Altrepreneurial vs Entrepreneurial and Why I am going to Work with Al Jazeera

Friday, December 16th, 2011

By Mark Boas

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a bio – explain a bit about myself in a few lines. I hate writing bios, all that faux third-personage – I never really know what to write.

The reason a bio was required was that I’d been offered a position as a Knight-Mozilla sponsored fellow with Al Jazeera – the happy end-result of a Knight-Mozilla news challenge that I have been actively enjoying over the last few months. It was agreed that I would work slightly less than full-time hours and on a largely remote basis and so I was glad to accept the fellowship knowing I could still dedicate time to my family and other interesting projects (not that I would classify my family as a project you understand). Working with Al Jazeera is of course an experience not to be missed. I couldn’t have imagined that my life would take such a turn a year ago or so, but I’m very glad that it did and I put it all down to my (broadly directionless) approach to working life.

I consider myself very lucky that because of my sedentary lifestyle I need very little money to get by. This has allowed me to follow my interests while working for our small ‘company’ Happyworm for the last 10 years. I consider this a very real success. We created a popular open source project and foster a fairly large community — from this many opportunities have arisen. Recently for example, I was asked by the W3C to run an online audio/video course and this has been a fantastic experience and now I have the opportunity to find out the world of journalism works and hopefully contribute. All this would probably not have occurred if I hadn’t simply thrown caution to the wind and followed by interests.

There are two of us now working for Happyworm, we used to be three but our web designer (also my partner) decided that at least one of us should have a steady income and generously offered to take up full-time work at a local council. So it’s just the two of us working with 3rd party designers when we need them. I’m based just outside Florence and Mark P’s in the heart of Edinburgh, although we are very different, we have similar requirements and a similar history – Mark P left a well paid job as a CMOS camera chip designer to come and work on web stuff.

This finally brings me to the title of this post, when writing my bio I foolishly used a little known, possibly non existent word, by describing Happyworm as tiny altrepreneurial web agency.

I stumbled on the word altrepreneur some years ago here :

“The Altrepreneur, like their colleague the Entrepreneur, runs one of the 3 Million Micro Businesses in operation in the UK today. However unlike the Entrepreneur, with a financial and career focus, the Altrepreneur is doing it for entirely different reasons.

It seems that 70% of those small businesses are being run because the owner/operator is focused on achieving a change in their life-style through running a small business, they are looking to increase their overall quality of life by putting in some up front hard graft.

This goes hand in hand with the growing movement around Authenticity (…). The idea that the source of much tension in our lives is the conflict between our true selves and the roles that we play. Getting in touch with your true self and letting go of that tension will lead to a very different kind of life.”

This article chimed very strongly with me – my objectives and the decisions I made to leave a well paid job, set up Happyworm, move to another country, be my own boss and follow my own interests where possible. We now have two children, who I am fortunate enough to see a lot of. Recently I decided to look after the 9 month old Anna in the mornings for 4 days of the working week and then work from 14:30 until midnight with a 3 hour or so (I don’t time it) break for family dinner and games. I grow vegetables, cook at least once a day and am involved in the local community centre – finally I feel like I am achieving that mythical work-life balance.

So to me the word altrepreneurial seemed a perfect concise way of explaining what I did and how I see Happyworm. Incidentally Happyworm turned 10 years old in October. You might think 10 years is pretty good going for a small company but the truth is we would never have lasted so long if we were in it for the money, we’ve had good spells but also our fair share of dry spells where we worked on open source, brewed our own beer and patched our own clothes (or at least I did). Turns out following our interests and making jPlayer has been much more of a success than we could have imagined, I think we’re approaching half a million downloads and perhaps the best measure – a community of around two and a half thousand.

Despite the money, like most people I’m not really happy working long hours on projects I’m not interested in (although through necessity I’ve done my fair share), I don’t think actually I’m any good at something my heart isn’t in. Maybe I’ve been spoiled, but the most important thing for me is to enjoy my work and so life, the money is always a secondary consideration and that’s why, contrary to what you may see written in my bio, I work for a small altreprenurial web agency – not entrepreneurial. Damn you auto-correct!

This notebook has been lying on my desk for the best part of a decade.

This notebook has been lying on my desk for the best part of a decade.

Some perspectives on the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Fellowship :

My Life as a Startup – The Road not Taken by The Guardian fellow – Nicola Hughes

Journalism in the Open: the 2011/12 Knight-Mozilla Fellows by Project Header Upper – Dan Sinker

Knight-Mozilla names news technology fellowship winners

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Friday, December 16th, 2011 development, journalism, jPlayer