A Walk Though Cashland
Do we ever really get things figured out? I wonder. Yesterday, on my four-mile walk, I noticed that my little town has quite a few payday loan shops, rent-to-own stores and places where you give them the title to your car or motorcycle and they give you cash loan. Seems odd to me that we have so many in a town of so few.
Maybe I noticed it yesterday for the first time because I was reading an article that was ranking the world’s richest men (and women). And I was shocked to see that Bill Gates was not precariously clinging to second place, and far behind Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Jeff is worth about $120 billion; Bill is worth but $90 billion -slightly ahead of Warren Buffet who’s worth 88 billion and relative newcomer Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) steadily gaining on the enclave of the richest – Mark is worth $71 billion. The 2208 billionaires are worth $9 trillion. I suppose it would be Un-American to put some kind of limit on what people can make, on the other hand someday all the world’s wealth will be controlled by a very few – maybe it already is.
Anyway, between the unfathomably wealthy people like Gates and Bezos, are the “ordinary rich” and the very poor are the people like you and me. We pay our bills, we make ends meet, and we generally live within our means – and if we’re lucky, once in the while we get to splurge.
And yesterday when I was walking it dawned on me that some people who have money got that way by taking advantage of the poor, the uneducated, and the undisciplined. Someone with money saw a way to provide what they call a “service” to the disadvantaged by figuring out a way to take the little they have away and bating them into a trap from which few will ever escape.
On my walk, I passed 3 payday loan stores and 2 cash-for-your-car-title-loan stores, and 2 rent-to-own stores. All in a town of less than 25,000 people. From this I deduced we have a lot of poor and/or undereducated, or undisciplined people living in my little town.
The payday loan industry here in my state used loopholes in the ursury law to charge interest rates of 300% or higher. Rent-to-own stores are charging $2000+ for a $600 computer. And cash loans for (mainly) car titles rip folks off by charging “processing fees”, “insurance fees” and security deposits. All of these are, of course, added into the loan – on top of the 30%, 40% or higher interest rate. So a poor soul with no credit who needs cash has old car worth $2000. He gives the store the title, they give him $500, and he now has to pay back a loan for $800 – at 30% or higher interest. And, of course, many cannot keep up with the payments, so the lender takes possession of the car – and does not have to return any monies to the borrower. And that’s how some people get wealthy.
This kind of thing goes on every day. Business people will say “So what? It’s business. It’s not our fault people have poor credit (or make low wages, or are ignorant). People who have bad or no credit may have dug the hole in which they find themselves. People who are poorly educated and unskilled may indeed work for low wages. And the uneducated and ignorant are always with us. But it takes a certain kind of person to take advantage of the disadvantaged and still be able to sleep at night.
Of course, many people don’t become wealthy this way. Buy on my walk, I didn’t see any Gates, or Bezos, or Warren Buffets, I just saw a lot of places taking advantage of others and getting rich.
As I sit here writing this today, I think back to 2005 and 2006 when Thundercloud.net (Cloudeight) welcomed over 3 million visitors every month. Our mail list was over 250,000 and we were doing well. Back then, there was seldom a week that went by when some company or another wasn’t offering us 50 cents or a dollar per download to bundle their “software” with our installers. At that time, we were averaging 5000 downloads every day, and in December, close to Christmas, we were averaging twice that. We had days when we went over 50,000 downloads per day.
We could have been generating $2500 a day on an average day – even at 50 cents per download. That’s nearly a million dollars a year… and that’s just based on the average day. All things considered and counting the busy days, we could have been making close to $1,250,000 every year. We could have justified bundling our stationery and other programs with questionable software, adware, etc. by reasoning that we put a lot of hours and work into our site and our stationery – we deserved it – we deserved to be wealthy. But we never felt right about that and we never ever bundled anything with our downloads. Getting rich by taking advantage of people was never in our DNA.
In 2009 when Windows 7 was released without an email program, we knew the end of our stationery site would come within a few years — when the number of people using Outlook Express and/or Windows Mail dwindled from hundreds of millions to just a few million and eventually a even less. And, sadly, it happened just like we thought it would. Once we realized that our magical, musical, scrolling stationery was no longer compatible with other email programs, we had to reinvent ourselves and that’s when we started Cloudeight Direct Computer Care to provide an affordable, reliable, honest service to help people who had problems with their computer.
While others were charging hundreds of dollars, we decided we would keep our pricesa as low as we possibly could – and we never charged nearly that much for our services.
Honestly, we don’t look back and think “if only we have bundled 3rd-party software with our installers we’d be rich” because we are not that kind of people – and maybe that’s why we’ll never get rich, and that’s OK with out. Our hope is to make ends meet, pay our bills and make a living.
We never once considered breaking the trust we spent years building, even if it would have made us both millionaires. We never sold out those who trusted us to provide them with clean downloads and beautiful stationery. And though today we’re a much smaller, much less well-known company than we were 10-15 years, we are so grateful that we still have the support we do.
My walk among all the money predators yesterday was a reminder that money does not buy happiness. Money does not buy trust. We’ll never be rich – but no matter how bad things get – we’ll never be poor either. We’ll never be in Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people but being rich doesn’t always have to mean having a lot of money. We are rich because of what we do have – great families and a lot of good friends – friends like you.
Do any of us really get things figured out? Do any of us know why things work the way they do? I wonder.