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January 29, 2008

The Pirate’s Dilemma | REMIXED

“Remixing is about taking something that already exists and redefining it in your own personal creative space, reinterpreting someone else’s work your way. [It’s about] taking an idea and making it suitable for a whole new audience.”Matt Mason, THE PIRATE’S DILEMMA

Consider the following post a remix of Matt Mason’s THE PIRATE’S DILEMMA. The twist I’m adding is whittling down the gist of Matt’s message into a WHATSO WHATWHAT NOW structure. The WHAT is the core of Matt’s idea. The SO WHAT explains why the WHAT matters. And the WHAT NOW is advice on how to action upon the WHAT.

NOTE: All direct samples lifted from Mason’s original work, THE PIRATE’S DILEMMA, are quoted in italics.


“Entrepreneurs look for gaps in the market. Pirates look for gaps outside of the market. By thinking like pirates, people grow niche audiences to a critical mass and change the mainstream from the bottom-up.”

Matt Mason reasons today’s capitalism is influenced by Pirate entrepreneurs who are rocking the boat by “doing things differently and working out new ways to share information, intellectual property, and public space.”

American Apparel
is a company run by a Pirate entrepreneur in Don Charney. Influenced by the punk capitalism ideal of “putting purpose next to profit,” Charney is reinventing the apparel industry in America. All of American Apparel clothes are produced in a sweatshop-free factory in downtown Los Angeles. American Apparel factory workers earn an average of $13/hr, plus they receive benefits like subsidized lunches, bus passes, free bicycles, and health insurance. 20% of the cotton used by American Apparel is organic, 20% of the power used at their factory comes from their rooftop solar panels, and all fabric scraps are recycled. By selling both substance and style, Charney is making a healthy profit and upending the market in the process.

Tomoaki Nagao is a Pirate entrepreneur impacting the sneaker trade. Nagao remixed Nike’s Air Force One basketball shoe in garish colors and high-gloss patent leather. The result of this remixed shoe is the sought-after and super-expensive BapeSta shoe line (known as Bapes). Thanks to the success of Bapes, Nike has reintroduced the Air Force One shoe in similar garish colors. Not a surprising move for Nike given that its co-founder and leader, Phil Knight, is an O.P. (Original Pirate) having rocked the sneaker trade in the early 70s.

“Finding a space to get your idea across is as important as having the idea itself. If the idea is good, growing an audience won’t be difficult. It’s the audience that gives pirates their power.” Shawn Fanning’s Pirate prowess was boosted when his idea went viral. At one point, 70-million people were freely sharing MP3s using Fanning’s ultimate pirate creation—Napster.

The entire music industry business model has been rocked by Napster and other peer-to-peer music sharing programs. However, “as quickly as society figures out new ways to share ideas that advance the common good, private interests move in to stop this from happening, to maintain the old systems that benefit only the elite.” The music industry levied a litany of legal charges against Napster, forcing this Pirate business to reform its rock-the-boat ways and go from a free service to a paid service.

The music industry is still waging legal battles against free download sites. But the irrevocable damage has been down. Pirates have forever changed how people view the accessibility, portability, and usability of music. The music industry is facing the “PIRATE’S DILEMMA” of how to respond when an outside force finds new ways to “share information, intellectual property, and public space” that bypasses the capitalistic models of the old guard.

Responding to the PIRATE’S DILEMMA is a dilemma for companies competing a marketplace that has been rocked by Pirate entrepreneurs. Do you steadfastly cling to how you’ve always done business and choose not to compete in the Pirate-created market? Or do you compete with the Pirates in the market they’ve rocked?

In Matt Mason’s words, do you “fight these pirates, or accept that there is some value in what they are doing, and compete with them?” That’s the dilemma facing businesses in all types of industries.

Mason believes “resistance if futile” and if you choose to ignore the Pirate-created market or choose not to adapt to the changing marketplace … you will lose. The solution to THE PIRATE’S DILEMMA, according to Mason, is to act like a Pirate by “recognizing the pirate within” and to view disrupted markets not as problems, but as opportunities.

Further Mixes:
>> THE PIRATE’S DILEMMA | website and blog
>> Matt Mason presentation| video
>> Matt Mason presentation | slides


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John - I have not read the book - thanks for REMIXing it for me. I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, but will put just a few here. The Pirates Dilemma sounds a lot like Blue Ocean Strategy, and is the basis for innovation. For me, the bottom line is that you can compete where you are (and keep going to the well), or you can find new places to compete (where the competition does not yet exist). Successful, innovative companies do two things: 1) tap unmet opportunities and markets and 2) create economic value for stakeholders. Ultimately, to be economically viable and sustainable, an innovation must create enough perceived value for customers (in particular, the outcomes customers are trying to achieve) that they are willing to act on and become an advocate for the innovation...

Victor ... THE PIRATE'S DILEMMA reads much better than BLUE OCEAN because its less academic in tone and devoid of biz speak. Plus, TPD focuses more on how and why established businesses should embrace the "blue oceans" created by the open-source/bottom-up entreprenuerialism that is disrupting markets. It's the age-old advice of "If you can't beat them, join them."

Personally, THE PIRATE'S DILEMMA appealed to me because its the first business book I've read that referenced KRS-ONE and Stetsasonic.


Sounds like a very interesting book. I was wondering if you would talk about it since it is in the picture with SendABall.

"Do you 'fight these pirates, or accept that there is some value in what they are doing, and compete with them?'”

Do you think that we'll ever hit the point where instead of competing with pirates we co-create with them?

Bill ... I'm one to think that Pirates or rogue entrepreneurs will always emerge given whatever business market exists. Someone from somewhere always seems to upend the market.

So, no. I do not think we'll ever reach a point where we co-create with all the Pirates.

I had the awesome chance to interview Matt Mason, author of The Pirates Dilemma, for my little blog. It is a 15-minute interview available as an mp3 download.

In this interview Matt and I discuss how the book’s been received, the future of the music industry and some exciting news about Matt’s upcoming projects.

Link is here:

Thought some of your readers might be interested in checking it out.



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