We build statues to represent important people that we want society to remember. Kings, philosophers, generals—the goal is to preserve their history for future generations. To accomplish this, we build them with long lasting materials and put them in conspicuous places.

The way I see content is similar. Every time you create something online, you're building an internet statue that will preserve your history.

These statues are much longer lasting (the material is not stone, but electrical charges on flash cells or pits in optical memory). They're also much more accessible (for the most part, anyone on Earth can find your statue in an instant).

Why this matters

If you create something good, whether it's a company, a post, or a product, there's a significant chance people will be experiencing that thing one hundred years from now.

I mean, in the grand scheme of things, we invented the internet (or whatever it may be called in the future) less than 50 years ago. This puts us very much in its infancy. Everyone alive today is pretty much a "founding father", and given the exponential nature of data, it's entirely possible people will still be looking you up in the year 2148.

Some digital media have theoretical storage times of a thousand years. Unless we nuke ourselves, I think it might even be reasonable to consider even longer timescales. I mean, future historians are going to want to back our shit up, right? The impact of what you make today may be felt for hundreds of generations.

Going viral on YouTube

This sci-fi thinking isn't just idle fancy. I'm writing it because of how it impacts my own life. In particular, I find my motivation waning now that I'm a month into brand building, and I want to construct a simple, repeatable argument to tell myself if/when I start "falling off the wagon".

(I do this sort of thing often, by the way. I consider it similar to immune system defence—except against my own mind)

Why now? Because last week, I went viral. One of my 1-hour-long videos got ~20K views in a few days, which translated to a lot of watch time. This understandably brought in a flood of followers, a ridiculous number of inquiries, and a lot of dopamine. As a result, I hit 5K subs yesterday, around one month since I began publishing consistently on YouTube.

Virality doesn't last, of course. So today I'm back to "regular" growth, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of ~150 subs/day. When I logged in this morning and saw that, I immediately felt my determination waver, and this journal entry is me inoculating against the effects of that moment.


So let's inoculate!

Every statue I build may be seen for dozens of years... by millions of people! Viewed from an ROI perspective: each statue is a digital asset that will bring me income, interest, and reputation for a very long time.

If I consider my "hourly rate" talking into my camera, and then pool my earnings attributable to that action over the course of the next ten years, it's probably something like $10,000/hour!

What else could I do that would deliver that high of an ROI? Tactically marry into the Gates family? Become the fucking President? Even then it's questionable... $10K/hour x 2,000 hours/year = $20M/yr. Unless Biden is hiding quite a few Benjamins under his bed I think continuing to publish is the right call.

Some math

Right now, my average video has netted me 5,000 subscribers/32 videos = ~161 subscribers each. Some videos are more, some videos are less—but I think a sample size of 32 is reasonable enough to model with.

If we multiply this by 12, a single video can thus be expected to net me ~1,932 subscribers per year.

That said, popularity follows network effects. So I can probably expect the number of subscribers per video to decay exponentially as time progresses, with brief periods of "rediscovery" punctuating that and making me viral again. I see this happen often on YouTube and think that's a reasonable assumption.

Conservatively, let's say each year, the popularity of my videos declines by 75%. To represent that numerically, it'd be something like 1,932 in the first year, 1,932 x 0.25 in the second year, 1,932 x 0.25^2 in the third year, and so on. If you wanted to plot this over time, you'd wrap a summation operator around that and get Σ(1,932 x 0.25^n), where n is the number of years.

At n = 8, a single video using the above equation is worth 2,576 subscribers. Posting one video per day per year would net me 940,240 subscribers each year. Looking at it that way, I think it's fair and certainly worth the effort. Even if I were to quarter this (as is necessary when you're pulling as much shit out of thin air as I am), I believe I'd still make the decision to continue, and that's a good litmus test.

So I write this to say: if you find your motivation to build your internet business fluctuating, you probably haven't logically evaluated the expected return of what you're doing. Zoom out a little more, and your ROI may be a few dozen times higher than what you think!

Lastly, I think we should all appreciate a bit more how strong the inbuilt human bias is towards negative thinking. Tens of millions of years of evolution have built brains that naturally focus on the bad, because it improves the likelihood of our survival. Today, we don't need to do this—but our brains will continue unconsciously influencing our beliefs regardless.

We must combat this intentionally! Unless you're very confident that what you're doing on the Internet is no longer valuable, you should probably continue. Of course, be careful with your modelling and make sure to bake realistic assumptions into your expected ROI.

Good luck!

Building internet statues