Marcin Jakubowski on Crowdfunding, Managing Multiple Projects, and Persevering Against Extreme Odds (CD1)

“You are only going to lose when you give up.” Marcin Jakubowski

Marcin Jakubowski Permaculture Voices




Lessons Learned from Marcin

  • You can’t be dependent upon volunteer labor.  It isn’t consistent.
  • With so many different areas that he could focus on, he always tests it against the question – Does this fit the core mission?
  • Developing multiple projects at once allowed him to see things that without that integrated approach that he would totally miss. 
  • You always have to be thinking one step ahead.  If you get to X, then what.  And what after that?
  • Always keep to the meaning of it.  Is what you are doing meaningful?
  • Hard for haters to say anything if you are making progress and moving forward AND bringing enough people with you to sustain that work.
  • Paid $30k in a real world education to get off his feet.  It’s how you view it – the idea of wasted money versus tuition.  What did you learn from that money and how was it used?
  • Necessity is the mother of all invention.  The lack of funds and the  necessity to go lean forced him to do things he might have never done.
  •  Everyone has great economic potential.  What can you do?
  • “You are only going to lose when you give up.”
  • Random hiring can be tough.  It helps to have a working relationship with a person before you hire them.
  • Stuck with ideas and innovation.  Look at old patents.

Keys to Creating Relationships with Leading People

You can learn a lot by going to industry leaders to leverage their experience and start yourself higher up in the journey. 

  • Find the people who are willing to share their information and love and believe in what they do.
  • If you go to them with something that is absolutely meaningful to them then they may be more willing to help because you are contributing to a field that they love.
  • Be very specific in terms of what you are asking.  Focused, targeted questions. 
  • Offer them value.  Buy them dinner.  Can you help them in some way?
  • Respect their time.  Ask for 10 minutes, versus an hour.

“Anytime the grind hits, there is always something great that happens.” Marcin Jakubowski


Open Source Ecology Afforestt Workshop – September 4-6, 2015

September 4-6, 2015

Maysville, Missouri, USA

The Open Source Ecology – Afforestt Workshop is a 3 day immersion event in Extreme Afforestation. A forest planted by humans, then left to nature’s own devices, typically takes at least 100 years to mature. But what if we could make the process happen ten times faster?

In this workshop, OSE is collaborating with TED Fellow and eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma of Afforestt in creating mini-forest ecosystems using an accelerated method. It’s based on the practices of Japanese forester Akira Miyawaki, as well as on Sharma’s own experiences gleaned from his former career in car manufacturing. We are collaborating with Afforestt in sharing and disseminating know-how in ways to grow native, self-sustaining forests anywhere in the world, with the efficiency of industrial processes.

We will plant a 2000 square foot Extreme Forest using the Miyawaki Method, and document the process carefully. Participants will experience the process from start to finish, both in the philosophical underpinnings and in the practical skills for preparing and planting a forest. The complete workshop is 3 days, and begins with an exploration of afforestation entrepreneurship. Building upon the applied work of Afforestt, the seminal research of Dr. Miyawaki, the technology transfer of Open Source Ecology, the concept of the Open Source Nursery, learnings from the Miracle Orchard, and the ground-breaking work of woody plant breeding as done by Badgersett Research – we will begin mapping the business model and training program for replicable forestry and perennial crop enterprises.

During the Afforestation Entrepreneurship Day – Afforestt and OSE are joining forces to open-source 3 afforestation business models. First is the owner operator model designed for a small business. Second is the workshop model, where immersion training workshops are held to do both an install and to train prospective afforestation entrepreneurs. Third is a larger Afforestation Hub designed as a federation of open source entrereneurs who can handle larger afforestation projects with more complex logistics.

The intent of the workshop is to push the limits of perhaps the most conscious and conspicuously productive effort that any human can undertake: planting trees.

Learn more about the Afforestt workshop – September 4-6, 2015


Connect with Marcin Jakubowski

Open Source Ecology

Open Source Ecology on Facebook

Afforestt Workshop – September 4-6, 2015


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Comments 11

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  1. Listening to Marcin here is quite painful. I’ve been following his work since 2009. He has proven himself again and again to not be the guy for the job. He had the brilliant original insight, but has not produced what he claimed he would, and your interview with him is a long drawing out of how little he understands his failures at producing a finished product, finding a niche where it will proliferate, and iterating rapidly (months) at his own facility and others. He doesn’t have the internet-based or other form of design collaboration and editing platform that would allow for massively distributed, incremental solving of engineering problems — most of which have already been solved, but need to be brought together in the public domain by many competent people. Marcin is not a competent mechanical engineer, metal fabricator, mechatronics technician, shop-floor manager — he lacks so much of what he needs to get the job done. He’s droning on here about sticking to standards and people management — it’s really sad.

    I don’t want to take away from the brilliance of his original idea and the potential that he has to contribute to open source hardware, but he’s positioned himself in a way that has led to seven years of stagnation. He lives off of other people’s money — he can’t make an income from his own work, while he claims that his inventions are *this close* to making incomes for millions of people.

    In some sense, this is fine. He’s just some guy piddling away a few hundred thousands dollars in relative obscurity. That no-one else has claimed the open source hardware throne — that he continues to have his megaphone — is just an accident of history. Eventually he’ll be overtaken by someone who is actually prepared for the task at hand. He’s building a beacon of failure which reflects poorly on the whole discipline, but every industry has failures and charlatans and people who charge for “education” when the product that the education is meant to enable is itself a dysfunctional moneypit. This is not new, I shouldn’t get bent out of shape about it.

    But Marcin was supposed to succeed and he hasn’t. He’s wasted so much good will and free labor on his blind journey of self-discovery. I feel like he’s taking other people down with him. I’d estimate that over the past three years he’s wasted more than 50,000 human labor hours of other people’s time, people who believed in him and worked for him but who’s contributions have been squandered and are irretrievably lost because Marcin is not the right guy to build the wikipedia of open source hardware. There will be waste — on the scale of millions of human hours — when we finally are able to collaborate transparently on designing the entire GVCS. But the waste ratio will be very low — billions of hours of work will actually lead to income, health, abundance — working machines, valuable crops, small businesses, etc.

    This is not the human genome project. This is not a science or engineering endeavor in which exponential technological growth rates apply, where the first 90% of the project life looks like a huge moneypit with meager results and the last 10% pays off handsomely and sets the stage for a whole new discipline. This is just Marcin’s mess. Wake up Marcin. Go back to school for mechanical and chemical engineering, find people who can build the wikipedia of instructables, move to a city and buy a scrapyard so you have an honest income stream and a source of material rather than buying all the expensive metal you waste so profligately, find an actual farmer to make your land pay its way rather than limp along as it does.

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      Great comment. I think you bring up some great points, such as this…

      “He had the brilliant original insight, but has not produced what he claimed he would, and your interview with him is a long drawing out of how little he understands his failures at producing a finished product, finding a niche where it will proliferate, and iterating rapidly (months) at his own facility and others.”

      As far as how successful he has been. I think that comes down to how you define success. There is an extremely large amount of complexity here, I think progress has been made, but I understand your points. Maybe this is how it all starts. There is a base of work done and later someone comes along and refines, scraps, and builds upon it to really take it to the next level. I don’t know. Only time will tell.

      1. I’d absolutely agree. Marcin should be very proud of the positive things he’s accomplished, and we are all better for his work and the work that’s he’s enabled other people to do. But he has a problem with over-promising results, and has not learned from his failures. I’ve never heard him review his failures and apologize for them, and seek help avoiding them in the future. When he sets a deadline, it passed without comment. It just evaporates. This has been happening for the entire 6 years I’ve been following him, dozens of times, for projects that involve time and money from lots of people. If he wasn’t over-promising, and living off other people’s money in the mean-time, there would be no problem. The hype is too much.

        I’m not suggesting that he’s misusing his funds and the time of others in a malevolent or corrupt way — he clearly believes in the project, it is objectively a very good project that could help an enormous number of people, and he’s shown great dedication to it. But he seems incapable of recognizing that he’s mismanaged the funds he has within that framework — he’s running the business poorly — and the years are slipping by.

        I’m not really one to speak. I haven’t accomplished very much since I began to follow Marcin. But I haven’t been hyping my ideas and collecting other people’s money, and subsequent disappointing failures, along the way. I live within my means (less than $5k/yr — this is why I need Marcin to succeed!), and it’s really jarring to see Marcin do otherwise, even though his gospel is based on bootstrapping from “internet and some scrap metal” to a decent living. It’s a big issue in the wider permaculture community (a permaculture education does not have a good “tuition” investment to income ratio) and Marcin is a special case of this — selling and idea before the product is worth any money, and not delivering for years, like a failed kickstarter.

        There is a way in which OSE could be like the human genome project or other long-term technical projects that follow an exponential rate of return. It’s to create the platform for thousands or millions of engineers, designers, and other researchers (as well as non-tenical people who are just interested in the subject) to pool their collective volunteer time, like wikipedia or instructables, into creating public domain machinery. Everything in the GVCS already exists — much of it invented and mass-produced before 1950 — we just need about 100,000 hours of mechanical engineering research into pulling that information out of the past, and teams of people to iterate those designs materially. Probably this tool already exists but has a very small niche audience somewhere, and someone like Marcin should be scouring the earth for it, rather than trying to manage (badly) some tinkering around in the middle of nowhere. That’s how others have unleashed exponential contribution to an intractable problem — find the mediating layer of communications software.

        This really applies to permaculture more widely as well — we don’t even have a decent public domain catalog of plant guilds when the idea was introduced in the late 1970s. We need hundreds of farm business profiles, time and material studies for polycultures, etc etc. The work to be done is huge. It’s already being done physically, on individuals farms and nurseries and fisheries and other businesses, just not digitized publicly for others to learn from. Too much compartmentalization. The spread of important information is very slow and constantly dying like roots that are airpruning in a small pot — the soil of each individual’s experience is still amazingly quarantined, disconnected. I can’t look up what it costs to run a chestnut-apple-hazelnut polyculture! That should be a page-one google result in year 2015, but it doesn’t even exist on the internet, only in the head of people like Mark Shepard and Joel Salatin or Dave Jacke who have managed to never write it down or show that it’s replicable. The tendency has been instead to siphon income from educational offerings and media sales.

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          Again, a lot of good points.

          There is no easy answer here. And it is a bit of the chicken before the egg type problem. We don’t have costs for polyculture orchards, so people don’t start them, but in order to get those costs we need people to start them. I think too many people don’t start because they don’t have all of the answers. And they need to quantify what they can, know it isn’t perfect or complete, and then figure it out as they go.

          I think progress is being made and for sure isn’t being documented, partially because it’s a ton of work to log all of this information, especially when people are busy. So what’s better on the ground progress or logging the progress? I know both is the right answer, but that’s also the ideal answer.

          Ironically one good way that this information is starting to be logged is in educational material – books, courses. Because when you create that material you have to quantify those small details.

          While the Mark Shepards and Marcins of the world might not get us all the way to the finish line, they are at least the people who provide a base for other people to start on and run with. And that’s going to be the key. Who takes what is there and runs with it?

          1. You say: “Ironically one good way that this information is starting to be logged is in educational material – books, courses. Because when you create that material you have to quantify those small details.”

            Mollison and Holmgren started publishing permaculture documents in 1974 — 41 years ago. There have been very well-endowed agroforestry and polyculture projects in industry and academia since before WWII. It’s not a chicken and egg problem. The chickens exist. The second and third generation eggs have hatched. Some people are doing adequate datalogging, but not publishing it. I’ve volunteered my free datalogging services to dozens of farms and no one wants to take me up on it — which is fine if you don’t want to work with ME, but work with SOMEONE.

            Once people have an income stream from primary production, they don’t want to share the details. No one wants transparent, open-source, non-competitive accounting in agriculture. It’s insane to me but that’s the way it is. People get REALLY cagey when you start asking about how much they make and how they make it. Even ag extension employees will refuse to publish case studies of individual farm businesses. Into this data void we have monetization schemes like SPIN farming, charging for business model educations which should be public domain. Salatin has probably published the most comprehensive data for his methods of anyone else, but his focus on animal crops is a serious hurdle for people who can’t handle birds and mammals and would prefer to deal with fish or plants. Salatin might say “if you can’t butcher a rabbit, you have no business is farming” and I’d say that’s too narrow a view of the possible income from the natural world. Someone like Eliot Coleman has published incredible cultivation information but — surprise surprise — almost no labor and cash information.

            You say “it’s a ton of work to log all of this information” — this is true in some cases. But in most cases the “work” is already being done for internal use, and just not being shared. I don’t know if Mark Shepard has a spreadsheet of all his trees and other capital, their input costs, labor time, output mass and revenue — but many other farmers (thousands if not millions) do have those numbers, and they just don’t share the data. This hurts everyone more than it protects individual’s “secret sauce”.

            “I think too many people don’t start because they don’t have all of the answers.” — There’s truth in this. But since it would be relatively easy to publish “all the answers”, why not do that? Why not let people decide on business (or simply, subsistence) ventures based on adequate data? Data that exists in abundance and which researchers, individual farmers, or industry are completely capable of publishing if they want to? Competitive greed is my only answer. A taboo against talking about money. I see it even in my generation of friends who are copying the work of Mark Shepard and Eliot Coleman. Farmers rarely want to share numbers. Farmers will share almost anything — tools, cultivation techniques, their own labor — but not numbers, let alone adequate documentary footage of daily operations. And there is no way for farming, or engineering, to become open-source, without sharing data on material, labor, and cash flows for thousands of producers. Business case study literature is generally a joke, but for farming it’s almost maliciously pitiful. I have access to easily half of the temperate world’s plant cultivation knowledge, but none of that translates to the successful, repeatable (non-profit or for-profit) production of commodity, specialty, or value-added crops. It translates to hobby gardening.

            It’s super simple. How many chestnuts did you plant? What did they cost? How many labor hours? What is their yield each year? What is the market value of that yield? How much did you actually make on that crop? What is the life of the capital? Iterate for every crop. Anyone who wants me to spend my free labor quantifying their farming operations, get in touch, I will travel just about anywhere in the US and work for free to make this data public domain.

            This closed-source data hoarding is an endemic cultural blind spot and it’s holding us all back, in every industry, but most glaringly for me in farming and engineering. In Marcin’s case, engineers have already built almost every device in the GVCS. THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN BUILT AND MASS-PRODUCED. There’s no need to reinvent them, and no excuse for delay. Brick presses, cars, tractors, crushing and sorting and sifting and heating and melting and washing devices of every kind, every shop tool, every engine and motor driven device, it’s all there in our past! Most of it’s recorded in English! All before 1950! Most of it’s public domain, just not up to open source digital standards. This is a job for competent engineer researchers, to go hunting in the back-catalog of Mondragon, Ford, General Electric, NASA, and every other machine builder, harvest the existing designs, add microcontrol, and call it version 1.0… Done! I’m concerned that when I’m done with my mechanical engineering education in 2022, almost no progress will have been made on this, Marcin will still be spilling money all over the place in Maysville, or he’ll have moved on to lead some education-for-cash succubus, and there will be a few crumbling “microhouses” and a few broken-down CEB presses lying around, everyone still building with commodity lumber and concrete, getting their calories from commodity industry, welding their little dead-ends with commodity metals and grid power.

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            All makes sense, but I hold out very little hope that very many people will publicly give out their business models and numbers. I just don’t see that happening. I don’t think there is very much personal incentive to do that.

            I don’t think it is just competitive greed. I think there is personal pride at stake in a lot of cases. Because a lot of farms don’t make money and it hard for people to publicly admit that things aren’t working.

            But it is being done with things like this. http://www.farmmarketingsolutions.com/how-to-start-a-farm/12-month-farm-finance-challenge/

            And it is a chicken and the egg problem. The ideas of permaculture are 41 years old, but very little has actually been done to put some of these ideas and theories to practices with quantifiable real world steps and numbers. It’s been 41 years of talk with little execution in a serious way.

            The bottom line is people just need to go out and figure it out on their own if it’s really what they want to do.

  2. Great Diego, I’m really excited to hear what’s to come. I found out about Permaculture Voices a few months ago and I love it. Sadly I live in a really big city where space is quite limited and very expensive, I’ve tried some searching around for a place to start an urban plot where I could have some control over, but couldn’t find anything in my ball park right now. I haven’t given up on it though, still looking.
    Thanks to your podcast, the great work and I can’t wait for the new content to come.

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  3. This was great. I had heard of the open source projects but hadn’t thought much about it or looked into it. This was fascinating.

    The Afforestation workshop sounds fascinating. I couldn’t make that but I wish there was a way to teach it over the web

    Great show. Thanks!

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