This article originally appeared on Forbes on January 31, 2022.
One of the common themes of any hero’s journey is the period where the protagonist is in the woods. The woods represent transition. For Dante, the woods are related to the challenges and transformation that must occur as one goes from one stage of life to another; in the case of The Inferno, the transition that occurs happens during middle age. For Little Red Riding Hood, her mother sending her through the woods to her grandmother’s house — during which she encounters all manner of danger and confusion — represents the transformation from childhood to adolescence; with the red cape being a symbol for menstruation. George Lucas was certainly aware of the hero’s journey when he had Luke Skywalker encounter his teacher, Yoda, in the woodsy swamp. Archetypes can be useful in helping us feel less alone as we encounter our periodic dark nights of the soul; they offer a sense of continuity and assurance that our journey is somehow part of a larger mosaic. There is a quote in The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work that I as a human, artist, and entrepreneur hold close:
“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.”
I love this quote. It’s useful with respect to not only life and artistic choices, but also rings resoundingly true with respect to entrepreneurship. As a long-time entrepreneur, I have come to crave and seek those moments in time when there is no path. It is during these times where there is the greatest opportunity. Once there is a clear path any material impact or profit will have been arbitraged to the point where only incumbents will have an advantage.
The North Star that always guides me through the pathless woods is my own personal “Purpose, Not Product” mantra. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve been able to realize that when I ask myself if the time I am spending on a project/startup/investment/etc. leads to helping artists create sustainable careers on their own terms my decision is very binary and very easy: if “yes” go, go, go! If “no,” stop immediately.
With the benefit of this clarity I can focus and remove any noise and/or need for external support. I simply blaze the path and am unconcerned by any and all factors that might get in my way. This doesn’t mean I will succeed, but it does mean that I won’t be distracted by volatility; from a financial or emotional sense.
Anyone familiar with my work knows that I’m an OG Blockchain proponent; the first piece I wrote in this space on the topic was in 2015. The same impetus that led me to write about Blockchain tech then still drives me today: my belief that it helps artists build sustainable careers on their own terms.
In Blockchain time, these past seven years feel like eons. Think about where your knowledge base was with respect to Blockchain in 2015 compared to now; think about your knowledge related to NFTs, PFPs, and social tokens today compared to….six months ago.
Over the past seven or so years of being deeply entrenched in the space, there have been a number of greater or lesser “hype cycles.” While the Gartner definition of a hype cycle is undoubtedly the most thorough, I have internalized it to a degree that allows me to triangulate it against other data points. For instance, the most extreme hype cycle related to crypto that we’ve all lived through was the ramp up from roughly the Fall of 2017 to late December 2017. During this stage the price of bitcoin, the explosion of ICOs, and the related media frenzy made it obvious to anyone that we were in a late-stage hype cycle moment in time. I believe that we can say that we have either just ended another hype cycle in the crypto space or are still in the late stages of one. This is fairly discernible for similar reasons as the prior 2017 cycle; just replace “ICOs” with “NFTs,” and you’ll see what I mean.
None of this is meant to imply a market top or bottom. To say I’m uninterested in either is disingenuous, but what is genuine is that irrespective of where we are in the trajectory, my approach on how to confront it will be the same: build.
Hype cycles can be very valuable for entrepreneurs. It is during these times when liquidity is at its height. Of course, it is also during these times when there is a degree of chaos due to bad actors, media hype, etc. For those who are guided by Purpose, Not Product (or “profit”), the key is to avail yourself of the liquidity while remaining undistracted by the noise. For the True Believers, this is your moment to amass equity — both in the form of cash, but also brand and reputation.
It will be this equity that you accumulate during these times that will allow you to do what you really want: to build in an undistracted manner while the non True Believers (“heretics”?) have moved to whatever new shiny object catches their eyes.
As any True Believer — that is, one who values the purpose over the product/profit —I absolutely love these periods. It’s when work gets done. It’s when the media is busy with whatever it is currently generating clicks with, it’s when I personally don’t have to speak on countless panels, or do interviews trying to advance and educate. In short, it’s a “build cycle.”
Understanding not only the difference between hype and build cycles but also the deep relationship between the two allows the entrepreneur to, as the saying goes, “make hay while the sun is shining.” Importantly, it emphasizes a discipline that too often is lost amidst the flurry activity predicated on nearly endless possibilities: playing the long game.
Fortunately, this long game is really the only game when you focus on Purpose, Not Product; what else is there?
So, yes, perhaps with all of the NFTs and Bored Apes and just bewildering behavior by certain groups of people we are nearing a late-stage hype cycle, or, perhaps, it’s already occurred and we’re about to really explode. I don’t know. I do know that these cycles are recursive and I know that how you navigate them often determines if you achieve your goals or not.