Samuel P.N. Cook
Nov 1, 2021
“Power is domination, control, and therefore a very select form of truth, which is a lie.”
— Wole Soyinka
It’s not hard to find the lies left in the wake of technology’s promise.
Like broken seashells revealed in the disinfecting sunlight at low tide, they’re everywhere, if only you’ll look…
One of the lies goes like this:
“Our proprietary algorithms are for your benefit. We’ll do the right thing by you.”
Sorry, but as a small entrepreneur or business owner, you need to keep a keen eye out for the oppressive boot, and the various platforms that wield it.
A little dramatic, you say?
Only if you’re not paying attention.
And look, I get it-you're busy. We all are.
However, I want to share an underreported story about Amazon that, if it doesn’t shock you into alarm, should at least alert you to important realities that affect your ability to do business online.
I’m sharing this because it has important ramifications for the long-term health of your online business.
Let’s start with the headline. It pretty much says it all:
“Amazon Copied Products And Rigged Search Results To Promote Its Own Brands, Documents Show”
Amazon regularly “knocks off” products sold by others to create nearly identical products under their own brand names.
It then sells those products at a lower price, effectively killing the opportunity for thousands of small businesses who use the platform in good faith.
It uses the vast trove of internal data it has collected to manipulate search results in order to promote its own merchandise at the expense of other sellers.
Amazon has denied engaging in these practices in the past, but new internal documents reveal that this had the direct blessing of at least two top Amazon executives.
This is just one reason I consider Shopify as Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance … and Amazon as the evil Galactic Empire.
Of course, you can also count me and my team at SanityDesk among those swinging the righteous lightsaber in the face of unethical Big Tech. (More on that in a minute.)
Why portray this as a battle between good and evil?
And why should you care about Amazon if you don’t sell physical goods?
Good question. And as someone who’s given a lot of thought to (and experienced firsthand on the battlefield) the dichotomy between power and freedom, I firmly believe you need to understand what’s happening here if you want to survive in this rapidly changing Digital Age.
First, understand one thing:
So let’s look at Shopify vs. Amazon…
... and then I’ll tell you why I’ve made it my mission to do what’s best for you, the small entrepreneur and business owner.
First, when you agree to sell your goods on Amazon, understand that you no longer have a brand…
You have chosen to become commoditized.
You’ve signed yourself up for the proverbial Race to the Bottom.
Do those selling physical goods on Amazon have other options?
Please. The question itself is absurd.
Besides, even if Amazon hadn’t already completely taken over the online marketplace, its power would be hard to resist, because its ability to optimize your sales based on their internal data enslaves you to their system.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that’s not so mutual after all.
When your business depends on Amazon, you don't have a true customer list. You don't have anything, really. You're just a fulfillment center for Amazon.
But that’s not all...
As we now know, on Amazon you’ve also laid yourself bare to be ripped off by the very platform that purports to be your “trusted partner.”
Unfortunately, that’s now the price of entry.
However, Shopify is different...
What Shopify has done is given brands a true opportunity.
It’s because they’ve given businesses everything they need: an online presence, your own domain name, a way to take and process orders, email marketing, dropshipping, and more …
In other words, it’s an entire ecosystem … in one place ...
...but the crucial difference is this:
You completely own your online real estate.
Simply put, Shopify allows small business owners the opportunity to build their own online real estate.
It’s why merchants are fleeing Amazon in droves to move to Shopify (especially during the pandemic).
Business owners are getting tired of relying on Amazon. Because the Amazon model just drives down prices and rips them off, to boot.
This is why there are more than a million users on Shopify, which is already a $200 billion company.
I’m proud to say that here at SanityDesk, in the fight to help you claim your rightful place online, we live on the same side of the honorable street as Shopify.
If you’re new to SanityDesk, here’s what we do in a nutshell: We've created the world’s only all-in-one Growth Operating System for anyone not selling physical products.
In other words, if you are an author, expert, coach, consultant, freelancer, solopreneur, service provider — or literally anyone with expertise to share online — then you can think of us as “Shopify for digital entrepreneurs.”
We even let you use it for free until your business achieves real traction where it makes sense for you to even think about paying for it (at a price that’s so low people wonder what the catch is … but there isn’t one). You can sign up for SanityDesk for free here.
But look, this is about more than just platforms, code, features and automation.
It’s about the ethics that fuel it in the first place.
That’s part of our mission, too.
The problem is that Big Tech currently follows the classic American playbook, which is basically to maximize shareholder value.
Fortunately, the concept of “conscious capitalism” has increased its foothold in recent years…
... helping to supplant the shortsighted, me-first model that Big Tech is addicted to.
Started by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and marketing professor Raj Sisodia, conscious capitalism refers to a socially responsible economic and political philosophy.
The premise behind conscious capitalism requires you to hold these two thoughts at the same time: that businesses should operate ethically while also pursuing profits.
Meaning: they should consider serving all stakeholders involved, including employees, humanity, and the environment — not just their management teams and shareholders.
If you need evidence that we’re on the right side of history in our commitment to doing right by small businesses in an ethically, conscious way, then look no further than the legendary Bela Hatvany, who is the original co-founder of the fund backing us.
...the man who revolutionized the libraries and information industry 40 years ago by deploying the first CD-ROM Technology, came out of retirement to personally invest in our vision at SanityDesk.
Bela, who also invented the touch screen technology currently used on smartphones and tablets (yes, he really did), has always been about advancing causes that benefit the forgotten "common man"...
...bringing transformative technology, projects, and philanthropy to the masses, not just the corporate elite.
I'm proud to say Bela Hatvany resonated with our vision immediately.
We're now at a very precarious moment in history…
Amazon’s creeping dominance recalls the insane power of the Dutch East India Company, believed to be the largest company to ever have existed in recorded history and even had the world’s largest navy in the 17th century.
Until regulators step in to look after consumers because Big Tech won’t, the only option is for venture capitalists to put their money where it will serve the people and not just a conglomeration’s own self-interest.
It’s also up to small businesses to lead the charge of innovation.
I can tell you that we’re up to the challenge here at SanityDesk.
And as a historian with a passion for European history, I can’t help but draw parallels to Austrian Economics, the school of economic thought that rests firmly on the notion that social phenomena result exclusively from the motivations and actions of individuals.
It also brings to mind the concept of creative destruction, and how big businesses can destroy innovation if it gets too big.
Heady stuff, I know, but lest you think that questioning the power of Big Tech’s leaders is like pulling the fire alarm before one can smell smoke, let’s not forget that if Mark Zuckerberg were to become president tomorrow, that would essentially be a step down for him.
He's in charge of more than 3 billion people, after all.
Big Tech is absolutely unaccountable to its constituents.
At best, it offers atrocious customer service. At worst, it's predatory and harmful to the populace.
The good news is, you can protect yourself.
By making sure YOU own your own online real estate…
… by owning your own data as much as possible
... by keeping your OWN customer list
… by treating those customers and clients with the respect and dignity they deserve.
… by keeping them as a contact in your own system that YOU control
… by developing a relationship with your audience OFF the platforms that won’t look out for your best interests
… by creating customized experiences that speaks directly to THEM
… and by keeping in regular touch with them.
Newsletters are a great way to do this, of course.
Just like the one you’ve just finished reading :-)
It’s time for small business owners (on platforms like Shopify and SanityDesk) to rebalance the power of the digital world.
Join us on a weekly journey through the history of Technology, and the Future that we need to collectively create to realize the promise and avoid the perils of the Digital Age. Written by the Co-Founder and CEO of SanityDesk - a Former West Point History Professor.
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