Patrick Curry

What Does Ownership Really Mean?

Since the talk of today is the purchase of Twitter, I figured I'd drop a stream of consciousness micro-blog-post toot-storm about *ownership* and what it means for startups.

So what is *ownership*? What does it mean to own something? What does it mean to own a house? Or fine art? Or a famous media franchise? Or a pet? Or a company?

The first thing that comes to mind to me is *control*. When you own something, you control it. You can make the decisions. You are the boss. Want to paint your house bright yellow? Go for it! Want to hang the Mona Lisa in your bathroom? Sure, you own it. Want to make 007 a woman? That's your call!

So in this respect, owning something, especially if you own the majority of it and can out-vote your fellow co-owners, is really appealing. We all put up with lots of shit in our lives completely out of our control. To be able to make 100% of the decisions about something sounds grand!

And since you get to make all of the decisions when you own something, you can also make what some people would call bad decisions. Want to burn down your house? Want to shave your cat? Want to park your unlocked Ferrari in the Walmart parking lot? The choice is yours!

Another part of the fun of owning something is taking the credit for all these awesome decisions. If you buy a house for $100k and sell it for $500k, you get to take credit for being a financial genius. If you own the fattest pig at the county fair, you get to take credit for being an amazing farmer!

Since shit is usually out of our control, and shit often goes wrong... being able to own something, make all the decisions, and then take credit when something finally goes right is awesome! Yay ownership!

And hey, that's just the taking credit part! If you sell a house or a company or a prize pig for a bazillion dollars, and you owned it outright, then you ALSO get to keep the fucking money!!! Holy shit!!!

This is where ownership really starts to pay off, y'all. The larger the percentage of something you own, then the more of the cash money you get to pocket when it finally starts making money. Are there profits? Ownership means profit-sharing and dividends. Is there a total acquisition? Ownership means you get paid for selling your share!

So far so good, right? Ownership means control, it means decision making, it means glory, and it means cold hard cash when things go right. I hear you wondering, what's the catch?!

Well I hate to break it to you, but there are a couple downsides to ownership. A couple pesky thing that make owning things less than the nonstop glamour shower that I've made it out to be thus far! Here we go...

The first big downside to ownership is *responsibilities*. That's right, when you own something, you're responsible for it... and responsible for all the good or bad or boring that comes out of it. Responsibilities like...

Responsibilities like making sure the house you own is properly insulated so the people who live inside it don't freeze to death. Responsible for preserving the culture that the Mona Lisa represents, and doesn't get piss on her.

Responsible for making sure your dog doesn't have mange or worms and that he doesn't bite the neighbor kids. Responsible for making sure your employees get paid and that they can afford to raise their families in relative comfort and safety.

All of these responsibilities add up to an absolutely massive pile of duties and imperatives that as an *owner* you have to take seriously. Being frivilous about the lives of your tenants or pets or neighbors or family or culture or society is fucking inexcusable and inhumane.

You want to paint your house with lead paint cause it's cheaper or leave your hungry dog unattended because he's boring or sell your fine art to yet another urinal-decorator? Well as an owner, that's your choice. You get to make the big decisions. You have that power.

But when you do so, you're taking a big risk. You're risking that you won't die of lead poisoning first, that your dog won't bite you while you sleep, and that eroding our society won't piss people off so bad that they start taking up the pitchforks.

And that brings me to my final point about ownership. The Risks. I know that risk is fun. I like roller coasters. I like startups. I like playing games, and occasionally gambling. Risk is what makes these activies extra spicy! There's the risk of failure, the risk of losing it all, and the risk of defeat. All fun parts of the game!

But there's a fine line when that risk is no longer about making the game fun for you -- and it's about making things riskier for others. When the stakes are other people's health and wealth, you have to take those risks deadly seriously. And you have to know that you're playing the game not just for yourself, but for everyone else involved too.

So what have we learned? Well first off -- owning shit is rad and I highly recommend it. You get to make lots of decisions, you get to take credit when things go well, and you just might get rich. But ownership also means taking on responsibilities for the things you own and how they impact others, and it means taking on risks that you may have never considered before.

If you think you can handle the risk and the responsibilities, then starting companies or owning companies can be really rewarding. If you view ownership as not something only for yourself, but as something that can positively impact everyone you interact with, then please go for it!

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