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Thief Phase
Episode 3521st August 2023 • Business is Good with Chris Cooper • Chris Cooper
00:00:00 00:07:53

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In my book "Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief", I broke the entrepreneurial journey down into four phases.

In the Founder Phase, the entrepreneur is wearing all the hats. They're bootstrapping, staying up late, building and testing products, learning to sell, opening the business early and closing it late. In many cases, they're self-employed: they've really just bought themselves a job.

In Farmer Phase, the founder begins to add staff and systems to make the business grow. They turn their attention to the crops (products or services) that grow well; hire people to plant, tend and harvest the crops; and focus on growth of the business.

In Tinker Phase, the farmer begins to reinvest their profits and scale. They might buy up more farms, or invest in faster equipment, or automate their production. They might invest in other businesses or visit other farmers to learn about new crops and processes.

These stages are easy to understand, and I use examples from many different industries in the book.

But what the heck is "Thief Phase?"

The book was originally written as "Founder, Farmer, Tinker, King" to describe the rise of an entrepreneur from scrappy startup to a leader in their niche. But the term "King" didn't sit well with me for a few reasons:

1 - I knew many readers would naturally associate the title with my own journey, and I'd never call myself "King" of anything;

2 - Kings consolidate money. They build shrines and vaults and temples and palaces. Their money doesn't move--it stays with them. That's not what I want to teach.

3 - There's only one King. A King has to spend most of his time defending his throne. Kings must stay in a mindset of scarcity because they hold a scarce position in the world. They're either THE KING, or they're not.

So I asked myself, who has similar freedoms to a King, but still lives a life of service to others? Who reaches a high place of success that can be reached by others--indeed, it's possible for anyone and everyone to reach at the same time without killing each other?

And I thought of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood wasn't 'rich' in the conventional sense. He didn't ride around in a gold-plated carriage. But:

1 - He has freedom of time

2 - He has more than enough for himself and his band - if they had more, they couldn't store it anywhere, so they don't accumulate wealth

3 - He 'steals from the rich and gives to the poor' - in other words, he redistributes wealth. Ironically, that's his protection, because the poor villagers will do anything to help him

4 - He keeps his money moving - any money he collects is reinvested in the people around him. He doesn't have to build a vault and defend it all the time

5 - He's an outlaw. By the original definition, he's 'outside the law' - meaning he doesn't have to funnel his money through the tax collectors and bureaucrats and layers of government. He just hands it out.

Obviously, Robin Hood didn't live a life of ease. He had to find new food for himself and his band almost daily; he had to fight; when it rained, he got wet. And he broke laws. I'm not encouraging any of that. However, Robin Hood had a level of wealth that most "Kings" would envy.

How does the story of Robin Hood apply to entrepreneurs?

At a certain level of success, entrepreneurs can lose their sense of purpose.

Through Farmer Phase, the entrepreneur is fighting to keep their business going. It's easy to get motivated when you're working for an income.

In Tinker Phase, the entrepreneur is often excited to have a little bit more than what they need. The pursuit of new knowledge and ideas - and a little vacation - is enough. They shift from focusing on income to investing in their business; other businesses; and themselves.

But at some level - maybe around 5M or 10M net worth - they don't need to work anymore. If they're young enough, this is actually a dangerous spot, because they have enough money to last their whole lives, but no purpose. Ironically, this level of security can lead to depression and anxiety.

At this level, entrepreneurs have to find purpose or they'll be unhappy. When they find that purpose, their story becomes a beautiful one, because they have the leverage to be of great service to others.

For example, Robin Hood's purpose wasn't to take down the King; it was to lift up the people around him.

He guided his men on raids and hunts.

He gave money from his projects to local villagers and poor people.

When someone needed help, he just gave it to them instead of waiting for someone else to step in.

I won't say I'm fully in the Thief Phase yet. But I'm enjoying the freedom to do some modern Robin Hood stuff:

When local kids need bikes, I just go buy them.

When local entrepreneurs seek funding through Angel investing, I just write a cheque.

When my kids want to go to a concert, we just go--and we often take their friends.

When a movie producer sees an opportunity to tell an important story, I can just pay for it.

When one of my clients has a fire at their gym, I can send help.

Not every action in the Thief Phase is altruistic. I have a really expensive bicycle. But everything I do is mission-driven (including writing this blog). That's why, at this level, the work makes me happier than ever. And that's what the Thief Phase really means: appreciating what you have; having what you need; and needing to continue to serve others.

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