I have had one lone moment of entrepreneurial inspiration in my life. When I was eight or nine, me and a friend realised her house was located next to a prime natural resource in the primary school economy: a huge conker tree. We devoted long after-school evenings to filling carrier bags with the glossy brown crop. We sorted and graded our goods. And then we took our conkers to school and we sold them.
Obviously, selling conkers is absurd – and I remember other pupils telling us, disgustedly, that they could pick up conkers for themselves. All the same, lots of children bought ours. Because they were there and ready to use at breaktimes? Because other children were buying them too? I have no idea really – like I said, this was a very uncharacteristic moment of nous – but for several days the conker-trading went on successfully.
Then, some other children decided to set up a rival conker operation. At this point, a real entrepreneur would have brought on the corkscrew and bootlaces (to offer a service angle, not to shiv the competition) or diversified into another product altogether. Instead, I got into a snit about losing my conker monopoly and left my now-devalued harvest to moulder in a garage; shortly after, the headteacher put a stop to the whole black market in vegetable matter.
Conkers are wildly accessible commodity, but in the right circumstance and to the right people, they were saleable – even if my tiny startup was not designed to withstand an open market. And what did I learn from this experience? Nothing, apparently: if you want to make my pre-teen experiment in capitalism into an allegory for journalism and paid content, then I am currently a horse chestnut, hurling my fruit at the floor for someone else to pick up and value. At least, I suppose, I’m doing what I’m best at.