If you’ve ever dreamt of starting your own business, start building it online now, before the digital gold rush ensues.
The gold rush was a common occurrence during the 19th century. From North America to South Africa to Australia, miners came in search of gold and in search of fortune. But at the heart of it, these people were in search of a better life. For themselves, their family, and future generations to come.
The pursuit of a better life is nothing new in the steady march of human progress. The hope and the inevitability of success necessary for such pursuits can be a powerful force. It is the silent, invisible poise inherent within each of us that gets us from where we are to where we want to go, no questions asked. And that is why, despite famines, depressions, pandemics, and natural disasters, humanity continues to persevere and thrive.
And while quarantines, isolation, and the economic downturn of 2020 may have lulled you to sleep, do not be fooled. We may have experienced a deceleration of the global economy, but bubbling under the surface, powered by billions of connected devices, has been the quiet and swift acceleration of digital independence—an engine of global prosperity that will carry humanity to new levels never before seen.
Which is why, now, more than ever, you cannot rely on others for your opportunities.
You cannot rely on politicians to make your life better.
You cannot rely on your boss for that raise or promotion you’ve been waiting for.
Now is the time to bet on yourself, create your own opportunities, and stake your claim on the internet before the digital gold rush ensues.
Show me history and I’ll show you the future
Human progress up until the 21st century has typically moved at a steady pace. And if you look back along its historical path, you’ll come across a handful of rare, extraordinary events, each producing its own dramatic inflection point in the otherwise constant drumbeat of history. The creation of the printing press, the harnessing of electricity, the invention of the computer, and the advent of the internet, just to name a few, have created entirely new categories of wealth, opportunity, and leverage on a large scale.
And as horrible as the year 2020 has seemed, I am adamant that we are living through the early stages of the next dramatic inflection point.
In the coming decades, we are going to see a dramatic decentralization in the workforce:
- “Normal” 9-5 jobs will become extinct.
- Corporate ladders will be a thing of the past.
- The gig economy will become mainstream as more people decide to work for themselves.
- Websites will become the new real estate.
- Domain names will be the new home addresses.
- Blogs, podcasts, eBooks and YouTube channels will become the new resume.
- While there will always be big brands, there will be a long tail of “personal brands”.
- The idea of spending six-figures on college will fade as the economy becomes decentralized.
- Personal accountability will be higher.
- Authenticity will become paramount.
- Your reputation will be your biggest asset.
And with all the tools of leverage on the internet, wealth will explode to new levels, all across the globe.
Sound too idealistic? Sure. But this is the not-so-distant future, whether you like it or not.
Because everything we are experiencing in terms of technological progress and workforce evolution will fall into the “unprecedented” bucket, it can be hard to understand all of this in clear and logical terms. But I always look to one period of time, above all, that closely resembles the doorstep we find ourselves on in our current moment in history: the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century.
The 21st Century Gold Rush
I have no doubt we are currently in the midst of the digital gold rush era. This may come as obvious to some. But because it is online rather than in a mine, the vast majority of people are unaware of this. And only those who have done their homework, and used their down time to build a solid, antifragile foundation, will be well positioned to catch this next inflection point in stride.
If you look closely at how the California Gold Rush played out in the mid-19th century, you begin to see the parallels in how the Digital Gold Rush is playing out in the 21st century.
The California Gold Rush (CGR) era officially lasted from 1848 to 1855, with effects lasting well into the 20th century. It was quite straightforward. Settlers explored, they struck gold, news spread, droves of people came, and when they couldn’t find anymore gold, it was over.
The Digital Gold Rush (DGR) era, like many things in the 21st century, is much more complex. I’ve narrowed it down to a 50-year period, from the inception of the internet (~1990) to just before the time Ray Kurzweil predicts the singularity (~2040). The phases of this new gold rush are not so neatly defined. But, without falling into the Procrustean Bed trap, you can begin to see a striking resemblance between these two eras on levels below the surface.
At the first level, take the five stages of technology adoption. You can often see this bell curve play out in all areas of life. There will always be a certain percentage of risk-takers, a certain percentage of holdouts, and varying levels in between.
For example, as I write this, we are in the late majority/laggard phase for smartphone adoption. Yet in terms of all things artificial intelligence (AI), we are still in the early innovator stage.
You can easily map this idea onto both gold rushes, which I’ve broken down into four primary phases: exploration, creation, distribution, and consolidation:
CGR: For decades and centuries, Americans were restless and always looking to expand west. But it took decades of exploration on the American frontier before the first news of gold in California circulated. Early settlers and explorers didn’t come with the intention of finding gold in the ground, but the abundance of natural resources and open land was enough to push them west.
DGR: On the very ground where miners eventually struck gold almost a century and a half earlier, a new type of explorer began tinkering with the power of the internet. Very few people in this phase knew what they were looking for, but the rabbit hole of the internet would continue to get deeper.
CGR: When the first gold was struck at Sutter’s Mill in 1848, more people than ever before flocked to the American West looking to strike it rich. Businesses were set up to facilitate the circulation of gold and the miners themselves. The American economy was reinvigorated, and the world economy boomed, from Chile, to England, to China. Brands were born like Levi’s, Wells Fargo, and even a personal brand in Mark Twain. California reached statehood because of this influx of settlers. And the world reached levels of prosperity unseen in the history of civilization.
DGR: In modern times, this can be seen as the period from the mid-1990s to the present. Tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google were born. And this has given rise to more people than ever before flocking to the internet to work from home, start businesses, and express themselves creatively and emotionally to an audience of billions.
This phase is where we find ourselves today. Creation has shifted into decentralized territory, as more and more individuals are beginning to earn a living working for themselves. With possibilities on the internet growing and a pandemic forcing people out of cubicles and into a new independent mindset, this sets the stage for the mainstream digital gold rush.
CGR: By 1856, the gold rush had ended. But the wealth that was generated from the discovery of gold, and the businesses set up around the new industry, was still being circulated. New resources were being discovered, exploited, and allocated. City centers began to emerge like Denver, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, San Francisco, and later, Los Angeles. And while the distribution phase was limited by the finite nature of physical gold, the effects have reverberated even to this day.
DGR: This phase began in the early to mid-2000s. Many of the established companies settled in and began to build upon their exploration and creation phases. Millions of new jobs were created. New technology was distributed to the masses. And with that, new seeds of possibility were planted that won’t truly become mainstream until later in this decade during the gold rush itself, as everyone will be scrambling to claim their territory on the internet and establish themselves as internet entrepreneurs.
Unlike the CGR, the possibilities of the digital gold rush are infinite. But the winners will be the early adopters—the ones who are settled in before the gold rush ensues.
CGR: After the Civil War, America began reconstruction. But the west was beginning its consolidation phase. Towns were being built, governments were being formed, laws were being enacted, and the foundation for new exploration and advancements would be set. Estates were established, and those who took advantage of the opportunity to strike gold became benefactors for further generations.
DGR: By the 2030s, the world will look far different. Most people will be working wherever they choose, whenever they choose, on whatever they choose. While there are efforts to consolidate the internet, the decentralized nature of it does not lend itself well to those who would aim to control it. Millionaires and billionaires will be made from the internet. They will consolidate their influence and wealth and become established benefactors to further generations. But given the infinite nature of the internet, this phase will never be complete.
Here is a visual representation of these four phases in the present day.
- As mentioned earlier, these phases in reality are not as neatly defined as they are on this graph. They each overlap and extend beyond the visible graph. (For example, the creation phase exists far into both directions. It’s just a matter of when you catch the wave.)
- Each colored section represents mainstream awareness and adoption (as referred to in the tech adoption graph above).
- The curves of digital independence (gig work, personal brands, internet entrepreneurs, etc.) and physical dependence (work for someone else, stay in a cubicle) will eventually intersect, marking the end of the Digital Gold Rush:
The more people that gain their digital independence, the harder it will be to stand out and differentiate yourself. Which is why it is critical that you are able to grasp the urgency and the inevitability of building your online presence.
The 21st century belongs to the digitally independent
If you stayed with me through that meandering journey, congratulations! Now you will be rewarded with the opportunity sitting right in front of your eyes. As you read this, 99% of humanity hasn’t yet grasped the magnitude of what is possible with the internet. And therein lies your opening.
Wherever you are at this moment, take a step back. Look at where you are and examine your career trajectory. Then look at how the world is developing. Does it match up? Is your current path advantageous in the grand scheme of things? Are you doing what is necessary to thrive in the age of the digital gold rush?
Persisting on the default path of drowning in college debt just to get an underpaid and unfulfilling desk job is no longer the wise move. Relying on others for your opportunities will no longer be the wise move. The days of working 9-5, pushing papers, asking for permission to take vacation days, and making a finite salary are limited.
The more you put your destiny in other people’s hands, the more you blame politics for your problems, and the longer you submit to a boss or superior, the further you will fall behind the world as it moves faster into the future than ever before.
If you are unemployed, if you are underemployed, if you hate your job, if you like your job, or if you love your job, your next move is the same.
The 21st century will reward those who take initiative and create their own opportunities through the internet, by establishing their online presence, building a business, and providing value to the billions of people who are searching for it.
Everyone, in the next 20-30 years, will be joining the ranks of the digitally independent. Whether it’s working from home, building a side-hustle on the internet, or flat-out building a career online, this is where the world is.
Reorient yourself to work digitally. You can’t change the velocity of the internet, and you can’t change the inevitable direction of the world.
But you can go west. You can bring your pickax. You can mine for gold.
You can build your website, create quality content, and do work that resonates with you. You can mine the internet for gold before the rest of the world rushes in. And that day is coming fast.
Are you just going to sit on the sidelines and watch the digital gold pass you by?