I want a stacked deck, a tilted field, an unfair advantage. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth playing.
Not just when it favors me. I’ll take an unlevel playing field in either direction before a level one.
On a macro scale, level playing fields are important. Laws, norms, and rules work best when they are equal and predictable. But on a personal scale, I look for unlevel playing fields.
On the downhill side, I don’t want to invest my time and energy into areas where I have no unique advantage. I don’t play around in the stock market or real estate market because I have no unique skill, insight, or knowledge there. I have, at best, the same advantage as the average person, so I’d be entering a crowded, level playing field with everyone else. It’s largely out of my control, with little connection between effort and outcome.
An unfair advantage can be information, skill, relationships, geography, or even risk tolerance. I put money into crypto early because I believed I had more knowledge and insight than the average person given my monetary economics interest and network of techno-anarchist friends. I didn’t quit my job and go all-in as a crypto trader, because my advantage over the average person was small, but I did do some.
A friend of mine went big into crypto, even though he started out with less knowledge than me. His unfair advantages are an incredibly high risk-tolerance and more free time than most. His comfort with massive risk and hours he can devout to study and experimentation give him a big edge over the average person. A better place to put resources than in some market where he brings nothing unique to the table.
I put 99% of my time and energy into Praxis. It’s the area where the field is tilted most in my favor. I have a unique blend of skill, experience, network, and knowledge that make my efforts in an ed startup bring returns far above the average person. A dollar or an hour spent on Praxis is likely to return many times more than the same resources spent in any other arena where I’m among a throng of look-alikes on a level playing field.
On the uphill side, I want to change the world, have massive returns, do something truly unique, and achieve greatness. That doesn’t happen in arenas where I’m basically the same as everyone else, and it might not happen if I’m always playing downhill.
In many ways, Praxis faces an unlevel playing field to our disadvantage. Most of our customers are choosing between Praxis and college. Universities enjoy billions of dollars in forcibly extracted wealth, regulations that make degrees mandatory, universal social approval, and decades of compulsory school conditioning young minds to get a degree. The market in which we operate is far from fair, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why? Because to really upend the status quo on an unlevel playing field, you can’t get away with a 5% improvement. Not even a 100% improvement will do. You need to create something 5-10x better to grab attention and get people to leave the well-worn path.
This means two things: First, to compete on an unlevel playing field, good is not an option. To survive requires greatness. In a free market for education, we could survive running a three year program for $50,000 that gives a 50% chance of getting a job. It’d be better than most colleges. The uphill battle we face against the status quo means we have to be way, way better, not just marginally better. One year, zero cost, 98% employment rate better.
Second, unlevel playing fields scare most people away. Potential competitors see the tilt in favor of the status quo and conclude any effort to fight it would be futile. Barriers are your friend, because that’s what keeps everyone else from going where you’ll go.
Give me an unfair advantage or disadvantage over a level playing field any day. I don’t want to be average, I want to have some real fun crushing it with massive returns and/or fighting as an underdog.
Isaac Morehouse is founder and CEO of Praxis.