Just Because It Works … Doesn’t Mean It Works


After I wrote that the first WDS operated at a net loss—financially speaking, not in terms of anything that matters—I was immediately pitched by a number of event planners, venues, and various professional meeting people, all offering me free advice about how we should do things around here.

Whoa! Thanks for all the … unsolicited … input.

“It’s good you can bring so many people together,” one of them told me, “but we know how to make your next event profitable.”

This sounded like saying: “It’s great that you’re changing the world, but we can help you out at the cash register.”


I’m no event planner, but I’m pretty sure we could have made the first WDS profitable if that was our primary goal. To do so, we would have started by charging more money (we had the lowest cost of any three-day event I’ve ever heard of). Then, we would have moved to a bigger venue and sold more tickets (more than 800 additional people wanted to come, but we sold out five months in advance and did not change venues despite the demand).

Like plenty of other events do, we could have pitched products and services from the stage, splitting the commission with the speakers. This is a huge profit center that we were simply uncomfortable with pursuing. (To their credit, not a single speaker even asked me about this option—it never even came up for discussion.)

We also could have cut costs. True, we didn’t need an ice sculpture in the shape of a globe at the free opening party. Perhaps we didn’t need custom gift bags filled with valuable things (not useless things provided by sponsors). Attendees didn’t need to receive free t-shirts, water bottles, awesome scout books, journals, and so on.

We could have skimped on providing free coffee and healthy snack breaks, not offered free tours (eight different options), not hired free shuttle buses to take attendees to the free off-site afterparty, and so on. We didn’t need an airport greeting station, a hang-out hammock lounge, a mobile command center, or any number of other fun things that helped attendees feel welcomed.

Speaking of sponsors, we could have actually had them, and put corporate logos on all our materials to offset the cost. “This session of World Domination is sponsored by Nissan. See you all later tonight at the Budweiser afterparty.”

Again, I’m no event planner and don’t pretend to know more than they do. But I do know a little about business, and I’m fairly certain we could have made it profitable. My question is, would that have determined its success?

I think not, and that’s the problem. In the traditional marketing world, success is judged by one thing: does it convert? (Which means: do the ends justify the means, or does it work?) But I object to this standard on its own. You can be a spammer and have a successful business model. You can rob old ladies in the street and it might technically work. Your conversion rate could be very high. But how would you sleep at night?

The more important question is: what are we trying to do here? What’s the goal?

Here’s what I propose as a better standard: when you go to bed at night, are you extremely excited about what you’ve done that day and what’s coming up the next day? Do people tell you about all the awesome things they are doing, in part because of something you’ve created?

Are you making art, whether you think of yourself as an artist or not?

Whatever your dream is, are you living it?

If freedom is one of your highest values, are you experiencing enough freedom in your life?

These are some standards I prefer to use. These things are what matters. It’s not just about what works. Because sometimes, it can work … but that doesn’t mean it works.


Image: Ken

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  • Jason Fountain says:

    Awesome post! You just narrowed down what it is to be an artist – and I only define an artist as one who creates art, whether in business, personal life, or whatever! One of the reasons you have such a following is because you provide such awesomeness for low costs. I’ve only been on board with you for about a year, but your information has definitely been valuable to me. I hope to make it to the WDS in the future.

  • rebecca says:

    I am still kicking myself for not making it there this year (but I did have a kick-a weekend on the coast at the same time, so I aint complaining) but this post only makes me even more dead set to make it work for next year. Anyone with your level of integrity is someone I must meet in person and hopefully some of your genius will rub off.

    Thanks for being awesomely you. 🙂

  • Al Pittampalli says:

    Really inspiring, Chris. It’s amazing what kind of results you can achieve when you’re not focused on the money, and instead focused on the change. You’re setting a great example for all marketers, an example that needs to be set over and over again, because we keep forgetting. It’s not always about the money. In fact, it’s almost never about the money. Bravo.

  • andrea says:

    Wild cheering coming from over here 🙂
    Yay! Yay! Yay!

  • Vanesa says:

    I totally agree. Maybe a robber or a spammer might have -apparently- better profit in numbers than me, but I definitely prefer working on something useful for me and for others.

    I never understood why, but in the traditional marketing world being gentle or generous = being a fool.

    In my case at least I´m totally convinced that treating your customers nicely is not only the right thing to do but also the most intelligent option.

    Thanks for your amazing blog, Chris.I discovered it about a month ago and can´t stop reading it! Greetings from Argentina!

  • Steven Hronek says:

    Bring on the old “money is like breathing” quote. You need it, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal.

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    Hey Chris, bummed that I missed such a great event, but having been to dozens of conferences in the past few years, it sounds like yours is in the top 99% as far as building culture and understanding how to make a greater impact.

    I don’t have a problem with sponsors if they fit, but many of them don’t. As far as making money goes, you are absolutely correct in that in the real opportunity comes after the event. WDS sounds like a sparkplug, great work man. Hope to see you at the next one.

  • Kim Kircher says:

    “Whatever your dream is, are you living it?” Great question. Because if we were all living our dream, perhaps we wouldn’t need any sponsors or event planners to help offset costs.

  • cin says:


  • Krojex says:

    Great point. It’s not just how you spend your day, but also how you sleep at night.

  • Brian Fryer says:

    Money. Is. Not. Evil.

    And not caring about money does not make one more virtuous that another who does.

  • Kevin M says:

    I guess this post is mostly a response to those offering to help, but it seems like a false dichotomy. Wouldn’t you have preferred it to be successful AND profitable? The two are not mutually exclusive. You are in business after all. Losing $20k every year on a conference doesn’t seem sustainable, but I don’t have your financials, so maybe it is.

    You admitted to having the lowest cost, but why did you choose that price? (I fully understand you didn’t know the demand ahead of time, but my guess is you had a pretty good idea.) Surely out of the attendees + 800 other interested people you could have found enough folks willing to pay enough to cover your costs.

    I’ll probably get slammed for this comment, but it seems like a valid question.

  • Jordan Clark says:

    I love your attitude, Chris. It shouldn’t be about the money. You didn’t go bankrupt (at least I don’t think), and you say it was worth the investment, so what does it matter? You did something amazing!

  • Al Diaz says:

    Just a quick word to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree with all of your comments and your definition of success. Thanks for creating the canvass for us to build our “art.” AD

  • Jeremy says:

    Gosh I wish I worked for you or you talked to my boss. Every time he talks about showing that we are not just a group out for money he complains on how we are not bringing in enough although we are making a profit. This idea of success is much better than the bottom line end justifies the means. I am glad that you did not follow all the business advice of making money and provided a fun time for all that attended and that is why I registered for next year. Unfortunately I found your book to late to attend this your. I wish you ran the free jazz fest for my city cause they switched from bring your own coolers to you have to purchase from the venders in the park. Good luck preparing for next years and remeber people remember having fun with contemparies more than oh boy another conference.

  • Jeff says:

    WDS had a definite purpose, enthusiasm, initiative, leadership, action, and imagination.

    Therefore, WDS was a Success. And WDS was highly profitable -for us attendees.

    Sure, the money balance sheet ended negative, but for those of us that went, we “profited” handsomely.

  • Brian Fryer says:

    Imagine this. You walk into a car dealership and say, “I want a $300/month car payment.” So they sell you a P.O.S. financed for 6 years at $300/month.

    You got what you asked for, but you were ripped off.

    Saying “I lost a lot of money on this event, and it’s okay” is just like saying that getting ripped off is okay.

  • Dr. David Powers says:

    I think you did it perfect. It was all the extras that really made it worth it, that truly made it a ‘Guillebeau and Staff’ production. It felt different than any other conference I’ve ever been too. More like a gathering of friends than anything else.
    With that sad, I’ll be okay if you do things any different next year like vendor tables and such as long as you promise to do it in your own way and not like a typical event planner would do it. I mean, sure, vendor tables with free goodies are nice, but they kind of get in the way of networking and just hanging out. The only typical conference thing I wouldn’t mind seeing is a book table for the speakers or maybe Powells with a table of the speakers books. Or even better, sans a book table, maybe get Powells to have a WDS display in their store to encourage us to walk over there and use those sweet coupons you gave us and help support an awesome indie bookstore.
    I said all that to say this…awesome non-conformist non-conference, and I’ll see you next June!

  • Jason Kallsen says:

    Extremely well stated, Chris. WDS was something beyond the normal, and it’s pretty amazing when things are done for motives beyond the almighty dollar. “Discussing”, “Innovating”, “Creating”, and “Selling” are all very different things and if WDS was full of people hawking their own books and numerous other add ons it would have changed the entire dynamic of the wonderful weekend.

    By the way, thanks again for WDS. Can’t wait until next year!

    And that comment is sponsored by me.

  • Scott McMurren says:

    I’m with Rebecca. Thanks for rubbing it in that I wasn’t there (although Barcelona was a nice consolation prize!). You’re a rockstar. Own it. Throw more gas on that fire.

    See you on the flip side….

  • Alexis Grant says:

    Chris, AWESOME post today. Thanks for this.

  • David | Almost Bohemian says:

    I was only partially bummed I didn’t make it out to this event, but now after this post I am definitely convinced I missed out. I am forever a skeptic, but this shows you’ve got good heart. Thanks for this, and thanks for being an honest light.

    I’ll be around for sure now.

  • Kathie Nelson says:

    I was recently introduced to your blog by David Rendall (The Freak Factor) and continued to be WOW’d by the commonsensical way you challenge conventional practices. Thank you for putting voice to what so many of us have been feeling and sensing in the marketplace.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Megan Everett says:

    I was there, and I loved it exactly the way it was – because the integrity, the sincerity, the values, the love, and the vision of the kind of world I want to be part of was “baked in” to every detail.

    When you told us the magnitude of the shortfall, my own reaction was to want to give more to help make up the difference — from a place of deep gratitude and a life that is on a whole new trajectory since I committed to attending WDS.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the means to do so at this moment, but I would like to support both our inaugural WDS, and future ones, by offering donations as I am able. You gave us SO MUCH that was priceless! I would like to do my part to share the out-of-pocket cost.

    I worked hard for my new life and I dreamed the dream – but you and your team threw a “coming out” party like no other; a world of ~ 600 amazing people who welcomed, supported, encouraged, inspired, and acknowledged both me and my dreams.

    I am seeing and hearing about the ripples as attendees take what they experienced in Portland with them on their journeys all around the globe. I don’t think there’s a scale BIG enough to measure the success of WDS!

  • Danny says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m an independent musician and I get more pleasure from parties that I throw where I don’t make a dime, than chasing after high-paying gigs where it’s all about the dollars and no one really cares that we’re there. I’ve also given up on trying to please fellow band members who are only in it for the money and see that as their only measure of success. I used to think it was my own failure. Now I’ve realized that I’m on the winning end and it’s sad to see others forgetting why they played music in the first place.

  • Austin L. Church says:

    Here’s what I’ve discovered: Worrying about money keeps you up at night, but making art helps you sleep quite well.

  • Etsuko says:

    I love this post. I bet those who approached you with “free advice” must be thinking “what a defiant XXX you are” after reading this… But those who gather here say “no” to status quo. In that sense, being called defiant could be taken as a compliment.

    From a participant standpoint, it was refreshing that nothing was “sold” on that venue or by the speakers. Instead, awesome ideas and people’s energy & love for their lives were freely exchanged and that’s why it was so hard to see it end. After reading this post, I am even more excited about the sequel.

  • Shannon says:

    Thank you for this article. It helped me realize that I am doing my art and while it may not be making me the big bucks(hardly any bucks) I am doing it. People in general (including me) rate your success on your bank account, but it doesn’t rate your success as a human being. I’ll keep on being an artist and staying at home with my kids. Now that is a success.

  • gwyn says:

    Bravo! You turned success on it’s head. While I really wish you had at least broken even I totally get why you aren’t worried about it. WDS was a blockbuster success in every way that really matters, and I am truly honored to have been part of it.

    This also puts a new spin on my money concerns. I have been in the negative $ wise for over a year now and I was getting pretty tense about it, but you remind me I am also a success. I have emails and blog comments and hand written notes telling me how I’ve inspired and helped people. Telling me that what I do matters.

    The answer to all the questions you ask Is YES! Thanks for that 🙂

  • Tracy Nunnelley says:

    These things are what matters – I totally agree! Thanks for making it all about the experience! I’m still riding the high!

  • Rasheed Hooda says:

    Ah, the challenges of unconventional living.

  • Lydia Puhak says:

    Thanks for your passion-fueled response to what was evoked in you when you received all those pitches to be profitable. We non-conformists have entirely different bottom lines than the main stream and each of our definitions of success are uniquely different, too. What you’ve written here is a beautiful example of how each of us can get even clearer or make more impactful responses to those who could be perceived as naysayers on what creating a successful event (or implementing an idea or completing a project or…) means and why. While money’s important, it’s really about the change we each want to see in the world. Gorgeous!

  • Christopher Frawley says:

    Thanks for the refreshing take on what’s really important. You have to wonder if business will get to a new yardstick for success? Something that places a value on the positive energy generated.

    Many of us operate on the assumption that putting that kind of energy out there will return enough (at some point) to thrive. It would be great if we could prove it to the doubters and move the dial (toward the world we want) even more. Thanks again. Great post.

  • Kai says:

    Hmm. I struggle with this, not because I don’t agree, I do wholeheartedly, but because my challenge is getting caught up in the starving artist mentality.

    My default is to want to create and share and have it be in line with my purpose and impact the world in a positive way…who cares if I make money.

    But I’ve learned this isn’t ideal for me. I feel on purpose with my work but I struggle with the business aspect and finding a way to have my work support me financially, which is my ultimate goal.

    Chris is an awesome inspiration for how to let your passion lead but for me it’s about finding harmony between my integrity, what I give to the world and abundance.

    Quoting Eastern philosophy:
    According to traditional vedic thought, it is preferable for one to live in a state of abundance rather than lack, and mastering prosperity is considered an important feat along our journey. This is not to imply that we should live in an excessive manner, but a certain degree of prosperity is essential in order for us to be effective catalysts on the planet, able to serve well ourselves and others.

  • Jody says:

    Thanks for your post. Love the part, “But I object to this standard on its own. You can be a spammer and have a successful business model. You can rob old ladies in the street and it might technically work. Your conversion rate could be very high. But how would you sleep at night?”

    I just left a job last week because of this. Despite everyone in the company saying what they do is ok and perfectly legal, where I was saying the opposite of their business model. Who knows if I was the one who didn’t really understand it all …. I’m glad to be away from it and just wish I hadn’t bought their lines to begin with. Lesson learned, I hope.

    Well done to doing it your way!

  • Michelle Russell says:

    Hear, hear!

    We make “profit” our only god to our own detriment. Sure, it’s important to make a decent living so you’re not stressing over money all the time, but if the things you’re doing aren’t worth it to you in and of themselves, where’s the satisfaction?

    For me, it comes down to the concept of enoughness. How much money do I really need, and once I’ve got that coming in, can I let go of my discretionary desires in order to make sure my time is spent in ways I enjoy?

  • Alex Humphrey says:

    The life worth living is the one where you sleep well at night. It can be so hard to focus on doing something that makes and impact vs doing something that makes money. Everything is geared toward money.

    But is there a way to combine the two? Is it possible to be profitable AND successful? Is it possible to define success as people doing awesome things because of what you’ve done AND make a fairly good income? I think Craigslist has proven that can be true. But like all things it’s very, very hard.

    I’m sorry you got inundated with emails, Chris. If they spent any real time at your site they’d realize you’ve already got this covered.

  • Ray says:

    Way to go Chris! Thanks for keeping the event accessible to all, non-corporate sponsored and in the same vein as yourself and many of us are trying do….something exciting and creative and spontaneous….when I write I write first for myself, hoping that my words will also have an impact to others in a positive way…it’s not always about the money….I’m planning on attending next year’s WDS and am looking forward to seeing everyone there!

    Keep up the great work!

  • Joanna Cummings says:

    I agree with David the almost Bohemian: I was slightly bummed to have missed it, and now I want to know when I can sign up for the second Summit!

    I love your style, your consciousness, on so many levels.

    And when you say, it’s about freedom, you go directly to the heart of it, and my heart. I did this little video and when I decided to share it on YouTube… for free… some said, You’re giving that AWAY?! It’s part of your presentation, your work. I thought, yeah, the dude I learned it from, Gary Craig, gave it away, so why wouldn’t I? It’s all about freedom.

  • Susan Kuhn says:

    Chris, awesome post, especially your question about whether you are excited by what you do on a daily basis. I agree completely too with Steve Hronek that money is like breathing — “necessary but not sufficient.” Money is not the end game of capitalism…it is a tool by which we make new ways to live well. Somehow we’ve gone way off the rails — or maybe this is just human: The love of money is the root of all evil is one of the earliest Christian teachings.

    Being true to higher human purposes while being practical about how you do it, to me, is the essence of what business can be all about. Financial goals have their place in that quest, as do good business practices. Profitability is connected to longevity — but its not the only reason things last.

    In fact, at the highest level of practice, meaning and money walk hand in hand. The business owner’s character is strengthened as he honestly struggles with those seeming contradictions and creates his or her own best operation.

    As you are doing….mazel tov!!

  • Linda says:

    I gained so much from attending WDS, and it was a classy event from all angles.

    One of my favorite aspects of the summit was the lack of salesy. There was so much stimulation I was trying to take in; from the beauty of Portland, to the incredible life stories and lessons from the presenters, and the thrill of putting faces to FB profiles and Twitter handles, that corporate logos and sales pitches would’ve created a highly different experience.

    I often get criticized by my peers for accepting health insurance for counseling referrals. There’s increasing pressure to “teach them a lesson and stand up for our profession,” but in the end, a lot of lovely people seeking help would not be able to pay out of pocket. Is it profitable, no, not financially. The payoff is in the connection and making a difference in a person’s life.

    Thanks for modeling authenticity and integrity Chris:).

    Hope I can make it next year, too!

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    I’m so glad to see you stuck to your principles of what ‘success’ means to you. It’s not always just about the money. You created a phenomenal event that brought creative, awesome people together from all around the world. That’s a huge accomplishment and definitely something to be proud of. I look forward to seeing you at the next WDS.

  • Chuck Keibler says:

    Wow, I couldn’t agree more. I was at WDS and I believe it was extremely successful. Not only was it a high quality conference with exceptional speakers and awesome participants, it also established and solidified relationships between everyone involved. The long-term value that this created, especially the event organizers, was incredible.

    I’m convinced the reason so many people are focused on short-term profit is because it is easy to measure. How do you put a value on the relationships and business opportunities that an event like WDS produced? How much brand value did it create? To answer these questions, one has to look beyond the short-term, and this is not easy.

    I love the way you are confident enough to create your own definition of success and tirelessly pursue it. You know who you are and where you are going. I have no doubt you’ll get there, and inspire others to do the same.

  • Akshay Kapur says:

    ROI isn’t always related to the bottomline. Or if it is, the bottomline should be defined to match the mission of the organization. If you’re Tom’s shoes, that means financially accounting for charitable shoe donations at every sale.

    Working on a single bottomline model – capital growth – may not account for what you truly aim to do. Yes, it keeps the business going, but what comes next?

    What about a double bottomline – capital + human capital? Or a triple bottomline – capital + human capital + environmental capital?

    Once you bring these items into your mental and financial budget, decision-making dramatically changes to make sure you meet your mission. Having a NFP mission with a FP bottomline just doesn’t make sense.

    This has officially become my favorite CG post of all time.

  • deb reynolds says:

    Well said, Chris. I wasn’t there, didn’t even know why I would want to be there (though that has since become clear), but next year’s event is on my list of “musts”. Thank you for being clear about your priorities and values.

  • Patricia GW says:

    I agree with you, whole-heartedly.

  • Renee says:

    Do it your way….do it with ethics…..and do it now. Dance away knowing that lives were inspired by your creation This is “world domination” at it finest. Rock-n-Friggin’Roll Chris and team!

  • Jared says:

    Good call!

  • Angela says:

    Wonderful post. Your heart is in the right place.

    When I first heard of the WDS I really really wanted to attend but I never signed up. Was it the money? No, I thought it was fairly priced and I definitely had the money, plus I live only one town away from Portland so I wouldn’t need to pay for airplane tickets or hotel costs. Was it fear? I am a shy person but I didn’t think this would have prevented me but something told me that I should not go.

    Whenever I read your updates about the WDS I always felt a small pang of regret that I didn’t buy a ticket.

    Then, just before the WDS I discovered that my father has lung cancer and has less than a year to live. At last I understood why. I didn’t spend that weekend at the WDS but instead where I was supposed to be, with my family. Always listen to your initial gut reaction. Just because I wanted to go…doesn’t mean I was supposed to go.

  • Dezy Walls says:

    Well said; it is not art over business. It’s all the one thing – relating with love. You choose business of the creative soul over business of the intellect. Funny how the intellectual business-heads go to meetings and look desperately to open the channels to creative ideas – they could have left the channels open – permanently. Well done!

  • Richard Howes says:

    Its probably all been said above already, but as usual there are a million comments already. Just wanted to say its your genuine desire to create change (and I realise earn a living), as opposed to maximising profit, that makes you and your business so popular.

    You never ever feel like you are getting a sales pitch.

  • Aaron says:

    Excellent post. Thank you so much for standing out from the crowd, for giving for real, for the good word. I think I’ll go give something away now.

  • Bridget says:

    I hope that next year that the style of the conference is less conformist. We spent most of our time sitting and listening to speakers, and while the speakers were great, I would have loved more experiential learning and interaction during conference time. I would have loved to have learned from the person next to me. I’m betting they had something to teach me too.
    The speakers were great. The conference was a good thing. Next year, will you consider different models for interaction and learning?

  • Donna says:

    HOW DARE YOU! That may be the most subversive thing you’ve done yet! And I think it’s wonderful! A very long time ago I read a book called The Greening of America. One of the most powerful ideas I took from it was “Reveal options by living them.” I took it as my motto, and it’s almost magic how it works. Just yesterday I was asked why my husband and I don’t own a car. When I mentioned among other things the fact that I know a whole lot of better ways to spend the money it would cost to keep a car, their eyes went thoughtful. OK, maybe that’s a bad example because of the money involvement, but it’s a good example of how living your life in an alternative fashion provokes other people to consider it also. We don’t have to swallow our values from the warped money-centered culture we were birthed in.

  • Anita says:

    This is definitely how I feel, when people at my work always talk about profit and revenue, and don’t always consider customer experience as a higher priority. If it’s a great experience, people eventually will be willing to pay a higher price.

    Glad that your event was a SUCCESS!! I didn’t feel it was overpriced, and was happy with all the work that was put into it, and definitely feel that experience trumps profit (sometimes!).

  • Ruth says:

    I wish I had gone to your event. I think it would have been very apparent if we had been ‘sold’ with sponsored everything and too many add-ons no one wants. I do not go to expo’s for that reason. We are sold on enough. It may be an American ‘norm’ but most of us hate feeling we are cash cows. I have been in a single person business for 15 years and I make a profit. Did I make money with my first venues and events? No. Did it matter? No. Sometimes we lose, most times we gain. It is a hard lesson to learn but a necessary one. Money should not be the main focus in our lives. It will provide for an empty and non-spiritual soul. We cannot all think that success can be proven by the almighty $. Good for you for saying that you made a loss. It made you more of a winner. Those that are saying otherwise are totally missing the picture and should probably pay off their big debts, live more simply and join some dumb corporation since they clearly do not understand why you are doing what you are doing. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Keep on doing what you are doing with your head held high and your morals exactly where they need to be. Rock on you!

  • Donna says:

    Thank You, Chris! (Unfortunately some of them probably do sleep @ night tho…)

  • Patrick McCrann says:

    @Chris, once again you have shown the importance of knowing (and maintaining) your internal focus; the profit will come once you build something that is truly epic. After seeing Y1, I know WDS is destined for total greatness!

  • Linda Giella says:

    Amen. You’ve articulated so beautifully values that aren’t always seen as the “success” model for our western society. The WDS tribe tend to be people with a calling, people on a path… consumed with their art, and may or may not ever get rich from it. But that shouldn’t tarnish the value of the work.

    Thank you. I will print and save and share today’s post.

  • Minttu says:

    Integrity rules!

    One question: How did you cover the costs, then?

    It wouldn”t feel nice to have to go to the bank to ask for loan afterwards.

  • ColorJoyLynnH says:

    I did not attend. I hear nothing but happy raves from attendees. You did accomplish an amazing event.

    That said. I have no problem with an organizer of a fine event, being paid for the planning, time and effort they expended to accomplish that event. I love your goal of keeping things clean of sponsors/ commissions. Income on your part would not be wrong, though, in any sense of the word.

    Congratulations. You have accomplished raving fans and interested bystanders. The financial loss can easily be accounted for as quality advertising… Also a fine result.

  • Robin says:

    I have the utmost respect for your integrity and your resistance to icky sponsorship. WDS sponsored by Nissan, indeed.

    That said, I hope that NEXT year you’ll consider making adjustments so that you won’t lose your shirt. Money is energy in numerical form. You put six tons of energy into this event, and it’s right that you be compensated with energy in return. And if you find yourself accidentally getting rich, I don’t know anyone who would know better than you how to share it. 🙂

    I missed this WDS. But I won’t miss the next one!

  • Dara Poznar says:

    I really appreciate how well you offer a counter prospective. It’s very enlightening. You’ve got a brilliant mind. If in the end, money was not an objective for your event… than congrats! It seems it was indeed a total success. That said, I do believe that striving for money need not be the top objective, but it can be up there with the rest. Why not? Having that event did cost money in the first place didn’t it? That money had to come from somewhere. Future events will cost money too. Living a fulfilling life requires money. Perhaps not an overabundance of it, but the more you have the more you can give and help and do. I think that non-conforming to the ways in which people view money is the route to take if one really wants to make a difference; not to view it as less important, but to see it as important for better reasons.

  • Maaike Quinn @ A Gorgeous Life says:

    Chris! You matter. That’s all I’ve got to say about it 😀

  • Emily Wenstrom says:

    Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more disappointed that I missed out on WDS … I am so jumping on this immediately next year no matter what.

  • Sharon says:

    Thank you for the sentiment and the wise words.
    I’ve been reading your stuff in the past few weeks, enjoying and liking the vibe.
    I am on the other side of the globe trying to do good my own way and searching for new ways into and with the future.
    (If you ever come to Israel – we would be happy to host you. I live in a very interesting community in the Galilee).

  • Sylvia Black says:

    I like this so much. Money’s not irrelevant, but hopefully it should never be the only or probably even the main goal, in any big, important project.

    As long as we’re making the world richer in knowledge, experiences, and everything else that’s important, our own financial riches don’t matter so much.

  • Michelle Rumney says:

    Chris, you always manage to say it like it is – this resonates so much.

    Never mind what everyone else is doing or what the ‘experts’ say you should be doing – stay true to what feels right at the time for what you’re doing.

    That’s what entrepreneurship is, after all.

  • Beth says:

    I love your posts, and this is the first one that has not resonated with me in a pretty big way. As an event planner (not one of the people who wrote to you after your previous post), I know that most people who plan events do not have a goal of losing money. You wrote in the previous post that you had underestimated some expenses, which resulted in a loss of $20k. I understand that you are satisfied with your investment and that WDS achieved many of the things you wanted to achieve with the event. I understand your goal is not necessarily for the event to be profitable, but do you really not want to break even next year? Your writing encourages people to pursue their passions and take the risks that are right for them…not many people want to sustain a financial loss in the process, yet this post seems to justify why this is okay. I agree with the person who commented that money and other measures of success are not mutually exclusive. I do not think you need to sacrifice the things that are important to you at WDS in order to break even, or even make a modest profit, next year. We all want you and this event to succeed – on every level.

  • Brian Storey says:

    Let thy trade, be thy sport. Money is a byproduct of a successful enterprise.

  • Chea says:

    Wonderful post! So glad you came out with the statement that success is not necessarily about money and does not need to be measured in terms of money. It’s a sad fact that EVERYTHING in this society is measured by the dollar. It makes me cringe when a disaster happens and the news always reports the amount of money lost as important as (or more so) than the human lives or wildlife lost or suffering. And when the environment is taken into account, it’s measured in dollars!

    My point is that your actions around the summit are not about, “hey, it’s great and more noble to be a starving artist”. NO. The point is that we need to start measuring happiness, contentment, and yes, success by a value other than the “all mighty dollar”. We have made this status quo, and it’s time that paradigm be changed. Thank you for being on the forefront of that change.

  • Aylin says:

    The difficulty with following a dream or a goal is that it changes throughout our lives; what we want, desire and strive for evolves/changes/reforms. In saying that, right now I’m living my dream in every way and I don’t think I could be happier right now. Great post Chris, inspiring as ever.

  • themolesworthdiarist says:

    I love this post. I think the whole world would benefit greatly if more businesses had the values-based approach. Keep doing it your way!

  • moom says:

    I’m guessing that it wouldn’t have been OK to lose $100k…. You could have charged nothing to participants. But you decided a loss that size wasn’t viable. You could have also charged a little more to break even. So I think you did care about making money, or at least not losing too much. I agree that that isn’t how the success of the event should be judged. But there is no reason why you can’t separate the two criteria and next time have an event that breaks even or makes a little money. You can also offer discounts to some people to make it more affordable. I’ve run at least two non-profit (academic) conferences and both made money and were a great success. There’s no reason why you can’t do both. OTOH if you’re happy with losing a little money that’s OK too.

  • Nat Allan says:

    Yes…yes and yes. Sometimes there are events that we run to make a dollar and other times we are building community. Those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive but they can be when we choose. That feel good factor is priceless and the rave reviews suggest that the ripples of this event will bring lush returns later.

    Congratulations Chris…only wish you and WDS and New Zealand weren’t quite so far apart.

  • Samantha Nolan-Smith says:

    Hi Chris, love your standards and here are some others I’d add:
    Did you make a positive impact on others? Have they been inspired to live great lives by attending? Is the world a happier place because of you? On all of those measures, you are a resounding success and who can ever know the implications of such incredible work?

  • Andrew says:

    From this post and your previous wrap, I was a bit bummed to find out it cost you money. Would you not think of (in future) video’ing a couple of the talks or having left over gift bags to sell in the unconventional store for people who couldn’t make it, purely to offset any losses from the conference, then remove these as products? (ie: not a profit driver, I just don’t think you should have to cop a loss in your bank account for organising the summit?)

  • GutsyWriter says:

    I received a card from you in the mail today thanking me for trekking to WDS, handwritten and with your signature. Do you know how classy that was? Your program looked like a passport, your speakers were the most inspirational and “down to earth.” I’m still blogging about them and their wonderful ideas. Your volunteers greeted us like family as we entered the Art museum and said, “Hello and welcome,” with huge smiles. The yogurt, granola and fresh blueberries as a free morning snack, together with gourmet cashews, pecans, and other nuts,and fresh coffee with half and half, were so appreciated and unexpected.

    The evening events made us bond even more with friends from around the world. One woman gave me her bracelet at the end of WDS and said, “Keep this and remember to stay authentic.” I did not feel like this was a conference, but a huge gathering of friends of all ages from around the world. Chris, you invited us into your home, and this was what made WDS so unique. Please continue as you are an amazing host.

  • Christine McDougall says:

    I have been following you for several years now, and I read everything you write. There is only one other blogger that I can say that about. Why? Because you keep on demonstrating, time and time again, that you live in such exceptional, extraordinary integrity. Rare, rare indeed. I bow in thanks to you for this.

    On this post, you affirm that value is not measured by money alone. Sadly in our society we have made money the single lens focus for value. You affirm that value lies in multiple domains, including community, well being, knowledge, generosity, service. You also affirm that living from a place of abundance, instead of getting sucked into the ‘regular’ model built on scarcity, enriches us far more than money ever does or will. I applaud you. A true demonstration of non conformity.

  • Matthew D Gour says:

    Even the preacher needs money to keep preaching. Money is a medium of exchange, not a live thing. Its what we attach, whether style or necessity, what we covet, maybe addiction or charity, that brings money alive. Maybe its classless to sell what we know, maybe its vanity, maybe for a few bucks we could enjoy a song on ITunes that someone spent a lifetime dreaming up. Or maybe we could just take it and enjoy it for free. The approach to money reveals the secrets of our values. Therein the spiritual walk of truth. We can’t take money with us as the Pharaohs tried, we can’t give it all away and be penniless and without a help to anyone, even ourselves. Maybe its moment to moment use of it, and in that moment, that reveals us to ourselves. Maybe that is what some of the masters tried to teach.

  • Colette Gabriel says:

    I have been an event planner in the past and two items you brought up here really stood out for me at WDS: the conference bags actually contained cool, useful items and the speakers weren’t pitching their books/programs. There were many awesome things about this conference, and these types of details made it that much better.

  • Michael Richardson says:

    My integrity coach, Christine McDougall, has been sending these newsletters for about a month now. In a world that seems controlled by fear, scarcity and debt, it’s encouraging to see Chris G operating from a different perspective. I’m a fan.

  • Stephenie Zamora says:

    This is an excellent post that I think EVERYONE planning an event needs to read. You created an experience. An opportunity for people to learn, grow and connect. I’ve tried so hard to explain this concept to clients before. One in particular, there events tend to get the feedback that they feel like they’re just being pitched to the entire time. I went to Marie Forleo’s Rich Happy Hot Live last November and had an AMAZING experience. There were no sales, just speakers that shared their best stuff and you could tell that they really were there to make a difference. THAT is what made the event so memorable and impactful. It’s also what brought them lifelong FANS. People who will love, support, buy from and promote them for life. I love that you addressed this. Thank you for being you! xo

  • Prime says:

    “Are you making art, whether you think of yourself as an artist or not?
    Whatever your dream is, are you living it?
    If freedom is one of your highest values, are you experiencing enough freedom in your life?”

    Thank you thank you for this post. I was earlier struggling with professional envy. I was thinking if I made the right decision pursuing the difficult path of being an entrepreneur while holding down a job. Why couldn’t I just stay as a boring commodities reporter. Some of my colleagues opted to be that way and now they’re earning more than me and can afford to go on expensive trips.

    But after reading this post, i know that in the end, my creative entrepreneurship is more important. This is my art. This is my dream. This is my freedom.

  • James Branca says:

    I’ve been hovering around the site for awhile. I find it ironic how so many bloggers focus solely on about monetizing their sites, yet preach about What everyone should or shouldn’t do. The average Joe can look at your site and be like, ” well WTF this guy is living the dream; i want to do that!” At the same time this makes them go about it in the wrong way. I will make three points.

    1.) Travel and blogging isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. Alot of hard work goes into developing content and readers. Also even when your traveling it’s easy to feel lost and alone.

    2.) From my experience in public speaking, or writing, people respond to sincerity. This is why i read the posts from your blog. I don’t have to comment on every post and show you praise because the wisdom in your posts reminds me of the morals already in my head. I read because its sincere and it feels familiar.

    3.) Everyone should be motivated by several factors. If Money and travel are your own motivation than it might not work. Let’s say your motivated by connecting with people, helping others, reading others, money, freedom, ect. The more involved you get, the more motivated you become.

  • Jack Bennett says:

    Here’s the thing – right from the start, I experienced this event as something of Quality.

    Something that really stood out for me was the consistent branding and quality of the gift bag, t-shirt, the printing of the nametags on both sides (name, location, what workshops we were registered for), the notebook and agenda book.

    And the recent thank you card. Handwritten, too – another nice touch that wasn’t “necessary”.

    It would have been easy for you to skimp on those costs and time investments and go the cheap route, but the quality of these materials elevated this event far above your average grassroots-y weekend conference. I’ve told the story many times of how I was impressed by the attention to detail paid by you and the org team. I am sure others have told that story as well.

    Doing good stuff that isn’t necessary, going above and beyond the safe, cheap path in service of the attendees’ experience – that was my overall experience of WDS.

    Reading my twitter feed, the general sentiment has been either “I had a great experience” (for those who attended) or “I wish I had been there” (for those who didn’t).

    So let’s call your “overspending” what it really was – an investment!

  • Laurie says:

    Bravo, Chris! Just last night, after the 100th person asked me if my new venture was making any money, I sighed and smiled and said, “that question is getting so worn out. It’s all anybody wants to know about.” I’m perfectly aware of how important money is. But just once I wish someone in my neighborhood would ask me about my art, my new life path, or the way I feel about being free.

    Thank you for getting to the heart of the matter. And yes, I do go to bed at night excited about my day, and grinning with anticipation about the next day. 🙂

  • Ruth feiring says:

    It was billed as an Unconvention and I thought it was and that’s why I’m coming back. It was not about the speakers and their books and another stop on the rock star speaker hustle tour. I’ve lost alot more than 20k on a business venture. Please keep it true to the intent of bringing together a “larger” group than can fit into my livingroom to meet and inspire and have some fun.

  • Rebecca says:

    Hmmm. I don’t understand. Just because you want to live unconventionally, doesn’t mean you need to LOSE money on something. Money isn’t bad.

    I’m sure your event was awesome. But *losing* money on it doesn’t seem awesome to me.

  • John says:

    Chris, The updates from the WDS were great and I was sorry to have not been there. About the money thing……”profits” are typically thought to be helpful to continue the work of the organization (whatever the work). To the extent that you are really sharing ideas about optimizing our lives and working toward fulfilment, would it be so bad to have made a profit along the way to support that work?

  • Stevie says:

    Right on! And thank you so much for sticking to a better way of doing things!

  • Ally Cassorla says:

    I have to agree with Rebecca. I am an event planner and I am very excited and passionate about the events I get involved with organizing. But no one expects you to have a business and not make what you need.

    The trick is not to get greedy.

  • ken says:

    Thanks for using my comic in your post!

  • Andy Traub says:

    Some of you didn’t READ the post. You read the words but you weren’t listening. If “winning” or “success” was making money Chris could have done it. He’s not opposed to making money and maybe next year he will but the GOAL of the event was achieved regardless of cost. Public parks don’t make money because that’s not their goal. They exist (as WDS does) to give people a space to grow, experience and improve their life.

    I don’t think Chris thinks money is evil, he’s simply stating that profit wasn’t the goal of the event. In fact if money is our only goal then we miss out. Profit without blessing, helping, equipping or helping others is just…profit. If Chris wants to lose 20K and repeat WDS next year then he can because profit is not the goal, it’s a by product.

    Chris, you are very consistent in your attitude. You keep what is most important in front of us and we appreciate that. For the record, I like profits.

  • Chris Johnson says:

    Like I told you at the event, I’ve never once felt more respected than I was at the WDS. Not even close. And I had to leave early because I couldn’t process the awesome. It was that intense.

  • James Cornell says:

    This is an important article!! My day is full of everyone only talking about profit. I deal with people that lie to customers and current customers in the name of profit.

    It is so refreshing to hear others talk about success in a different manner.

  • James Cornell says:

    It is fine to like profit, but what is the intention you have when making that profit.

    Are you making profit ethically?

  • Sarah Russell says:

    “This session of World Domination is sponsored by Nissan. See you all later tonight at the Budweiser afterparty.”

    There’s a certain irony to that statement that’s absolutely beautiful 🙂

    If profit was your motive, I’m 100% sure you could have accomplished that. It wasn’t, but some people aren’t going to understand that. I say, screw ’em!

  • Tammi Wilson says:

    I love a good discussion about money! Chris is his own person and he’s transparent. He chose to invest more of his own money to have the event the way he wanted it, and his choices aligned with his values. He’s complete with it. It sounds like a fantastic event. What he didn’t pick up and carry was the constraint of how we are “supposed” to view money and profit. And then he told us his view. He controls money, money does not control him. And that would be the case if he broke even, made a profit, gave attendees checks etc. That’s the point. He’s not conforming to the consensus view of money. He’s living HIS values, applying them to money, and sharing about it. Barbara Stanny is teaching a concept she calls “Sacred Success” that explores the intersection of values and money. My most favorite frame of Chris’ post was that he shared his views on the topic and stimulated others to THINK about it another way.

  • Kim says:

    I attended WDS and it was one of the best weekends I have had. The event was impeccibly organized- you didn’t miss a detail. The speakers were amazing, the attendees were awed, and I walked away at the end of the weekend with a sense of excitement about things to come. When I received your (hand written!) thank you card in the mail I thought to myself “that’s why he’s the best.” I believe if you keep making decisions from your gut you will never be led wrong. Clearly, you work that way and because of that I have told ever person I know about WDS. You will reap the rewards in the future and you’ll be able to do it in a non-scuzball way. Thanks for leading.

  • Isabella says:

    True, it’s never the money: that usually comes as a by-product of your art/service/passions. I own a small retail (offline) shop, and I decided that I wasn’t in the business of sales, but the business of service. Now, each and every person who comes into my shop can be served, whether they become a customer or not. My energy levels are up, I’m full of good ideas to help make things better for all who come in the door, I sleep well at night….and I’m making more money.

  • Momekh says:

    If from anyone, it is from you that I’d expect such a reaction! Makes me smile in appreciation. Not in agreement though.

    I wonder if you think that it is actually “wrong” to “make a profit” with an event like yours? The tone suggests that you do very highly object to “making a profit”… and if you do, then for what? Is making a profit while helping people wrong then?

    And yes, I may be confused about all of this, hence the question (I understand that you’re cool with replying to people, but I’d really like an answer to this approach of yours, only to help me think on my own. Thanks Chris, you’re a champ either way!) 🙂

  • Gene says:

    Spoken like a true non-conformist.

    Well done, Chris. Thanks for a great weekend at WDS!

  • Chas says:

    I was not able to attend, even though it was in my ‘neck of the woods’- maybe next year, but, I have enjoyed reading about it and like your sense of humor in this article. I won’t be ‘miffed’ if it turns a buck next year- just don’t toss out the T-shirts, or the Hammocks. Here is a thought to leave you all with;
    “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”~ Winston Churchill

  • Pam Slim says:

    As someone who spoke at and participated in WDS, I echo the tremendous value it created for me personally. The feeling of the event was amazing. And as Charlie Gilkey talks about, there are three outcomes of any business activity: cash flow, visibility and opportunity. Being your friend and knowing how brilliant you are at biz strategy, I have no doubt your choice was not only the right one for the participants, but also the right one for the business. The visibility and opportunities you set in motion by doing it this way the first time are enormous. So for those who are chiding you for not setting a good example by losing money, I say check back in 3 years and reflect on what a brilliant (and conscious) investment it was.

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