How 21 Jump Street Forecasts Success for Nuru Project
I met with a guy on Friday who runs a website that facilitates charity auctions. I shared with him my frustrations about non-profit funding, specifically grants. Many grants have lower acceptance rates than Harvard's undergraduate program. Why should a scrappy start-up spend limited time and energy applying for funding at those odds?
I told him that I want Nuru Project to be funded in the course of our regular business. That is, I want to sell prints for a price and at a revenue share that supports not only the important work of non-profits and photojournalists, but our own organization as well. I don't want to depend on getting funding in one lump sum from a fickle institution. I want to be funded by our customers, through a share of each print they buy. The gentleman insisted I would nevertheless have to apply for grants, because there isn't a real "commercial market" for Nuru Project's prints. In other words, he doesn't believe there are enough buyers out there who will want to hang Nuru prints in their home for print sales to be our only source of funding.
On the walk home, I remembered the recent movie, 21 Jump Street. In the film, Channing Tatum is a former jock and prom king and Jonah Hill is a former geek who got laughed at by Tatum in high school for asking "the hot girl" to prom. Both are now baby-faced cops who get sent back to high school undercover to bust up a high school drug ring. Posing as students, they expect to fall into their old high school roles. Tatum expects to once again be received by the cool crowd and Hill fears being re-relegated to the nerds. Only when they get back on campus, it quickly becomes apparent that the students' values have changed. When Tatum and Hill graduated high school, it was cool to pick on nerds and be apathetic. But in 2012, the cool kids are those who are pursuing intentionally un-mainstream lifestyles: vegans, environmentalists, drama nerds.
The movie presents a half-truth: while high schools are no doubt still full of mainstream bullies, the ranks of the "weird" kids are indeed growing. As Seth Godin writes in We Are All Weird, "We're coming to the end of a century of industrialism, a century when manufacturing, marketing, politics, and social systems were all in alignment, all organized to push us toward the center. The way of the world is now more information, more choice, more freedom, and more interaction. And yes, more weird."
Once they're out of school, the kids portrayed in 21 Jump Street are not going to fill their first home with vapid decor. They are going to want meaningful objects that connect them to the rest of the world, that tell powerful stories, that support social causes, and that express how they see the world. It's a silly example, but we at Nuru Project are betting that connecting with this new, growing community will make us plenty viable in the long run.