My 2017

My favorite picture of 2017: My family overlooking Boulder, the city where I went to college and became me.
My favorite picture of 2017: My family overlooking Boulder, the city where I went to college and became me.

So, 2017.

It’s been a weird year.

I started the year with a job with a director of UX title, benefits, and a growing flood of stress. I end the year freelancing, without benefits, and a lot less stressed.

In fact, it could be argued that I’m “happy”… tho I wouldn’t go that far.

Here’s what happened along the way:

I went indie.

I finally went to IA Summit after years of never making it, but I spent all four days stressed to the point of not wanting to be near anyone. The job I was in was mashing all the buttons that make me a martyriffic stressbot about design. People were asking me how I was doing and I’d talk about 70 hour work weeks.

That was a sign something was off — a director of UX shouldn’t be putting in 70 hours a week for such a small launch project (and it was small despite it being a company just trying to get going). And a director shouldn’t be this panicked when the teams he was directing were on delivering on-time. I was showing the signs of burnout.

A few weeks later, I walked away. I wasn’t the right person to deliver what they wanted to deliver, not the right person to do it with the culture they were trying to create (which, personally, I felt wouldn’t deliver anything of substance while burning their employees out), and therefore, I couldn’t help them achieve what they needed to achieve. I walked, to the total surprise of the leadership.

I walked without another job. After a month of self-imposed “do nothing” (which was HARD, I tell ya), I went indie and launched Hêtre.

The new business has been a struggle. I was ready for the grind, but I wasn’t ready for fallow times. I’ve learning sales, diversification, and promotion all on the fly, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

All that said, I’m happy I left. When you are predisposed to care too much for work and your vocation, you are susceptible to an unhealthy relationship with your work. By stepping consulting role I finally found the disconnection I needed from the seduction. My central worry is keeping my company going, not borrowing the trouble of my employer as if I owned those problems.

I got back on stage.

I gave two conference talks in the same year for the first time since 2010, and I was on stage after taking 2016 off from public speaking.

One thing I hear a lot from the boo-birds of UX is “people who speak at conferences are usually the ones not doing the work.” And there are some people who are frequently on the speaking circuit whom I can’t identify any actual work they’ve done. But, I bought too much into the polarity of the statement.

The more I’ve talked to the people on the UX speaking circuit, the more I’ve found people who actually do the work of design — far more than the naysayers say they do. I think the difference is speakers shift away from the nuts and bolts of design and towards communicating design. And a lot of the reason for it is sales.

When I was launching Hêtre I interviewed half a dozen people in the indie design world. All of them said the foundational gigs they built their companies on came from people who heard them speak. Now, almost everyone I talked to was someone who I’d known from speaking or writing (so definitely some bias there), but it did remind me that to be successful I had to be known. Speaking and writing are two ways to get myself out there.

So, I’m looking for speaking gigs in 2018. I’m also slowly, slowly writing a book on UX careers. I’m doing it because I have things to share.

I don’t want to listen to the kids in the back row throwing spitwads anymore. I have too much to do to be distracted by them.

I wrote, and people read what I wrote.

Christina Wodtke threw out a request for “advice to new designers.” I put something together in 2 hours of writing and editing time.

And then it went viral. Something I didn’t expect. But then, who expects going viral? It got quoted, shared, criticized from the CanUX mainstage by Dan Klyn, and just kept going around the world.

Anne and I have been trying to get The Interconnected spun up over the last year, which has struggled to find a solid audience amid the great cloud of noise that is the design community. Sometimes it feels like writing into the void, talking to yourself and hoping that maybe someone will answer. This year, I feel like the void finally answered back, if only in a small way.

My favorite three things I wrote this year:
The True Tragedy Of The Commons
Telling Your Story
In Defense of Design Sprints

I dealt with the consequences of a broken society.

The #metoo age hit close to home one November afternoon. Julia, the strange Jewish girl that sat behind me in most my high school classes, was in paragraph 1 of a New York Times story where she accused Louis CK of whipping out his dick and then sabotaging her career.

Between #metoo and Black Lives Matter, I’ve felt driven to learn how to listen better, remember my own privilege and blinders, and remember to center on the victims. For a cishet white guy from Middle America, it’s been a painful transition, but I’m also mindful of the need for people like me to shut up and listen and amplify voices.

I’ve also learned, the hard way, that the abused are often the biggest defenders of the abusers. In the case of one set of accusations towards someone in the community, I had someone insisting, repeatedly, that the accused couldn’t be the problem, even as I kept inadvertently stumbling into people who’d been abused by the accuser. It was a bit of a shock to me, but knowing that now I’ve become mindful of how abuse affects people so I can have more empathy for them.

Meanwhile, I have members of my own family spouting alt-right and white supremacist memes and ideas. The work we have before us to create a truly just and equitable society is daunting, especially with current American administration presenting themselves as white supremacists. But still, I keep trying, keep making mistakes, keep apologizing, and keep going. I feel in debt to the women and people of color whose voices I’ve tried to amplify. I don’t want to be a hero. I just want to build a world based on empathy instead of supremacy.

I learned to be optimistic.

I’m never going to be happy. This is true. I’m just Eeyore with a tail pinned to my ass.

But I’m learning to be optimistic.

This summer I consulted with a company and their burned out design team who had lost their spark. One thing I told them, over and over, was that UX must carry the optimism of an organization. Things suck, but we hold out hope for better — in fact, we design the better. We’re the light in the dark, the ones who show not just how people interact with what we build, but also how we can make things better for those people.

I’ve gotten tired of hearing people insist on positivity and smiling. Seriously, smiling all the time doesn’t do crap. One of the worst designers I’ve ever worked with was eternally smiling. But the best designers I know are people who are biased to optimism, even when they’re frowning. They want “better,” not just “happy.”

Starting my own company has really pushed me on optimism. I’ve had deals go south, leads go cold, fallow times. But, I stay determined to make this work. And that’s what optimism is for me now — the determination to demand “better” and the ability to communicate that “better” so that everyone can latch onto it.

So that was my 2017. What does my 2018 look like? Well:
1. Get the business to where I can stop worrying about finding another job
2. Make myself more available through writing, speaking, and mentoring
3. Restore my 30 minutes a day of reading time
4. Lose weight, exercise, yadda yadda
5. Plant more “seeds in a garden you never get to see
6. And yeah, finish the damn book already.

A bit of an arduous list, but all doable in their own way.

The song that’s been closest to me lyrically in 2017 was Sylvan Esso’s “Slack Jaw”:

It’s not like I got hurt or broken
Or ruined on the way
It’s an ache and it shines through me
A swallow in a cage

Oh, slack jawed me
Can’t you see?
There’s so many rhythms and harmonies
And I’m walking the dog back

2017 left me feeling astonished and overwhelmed at where I am, and for all the people who’ve helped get here (and whom I’ve helped in return).

Here’s to more of that in 2018.

(I’m always ready to talk about your UX strategy and design needs! Contact me.)

2017 Recap — journey to a career in UX

2017 was my last full year as a master’s student. Therefore at the end of 2016, I knew that I’d need to take great strides in my journey to a career in the field of user experience. 2017 was also my last year to take advantage of many “student opportunities” like internships and conference scholarships. After being selected to attend Epicurrence in the fall of 2016, I found inspiration and motivation to reach towards goals that seemed beyond my capabilities and outside my comfort zone. I knew that in order to grow and make progress I’d need to take some risks and participate in these opportunities, even if doing so made me uncomfortable.

Overall, I’d say my year has been successful. It served as a reminder that opportunities may not come when or from where we expect them to, but if we keep working towards our goals, they will come eventually. I am on the right path and taking steps towards finding a full time role before graduation this May*. I’ve learned new things, met new people and given back in small ways. I will continue this momentum in 2018 and beyond.

Here are some things I did that made for a rewarding year:

My hunt for an internship

Attended a major career fair

I needed to get more work experience in the field of user experience design. Therefore, landing an internship was my ultimate goal for 2017. It was also the riskiest. I’d have to leave a stable salaried position to get this experience. Given there are not many opportunities in the Philadelphia area for UX internships, I thought I would leverage the resources of my alma mater, RIT.

In March, I took a few days off work to fly to Rochester and attend RIT’s career fair. Having attended in undergrad, I knew that top companies from across the nation would be in attendance all interested in junior tech and design talent. I invested time and money in hopes that I’d speak to some established and thriving companies, do well in a handful of interviews and earn a few internship offers in the months to follow. That’s how it happened when I attended their career fair back in 2012. I expected the same experience as an alumni with a few years of working in tech under my belt.

I worked the hell out of that career fair. I practiced my introduction. I wrote down the nine companies I wanted to speak to and found out exactly where on the floor each of them would be. I estimated how much time I would have to stand in line for each of them based on company popularity to strategically think through the order in which I should approach each company. I printed off 1 pagers of my top two UX case studies and prepared my 5 minute walk through of each. I gained access to a gym locker across the hall so I’d have a place to stash my coat and all the trinkets and free things companies were handing out so I’d never have my hands full and mess up a handshake. I wore a suit and pinned up my hair. Doors opened at 9 am and by noon I had talked to all nine companies I set out to. I rocked that damn career fair.

However, not one company invited me to interview the next day. I felt defeated and confused. I was more polished, prepared and experienced than undergrad. I spent the next day in my hotel room crying, sending follow up emails to the people I met the day before, and applying for more internships.

I’ll never know what happened but I refused to give up. I decided I’d apply for the few internship opportunities that were being offered through my current university.

Attended a smaller career fair

I took a day off work to attend a smaller career fair at my school. This was risky, as my job at the time was in attendance interviewing for positions as well, and I was afraid if they saw me interviewing for other companies I’d face some kind of push back at work. A mentor gave me advice along the lines of:

“What’s the worst that could happen? They could fire you for wanting to grow your career in a direction which they knew you had always been interested. In that case, is that a company you would want to work for?”

I took the risk and went to the career fair. I smiled at my coworkers from our UX and design teams as I walked past their table to sit for an interview for another company. Much to my surprise, they were supportive when I went into the office the next day.

Landed a UX Internship

I was really surprised when I was asked to come in for a second interview for one of the companies I’d spoken to at the smaller career fair. After all, it was a fashion and e-commerce company which I had never shopped at previously. It was not a brand I could afford. Even if I could, I was really far off from being their target audience and the clothes were the total opposite of my style. I was even more surprised when they made an offer of an internship.

Sometimes the opportunities we are given provide us not only experience in new environments and skills we enjoy, but also teach us what we don’t want to do and where we don’t want to be. My summer internship gave me experience working in house on a e-commerce team. I collaborated with lots of different roles. I learned how to write more effective questions for remote usability testing. I even got my feet wet working in Sketch for some small projects. I learned about my working style and what kind of support I need in order to grow in ways that are both beneficial for the team and fulfilling for me. I practiced asking for support and experienced what it was like when those requests went unanswered. I learned to listen to my gut when something just doesn’t feel right. I learned we should never force ourselves to “fit in” anywhere. I learned to be myself and to trust that if something isn’t right for me, eventually I’ll find something that is.

Landed another UX Internship

The highlight of my year was landing an additional internship for the fall at a dream company to work for in the Philadelphia area. I am about halfway through this internship and am learning a great deal about what makes an ideal junior level user experience researcher.

I entered the internship believing that I needed to prove myself and impress my team. I was sitting around a table where a third of the team has PhDs and even the more junior level researchers are leading projects, so I felt that I needed to show the team all I had learned about UX and user research. I wanted to be able to add value as soon as I could.

I quickly found out that my belief that I needed to prove myself could not be further from the truth. In reality, the key to being a successful junior researcher is to be a sponge. To always have a learner’s mindset. To listen, to understand, and to ask good questions. It’s okay to fail and not do things right the first time. With time in job comes the experience and technical skills of being a good researcher. We can teach someone skills, but it’s harder to teach someone how to learn.

I managed to overcome some of my self-doubt and push myself in making big efforts and accomplishing my goal of finding a internship. I could not be more grateful to be working at a great company, with an established UX team that is supportive and encouraging.

Other highlights of 2017

Attended ELA Conf

ELA Conf is a local tech conference for women, trans men and genderqueer people. I had been following it on Twitter for two years and attended for the first time this fall. I learned about:

It was really empowering to attend an event where I felt no pressure to perform or be anything but myself. Many of the speakers were doing so for the first time and I’ve never seen a more supportive audience. The conference didn’t have so many attendees that it felt overwhelming. There were lots of familiar faces from the Philadelphia tech community and everyone was approachable.

Participated in my first Hackathon

Before I attended a hackathon, when I heard the word I pictured a room of software developers typing away lines of code on their computers for 48 hours straight, building the next big “thing”. Though I had heard about local organizations hosting more inclusive hackathons, I still never imagined myself attending one. I couldn’t see how someone like me, an aspiring UXer, would fit in and add value.

In an effort to learn more about the space of Reentry in Philadelphia and bring the value of user experience to what I thought would be a development focused event, I signed up to attend my first hackathon, Power Up Reentry.

The hackathon was unlike anything I expected. Everyone from developers to writers to social workers attended the two-day event. On the first night, designers facilitated the session. They brought previously-acquired research on the various problems people coming home from prison face. They shared their research with all participants so we could more effectively brainstorm possible solutions. Some of the people we were designing for attended. They gave testimonials and were actively part of the conversations with us.

My team and I working on our concept


The next day we got to work! I was blown away at how far teams were able to go in developing concepts for solutions. I found myself as the team lead collaborating with people of diverse skill sets including writing, software development and social work. Together we created a concept for a texting platform to connect people with resources when they are returning home from prison.

Presenting the Help By Text concept

Supported other aspiring UXers

This year I was surprised to find people reaching out to me for advice. Some were fellow students in my classes, some were budding UXers from work, and others were people I met through Twitter. Whenever this happened I immediately questioned why they were asking me. After all, I am far from an expert on any topic and am still in my journey to my first full time role. However, as mentioned in a previous post, we don’t need to be experts to teach someone. We just have to know something that another person doesn’t or have had an experience that another person hasn’t.

This year, I’ve given people feedback on portfolio case studies, helped classmates through hangups when stuck in a user research funk, and shared what I knew about remote usability testing to newly a launched researcher. I hope that no matter where I go in my career, that I am able to give back and help the way people have helped me.

Met awesome new people and had great conversations with people I’ve known for a while

BabsJulia ElmanAnne GibsonAngela ColterVictor YoccoMike BegleyAngela AndrewsLauren DillardVivianne CastilloLaura OxenfeldJessica IvinsDustin SenosDylan WilbanksNomaan AhgharianZalyia GrilletBecky ChanAshley BernardKris PuckettDevin MancusoAngelina SimmsJane Von BergenRocco DiCicco and Aaron Bauman

To everyone above, I am so thankful for your support and encouragement. I’ve learned a lot from you all in 2017 and couldn’t have made it this far without you. Thank you so much!

*I am open to discussing opportunities. Please reach out to me!

Dismantling an investment market: Patreon’s fees

[DISCLAIMER: I am not and have never been a licensed representative or Certified Financial Planner for any financial institution or investment organization.  In other words, do not use this post — or any other post by anyone without the proper licenses and certifications — as financial advice. Seek out people who are being paid to work in your interests and know what they’re doing.]

A note on changing circumstances

When I started writing this, Patreon had announced a change to their fees. The change was so significant that both creators and fans were extremely upset, and as we’ll explain, they had good reason.

Today, Patreon announced they’re not rolling out the fee change. They also sent email to fans offering an easy way to resubscribe to any creators they’d dropped due to the change.

Obviously, that changes my original conclusions a bit.

Some investing basics

Here are some observations from a reasonable career in Finance (as a tech support specialist and UX Designer) regarding Patreon’s previous and current fee structures.

First, some basics.

stock is a share (or shares) of a company. There are only so many shares of stock for each company, and when you buy shares of stock, you buy it from someone else who already has it. That part isn’t important to our conversation.

Stocks can be purchased (or sold) at any time while the market is open, but every time you buy a stock, you pay a) the money for your shares and b) a commission to whatever stock broker you’re using as a middle man.  That part is important our conversation.

So stock is like cheesecake. When you buy a piece of cheesecake, you get one layer of solid cheesecake, maybe decorated by some fruit or something. You’re paying only for one solid thing: cheesecake filling. But you’re paying $5 for the slice of cheesecake and then another $1 to the cheesecake broker for finding you the cheesecake and selling it to you.

A thick slice of strawberry cheesecake with the strawberry sauce dripping over the solid single layer of cheesecake. Makes me hungry looking at it.

mutual fund is a package of stocks (or other securities) sold as a unit. When you buy shares of a mutual fund, you’re throwing your money into a pot with all of the other investors of that fund. Together you and the other investors are buying into a large sums of securities from a plethora of companies, all of which the group of investors now owns. Most mutual funds “follow” a market’s performance or aim for specific goals, whether it’s “look like the Dow Jones Industrial Average” or “make the most money physically possible in the Health Care sector” or “stay consistent and conservative because everyone putting money in this fund is planning to retire in 2020”.

So mutual funds are more like a rainbow layer cake. You’re paying $5 but you’re not getting one solid filling, you’re getting much smaller amounts of 5 different fillings (or more!)

illustration of a five-layer cake with different color layers, covered with white icing and sprinkles. Not my thing, but to each their own.

Mutual fund transactions are a bit different from stocks though, because to price them, the mutual fund advisors:

  • gather all the day’s money and pool it together
  • take out the very small percentage they need to run the mutual fund
  • buy (or sell) the appropriate investments to meet the fund’s goals until they don’t have any cash left
  • update the prices of the mutual fund shares based on the prices of the underlying securities and the number of shares of the fund.

When you buy a mutual fund you say “I am buying $5 of whatever this cake has in it is giving out” and you get $5 worth of cake. Whether that’s a big slice or a little one depends on whether the layers in the cake are worth a little money (so your $5 goes further) or a lot of money (so your $5 doesn’t go as far).

Why mutual funds are successful

Mutual funds are so handy and so successful precisely because people are pooling their money to do things. The reason why the fees are lower is also because people are pooling their money to do things.

Say that eight people want cheesecake: if they each buy slices individually, they’re going to pay $6 a slice ($5 for the the cheesecake and $1 for the cheesecake brokerage fee) to get a whole cheesecake. That’s $48, only $40 of which goes to the cheesecake maker. The cheesecake broker makes $8 in fees.

If those same 8 people pool their money in advance, they pay only $5 a slice. The cheesecake fund advisor takes $1 for the order, and $0.10 as an administrative fee. She gets paid based on how well she chooses the cheesecakes to buy, but her expenses are stated up front and everyone knows that as long as cheesecake costs $5 a slice the fee will be a dime.

That means that instead of buying 8 slices of cheesecake, the eight hungry people can afford to buy 9.4 slices of cheesecake for $48. So everyone who pooled their money gets one slice and an extra bite of cheesecake. The cheesecake seller gets $47 instead of $40. And the cheesecake fund advisor is getting paid less than the cheesecake broker, but certainly enough to live off of comfortably and cover expenses.

So, the best “bang for the buck” when investing is to pool money with other investors, across a wide variety of investments, in order to maximize investment while minimizing fees.

How’s Patreon doing at that money-pooling thing?

What it’s been until now

Patreon is a service that, according to their homepage, “allows [creators] like you to get paid by running a membership business for your fans”. It is literally about people pooling their money to invest in artists/writers/musicians/etc so that person (cheesecake seller) can afford to produce their art (cheesecake) and gain a salary from it.

If you’re a Patreon member, you choose which artists you want to invest in and pool them together so you’re essentially designing your own rainbow cake / mutual fund / portfolio of artists to support.

Let’s look at Patreon’s fee structure prior to the most recent announcement with a hypothetical scenario. As a fan, I built a “portfolio” of creators I wanted to support, and I could break up that portfolio in a number of ways. Let’s say I chose to invest in 6 creators, and I chose to give one creator $5 and 5 other creators $1 a piece. That’s a total of $10.

Like a mutual fund investor, I contacted my broker, Patreon, and say, “I’m in for $10.”

(Note: Everything from here down is me running math based on Patreon’s fees from the announcement article previously cited, which are unclear in specifics precisely because fees are complicated things to manage.)

Patreon then pulled $10 from my account once a month, and deducted my transaction fee of 2.9%+$0.35, which totals about $0.64. That’s similar to the $1 our mutual fund advisor needed to buy the cheesecake. Once that’s removed, there’s around $9.36left, which divided across the creators fairly means my $5 creator grossed around $4.65 and everyone else grossed $0.93.

Then Patreon took takes their 5% service fee off of that (probably, I’m not sure of the order) so my $5 creator netted $4.41 and the rest got around $0.88 a piece.

In short, we’re buying rainbow cake.

illustration of a five-layer cake with different color layers, covered with white icing and sprinkles. Not my thing, but to each their own.

Sounds small, but multiply it by even 100 patrons per creator and you’ve got $88 bucks going to the small creators and $441 going to the big one. That’s the kind of money that takes care of gasoline bills, a prescription, or even the heat or electricity bills.

The newly-announced now-cancelled fee structure

For various reasons, Patreon recently decided that instead of selling me a slice of rainbow cake, they wanted to sell me six individual slices of cheesecake. They wanted to sell me those six slices of cheesecake not all at once, but on the anniversary of whatever day I signed up to buy cheesecake, so a couple of them could all land on the same day, and a couple more could be scattered throughout the month.








And because they would have charged me on different days for different slices, I would have lost the market forces that came with pooling my money. I would have owed brokerage fees for each individual slice of cheesecake, instead of paying once for the whole rainbow cake.

Now in their defense, it’s not a 100% parallel to stock. After all, if Apple’s selling their cheesecake for… checks the market$162 a slice, then the smallest amount I can buy is a single $162 slice, plus brokerage fees. In Patreon’s world I can still provide patronage to a creator for $1 a slice, and receive a $1 slice of cheesecake. In fact, they ensured us that they were  being generous because that $1 slice of cheesecake netted the creator $0.88 (by my math) under the old fees and $0.95 under the new fees. For a creator with a big enough audience, that could have been significant.

But before the change, Patreon charged a transaction fee of 2.9% + $0.35, and it was considered part of the cost of my $10 in cake (baked in, if you will). Under the new fees, I would have paid 6 transaction fees across the month (whether all my transactions are on one day or not) and each one would have cost me 2.9%+$0.35. Before, the monthly pledge was $0.29+$0.35, which is $0.64. After the change, it would have been roughly the same 2.9% across the 6 transactions, but the $0.35 would’ve multiplied by 6, so that’s $0.29 + $2.10, or $2.39 in fees, an increase of $1.75.

And like stocks, these are fees on top of the perceived cost of the product. If I wanted a $1 pledge, it would have cost me $1.37ish. So what cost me $10 out of pocket in the old world, with the creators getting around $8.81 of that, cost me $12.39 in the new world. The creators meanwhile get a raise from $8.81 to $9.50, which frankly is a lower number than $2.39.

By switching to a broker-fee model like stocks where I would be responsible for both the transaction fees and the cost of the cheesecake, Patreon would have significantly upped the amount of money coming out of my pocket over what it cost me to buy the mutual-fund model of rainbow cake.

This not only really made the fans paying the artists unhappy, it made the artists even more unhappy. The general assumption from creators in my twitter feed has been the existing fees were a cost of doing business necessary to ensure transparency in what was leaving the fans’ pockets. After all, receiving $0.88 is still $0.88 higher than receiving $0, which is what they were getting before Patreon was invented.

Why are people so mad about the fees?

Fans were mad because their $10 bill just jumped to $12.39 (Or higher!)

If $10 is all I could afford, as a fan, I would have to choose which creators I’m going to stop supporting so I could get back down to within my budget.  I might have done that by dropping two $1 pledges, which took my total from $12.39 to somewhere closer to $9.69. Or I might have done it by dropping my $5 pledge, which took my total owed to way under $10, but still didn’t buy me the comfort and enjoyment I had before.

I may have lost access to content I enjoyed, or special perks, since each of the pledge levels generally has something else associated with it.

In either of those cases, one or more of my creators went from at least $0.88 on the dollar to zero while the other creators netted a couple extra pennies, and someone who collected transaction fees got a whole lot more of my money than they used to. Whoo. I am soooo glad I made that trade-off. NOT.

Because the announcement came out of the blue and only gave me a few weeks to decide what to do about my support, the announcement probably stressed the hell out of me. Its timing over the December holidays, when many Americans are overextending their budgets anyway, was a shitty thing to do. Many fans feel guilty for dropping their pledges, and angry that Patreon forced them to do so. A significant amount of trust in Patreon was shattered. A not-insignificant portion of Patreon’s users have left the market altogether.

It’s worth remembering that fans don’t have a wide assortment of options for supporting creators. Patreon was legitimately one of the least expensive and most robust options.

In the not-Patreon world of investing, you can buy the slice of cheesecake from anyone who participates in the market. If you don’t like the cheesecake brokerage fee from one company, you shop around until you find a broker that charges lower fees, but everyone’s selling the same slice of cheesecake.

In the Patreon world of investing, most creators don’t have the time, money, or energy to set up dozens of competing revenue streams — they’d rather be creating and may already have full time jobs as it is. If you want the Seanan McGuire slice of cheesecake, and she sells her cheesecake only at Patreon, that’s where you shop.

But it’s also really hard on the creators themselves. We received very little warning about the change, only a few days at most. We were given no choices regarding whether we wanted to adopt the fees. And there’s a significant cost in time and money to switch to a different “broker”. Even if it wasn’t the one time of year when most creators are tearing their hair out trying to meet holiday gift requests it would be an insane amount of pressure to either swallow the new fees or move to a different platform altogether. The timing just painted Patreon’s decisions in an even poorer light.

And once the announcement went out about the fees, fans started leaving in droves. Some left because they couldn’t afford it, some left because they were mad as hell. Both voted against Patreon’s changes with their wallets, but it’s the creators who took the worst of the hit. There are reports of creators losing as much as $600 a month. That’s anything from the purchase of two 5,000 word fantasy stories at going professional rates to rent, depending on what kind of creator you are.

So Patreon’s choice to switch from a mutual-fund-ish model to a stock-ish model hurt both fans and creators. It not just hurt them, it insulted them. In many cases, it priced people out of the market altogether. It said:

  • If you can’t afford to pay multiple fees every month, you can’t afford to support your favorite creators, and we don’t want you here.
  • If you can’t afford to lose your lowest tier ($1/month) patrons who can no longer afford our fees, you can’t afford to be a creator, and we don’t want you here.

So what happens now?

Patreon’s fee change would have moved from an anyone-can-invest mutual fund platform to a must-be-savvy-and-well-off brokerage platform.

That was their original choice, and they recognized today it was a bad one. Had they stuck with their original choice, it would have opened up a hole in the market for nimble companies who want to move in to the mutual-fund-as-patronage-model space.

When we invest in things like our 401ks or IRAs (or investment account of your choice outside the US), we generally do so in mutual funds. We build businesses by investing small amounts in a diverse set of businesses that are each layers in our rainbow cake. Small business become medium or large businesses because of these tiny investments that are pooled across thousands of people.

Patreon provided that same model for us to spread small investments across multitudes of creators and help them grow. No one in the arts starts out as a huge success. No one is born a bestselling writer or a million-dollar artist or even as a top-tier chef. We know that as creators and we know it as fans. But now the Patreon model is gone, replaced by a model that requires both creators and fans to have reached a modicum of success outside the platform before they’ll be admitted.

Both creators and fans want to support fellow creators and fans. We seek out the ability to efficiently throw a couple of bucks into the hats for the dozen buskers that might or might not someday make it big, knowing that we might be partially responsible for that one violinist who moves from the subway tunnel to the recording studio. We want to enjoy their work when they’re small and when they’re big. But we want to do it in ways that we can afford, which means we must have a market with a low point of entry on both sides of the artist/patron divide.

So where does that leave us? Even after pulling back their changes, I’m predicting it leaves Patreon with a lot of rebuilding to do and it leaves a lot of creators looking for other markets. The damage to Patreon’s reputation is pretty high.

I’m also predicting that at some point, someone will found a company whose charter is “Be the mutual fund company of crowdsourcing” and their mission statement will be to help both fans and creators, at even the lowest of price points. Maybe that company will be Patreon, in an effort to recover. Maybe it’ll be someone else. Whoever it is, when that company gets on their feet, they will change the world… and we can have our cake and eat it too.