accountants or nurses or teachers or bus-drivers left to buy the books and the paintings. Or to teach the kids and drive the buses.
But still. It means there were many people who chose certain paths, and in doing so, quenched any possibility of following a passion. A product not invented, a book not written.
Then, along came the internet. And everything changed.
Suddenly, aspiring artists could photograph their paintings and sell them online. Secret bakers could set up kitchen-businesses and sell cakes on Facebook. Talented crafters could open Etsy shops. Kitchen-table novelists could self-publish e-books. The technically gifted could invent multi-million-dollar apps (I want that talent).
Today, everyone has a shot – the playing field has, to an extent, been levelled.
And it’s not just about sales and money-making: it’s about venting; airing a talent; flexing a creative muscle.
Hesitant writers can start a blog – try it out, see what fits, tell nobody until there’s something to tell. Wannabe photographers can showcase their art on Instagram. The interior designer that never was can nurture boards on Pinterest. The film-maker whose day job is waiting tables or balancing books can post her own short-films on YouTube.
And if you work really (really) hard at it, you might just succeed like these household names, who all started out with a laptop and an internet connection:
Justin Bieber began his career in 2008 by uploading videos of himself singing R+B songs onto YouTube. He was discovered seven months later by Scooter Braun who became his manager, and by 2012 he had sold 15 million albums and had been named by Forbes as the third most powerful celebrity in the world. Known as the world’s first social media superstar, he now he has 51 million followers on Twitter – eleven times the population of Ireland. And he’s still only twenty years old. So if you can sing, forget The Voice – get on to You Tube quick.
The Huffington Post was started as a blog and online newspaper by Arianna Huffington in 2005. Now owned by AOL, who bought it for $315m, it won a Pulitzer prize in 2012. And with 2.4 million Facebook fans and 4 million Twitter followers, it remains one of the most prolific news blogs in the world.
AirBnB, the global accommodation website that was in the news recently with plans to double its workforce in Ireland, was started by founder Brian Chesky and his flatmate Joe Gebbia when they couldn’t afford their rent. They began hosting paying guests on airbeds in their San Francisco apartment, and providing home-cooked breakfasts. Their website which enables users worldwide to do the same, now features more than half a million listings and is on track to become the largest hotelier in the world. It is said to be valued at about $10 billion.
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James started out writing fan-fiction on her own website, and then self-published her very famous novel as an e-book and on a print-to-order basis when she couldn’t find a mainstream publisher. She has now sold 70 million copies world-wide.
Mark Zuckerberg‘s story is the one everybody knows – he started Facebook in his dorm while at Harvard, and it went on to become the multi-million user, multi-billion dollar social network it is today. Zuckerberg at just 29, has a net worth of $19bn according to Forbes. And Facebook has 1.2 billion active users every month. Zuckerberg literally changed how millions of people interact with one another, from his college dorm.
Of course, launching an online shop or a blog or an internet business doesn’t automatically mean that success and fame are just around the corner. The competition is as tough as ever, and the most talented will always rise to the top. But now more people can at least enter the race. Even if it’s not a race. Even if it’s just nurturing a little creativity, letting off a little steam.
Now excuse me while I go to work on my multi-million dollar app.