I was reading John Hammond’s biography entry, (John discovered Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and yes, Count Basie) and I noticed that he was independently wealthy.
Woz wasn’t looking to make a lot of money when he invented the Apple computer, and Nolan Bushnell certainly didn’t imagine he was creating the video game industry when he invented Pong. Cory and the rest of the boingboing team had no revenue for years, and Digg and Yahoo! and dozens of other key websites were started without an eye on profit, never mind revenue. The same thing is true for Julia Child and Gene Roddenberry and Dean Kamen.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that pioneers are almost never in it for the money. The smart ones figure out how to take a remarkable innovation and turn it into a living (or a bigger than big payout) but not the other way around. I think the reason is pretty obvious: when you try to make a profit from your innovation, you stop innovating too soon. You take the short payout because it’s too hard to stick around for the later one.
Irony #1 is that business journalists always ask pioneers about the money. And then they are incredulous when they hear the answer. They make up bogus numbers or just assume the pioneer is lying. They don’t see the trend.
The second irony is that people who want to join the pioneers are often focused on a steady paycheck and juicy options… they would probably be better off seeking the edgiest thing they can find, run by the most devoted visionary.