How Nathan Fielder taught me to sell air
On having gall and chronicling the rise and fall of AirTec Solutions
I am not here to shill Nathan Fielder’s new show—“The Rehearsal”—but if I was, I’d start off by telling you that it premiered last night on HBO to rave reviews, including my own and that you should check it out.
No no no.
I’m here about a different show by Nathan Fielder, and how it got me to defer college, start a business selling air, and most importantly: to have gall.
Nathan for You is a show that premiered on Comedy Central in 2013. The synopsis read no different than your usual business, reality TV outing:
“Writer, director and comedian Nathan Fielder also has a business degree, and he combines that knowledge with his unusual life experiences to help struggling small businesses boost their sales.”
It was the tactics used to boost sales that were where the magic happened, and where Fielder’s creativity shined. Fielder convinced moving company operators to advertise their practices as a workout. He told gas station owners to sell alcohol to minors. He encouraged pet stores to advertise on tombstones at pet cemeteries. These gimmicks went on for 4 amazing seasons.
Nathan Fielder is an artist. In another time, he might have even been the type of character to convince a scrap dealer to buy the Eiffel Tower. But Nathan Fielder isn’t from another time. Unlike Victor Lustig, we have the pleasure of watching Fielder’s works play out on television for the masses, and we furthermore have the pleasure of learning from them.
The thing that always struck me about the stunts pulled on Nathan for You, is there was an aspect with which the out of the box idea worked. Each idea seemed to illuminate some hidden truth that could be taken advantage of, at least until it fizzled out or was shut down by the health department.
In most basic terms, I think that hidden truth could be articulated as gall.
The reason I choose to use the word gall over something like boldness or courage, is that it articulates a little something extra. The dictionary seems to think that something extra is impudence.1 Maybe it’s right. All the same, I prefer to think of it as disregard for social convention. I stick with the terminology also because it was and continues to be a pattern language between myself and my partner for the first real business I started out of high school.
Why we started that business, is because of Nathan Fielder.
The story goes that we were in the gym, partaking in our usual workouts and discussing the business of the day. At some point, we landed on the subject of having gall, especially as it pertained to the aforementioned stunts pulled by Fielder.
My buddy and I identified the same pattern I describe above. Despite the comedic wind down of the gimmicks at the end of each episode, there was something about them that just worked. If that something—whatever it was—could be harnessed and carried forward, we were sure that it had the potential to be a big idea. After all, the emperor has no clothes, and we were digging at how to become emperors.
We settled on a question to further probe our mental mastubations. The fateful question was:
‘If we were to sell air, how would we go about doing that?’
We figured to sell air, we would first have to sell the problem. Eventually, we determined the ideal model for selling air was to break it into 2 steps:
Test indoor air quality
Sell air purification systems
That didn’t sound like a half dumb idea to two 17 year olds T’d up at the gym. Within a week, ‘AirTec Solutions’ was incorporated, had a business license and was looking for exclusive authorized distribution partnerships with the best air purifier manufacturers in the business.
At the time, I was delivering pizza for less than $8/hour. When we sold our first unit and I made over 10 times that for a couple of hours’ knocking on doors with a friend, I quit and didn’t look back.
Our hook? The air quality test was free. It’s a sales strategy I continue to implement to this day: educate people on the problem for free, sell the solution.
A couple months later, I had deferred my decision to go to college and we had a 30 second commercial running on a local news station. All sugarcoating aside, our Icarus moment was when we took on this marketing debt, signing a 12 month contract for a multi-thousand dollar a month expense that we were barely bringing in the revenue to cover—all at the dawn of new streaming services like Netflix.
I once read something along the lines of ‘Entrepreneurs and inventors are maximally arrogant because they believe something that no one else does, and have the gall to work that belief into society.’2
I have 2 thoughts on this.
This is not a bad thing
More people should operate this way
The pursuit of the unknown and its deliverance into society is the most noble action that the individual can undertake. Doing this in your own psyche is the key to self actualization. The unknown wisdom that is not useful is rejected, and the cycle goes on ad infinitum.
So what’s the worst that could happen??
And so to conclude this write-up—and shill of Nathan Fielder’s new series—I leave you with this challenge: To choose something that you believe in, and have gall.
“This is a guy that wants to sell air, and then he does.”
Send me signal on Urbit: ~padlyn-sogrum
I can’t remember the source, will gladly add it if this rings a bell to anyone and it’s dropped in the comments.