Cattle Not Pets
Issue 1 of the Small Bets Newsletter
It was a sad day when my grandfather decided it was time to cull my favorite sheep.
Part of the reason it was my favorite is that it was a slightly different color than the rest; it stood out.
He told me we would have some good meat for a while, a luxury for us back then. Since it was my favorite sheep, I wanted to say goodbye; I was sad but understood this was how life worked for us. As a seven-year-old watching, I'll never forget how my grandfather held that sheep that day; it was a clean slice on the neck.
Then later, my favorite old sheep was hanging upside down as he carefully cut its leather skin off not to damage it. Sheep produce more than milk; they make about 10 pounds of wool per year that we use to make sweaters.
But their leather skin, after it's cured and dried properly, makes for some wonderful warm rugs. We had several of them around the house; we lived primitive, and we didn't have fancy heating sources, so these rugs kept our feet warm in the winter next to the fireplace.
And my favorite sheep was part of a flock of about 20 that we kept.
That sheep was very useful to my family for a decade. Each sheep can produce about 2 liters of milk per day for about 160 days out of the year. It was a small but important part of our sustenance over those years. It produced milk, tasty feta cheese, yogurt, sweaters, and other things.
But once sheep get up to around ten years old, they stop breeding, and once they stop breeding, they stop making milk and start to wither. My favorite sheep was up there in age.
Then when my favorite sheep stopped making milk, we couldn't afford to keep it around just for me to play with it. And it had more to give us on those last days. Mainly, that roasted lamb was scrumptious.
We survived on our animals - the flock of sheep, along with the cows, pigs, and chickens we had.
How we lived when I was a kid is how humans lived and sustained themselves for millennia. Each animal had multiple uses for us, we kept a few pets, but even the pets we kept were useful and pulled their weight. Our dog used to help me when I took the sheep out to graze. Our cat used to eat the mice out of the grainary and in the barn.
These sources combine and create a reliable antifragile lifestyle.
Yet today, the vast majority of humanity has one source of sustenance: their job.
For a long time, I was one of those people. But over the last few years, I have diversified out. I have created about four types of income so far. One is from real-estate long-term rental properties. Another is from consulting, where I trade my time for money. The third and fourth I have created entirely in the last two years. One is from software I have built and continue to build as a service. And the fourth is from digital products: two courses, and one book.
My two newest sources of "sustenance" created about $100k in income from internet money for me in 2022. Specifically, one software engineering course generated about $50k on its own.
That engineering course is my new favorite digital sheep. It is at prime milking age and continues to provide. And that course has also produced other opportunities for me, lots of digital lambs.
But that engineering course is part of a flock of other projects. And some things didn't turn out to be huge hits, namely some of my software. So I scrapped some, the scraps were useful too, much like the rug from my favorite old sheep is useful. The scraps went into other projects.
I will confess that I do have some pet projects; projects that I could have outsourced or bought but I have an emotional attachment to. I enjoyed creating them. My personal website is one, but even those pet projects have multiple uses. For example, my website maintains my articles, serves as a hub for my digital life, and all of my followers are stored safely on a blogging platform I hand-coded and fully own. And its code has proven and will continue to prove useful and reusable for future projects.
When Daniel Vassallo says “treat your projects like cattle, not pets,” he is saying to take the emotion out of all this. With certain things we should act as if they'll last forever: family, relationships, house, hobbies, etc. With other things, we should act as if they're very temporary: jobs, businesses, startups, etc. Don’t get attached to your business projects. Keep as few pets as possible. You need to eat. And most of all, don’t rely on one thing for sustenance. That way, you can kill off things for scraps and not feel bad when they are no longer useful.
Thanks to Chris Wong and Daniel Vassallo for helping edit this piece.
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Small bets in the wild:
🔸 Annie Duke talks about the power of quitting. From her poker career, she learned when to hold’em and when to fold’em. When to cull and when to care.
🔸 Colleen Robb asks, “Why would we spend hours of energy and resources on building something your customer doesn’t need?” You would only spend hours of energy and resources on something your customer doesn’t need if the project is a pet.
🔸 Pieter Levels - “Ship More”
Highlights from the Small Bets Community:
🔸 We will be hosting a free public webinar on March 7th. It will be all about how to start and succeed with your own newsletter.
🔸 We have an exciting lineup of live guest classes coming up next month. These are all 100% free for all members of the community:
Mar 10 - Nick Wignall - Making Money on Medium
Mar 17 - Benjamin Carlson - How to Get The Attention of Highly Influential People
Mar 21 - Justin Welsh - Understanding LinkedIn
Mar 23 - Daniel Vassallo - Gumroad Crash Course
Mar 28 - Catherine Cusick - What to expect when you go self-employed
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