If Your Business is a Secret, It's Probably Bullshit


Fred Perrotta

A rule of thumb, particularly for digital nomads:

If you can't tell a stranger what you do, you may not have a real business.

I've found this secrecy prevalent in dropshipping, Amazon sellers, and Amazon affiliates.

Warren Buffet often talks about building defensible "moats" around a business. If your business is only defensible as long as no one else knows what you're selling, your moat is too narrow and too shallow.

The internet has a way of crushing middleman businesses that rely on informational asymmetry.

I was reminded of this recently listening to the Tropical MBA podcast. Most of Dan and Ian's episodes are excellent but episode 375 was disheartening.

The title was promising: "How 100s Of Young Entrepreneurs are Making Generational Wealth in Less Than 5 Years." Hell yeah, I'll listen to that.

Unfortunately, the guest was discussing a business model wherein his company writes fake authority and review sites to make money off of Amazon affiliate links. The purpose of these sites is to trick the visitor into trusting the recommendations so that they click through to Amazon and buy something. I'm not projecting. The guest said that he builds sites to "look like authority sites" (emphasis mine). He also works with the same writer for every site, regardless of topic or required expertise.

I'm not writing this post to vilify one person or business. The problem is that people are selling bullshit, get-rich-quick business models. Pieter, the creator of NomadList, has talked about this problem in dropshipping.

No business is as simple as it looks from the outside. Every time you hear a podcast, see an ebook, or read about a class on an easy, can't-fail business model, the competition gets more fierce. Everyone else hears about the same opportunity and jumps in.

Too much competition drives down prices and profits. When there's no more money to be made, the practitioners become the teachers. Rather than making money doing the thing, they make money teaching others how to do the thing, which is no longer profitable for them.

The easier something looks, the more competition there will be. Jeremy and I were lucky enough to fail at the "easy" version of Tortuga and were forced to do it the hard way, which turned out to be a more durable business.

Who knows what Tortuga would have been if we had white-labeled an existing backpack off of Alibaba. We couldn't find a workable existing product, so we had to build our own.

Disingenuous business promises are disappointing but expected around the gold rush of a new trend like digital nomadism.

The sad part to me is that people are pinning their hopes on bullshit. If people don't parlay these businesses into more defensible companies, the bottom will drop out eventually.

Bezos has already told you his plan:

Your margin is my opportunity.

He's coming for you, and he's ruthless. Your failure doesn't hurt Amazon. If you go out of business, someone else will step up and take your place in the buy box.

Time to do real company shit and become antifragile. Seriously, read that book. If you're at Bezos's mercy, your business is fragile. This post isn't a condemnation; it's a warning.

Please don't waste your life building a fragile business that contributes nothing to the world. You can do better.

Being a nomad or a remote company doesn't preclude you from building a real, kick ass business. Hell, we make physical products without an office or studio. You can do whatever you want. Look at Pieter or the team at Buffer.

If you want to make something worthwhile, message me on Twitter. I'd love to help you build a real business.


In September, I will be teaching a workshop on making and selling physical products at DNX Global in Lisbon.

Please note that I'm not being paid for the workshop or using it to sell any courses. I will be sharing how we started Tortuga and what we're currently doing in running the company. The point is to help people create non-bullshit businesses, not to become another get-rich-quick guru contributing to the problem.

If you can't make it, I'll publish my notes here afterwards.