Have you ever been stalked by an idea—one that just won't leave you alone?

It starts innocently enough. The idea slips into your psyche through an essay, or a YouTube video, or a conversation, and you think "Oh, that's pretty neat," before moving on with your day. Unlike other ideas you encounter in similar fashion, this one keeps resurfacing, year after year, with unusual intensity, like a beachball held beneath water. It insists you pay attention, that you act. It feels alive. These ideas are rarely the most practical ones, of course, which makes it easy to keep rationalizing your resistance. Your heart screams yes, while your head gets lost in a labyrinth of second-guessing and false starts. Instead of taking the hint and going away, however, the idea doubles down. "We have unfinished business, you and I," it says. "Until you live out your season of devotion to me, I will haunt you until your dying days."

Sounds a bit dramatic, I realize. But that's my relationship with 1,000 true fans.

When I first read Kevin Kelly’s essay in the spring of 2015, I was a few weeks away from starting my first online business. I was burned out from the clickbait filmmaking blog I was writing for at the time, and I felt this pull towards writing things that were deeper, richer, more nourishing. All I'd ever known was trying to reach the largest possible audience, so the seed that essay planted in me felt radical. Perhaps I could lean into my weirdness and curiosity, and earn a living from a small group of similarly curious weirdos. It felt like the permission slip I needed to give it a shot.

In the nine years since, I've built two businesses—Filmmaker Freedom and Ungated Media—with true fandom as the explicit goal. I got both to a place where I was making a decent living. Not splashy six-figure instagram influencer money, mind you. But a real, consistent living. And yet, I ended up shuttering both businesses for the same reason. Both were growing, but the more they grew, the more they felt like a prison. With each one, I felt like I'd abandoned a crucial part myself somewhere along the road to profitability. And I was unwilling to be trapped by something that looked successful on the outside, but felt like shit on the inside.

But no matter how many times I burn my businesses to the ground, or take a messy, unexpected detour in life, I always seem to end up right where I started. Amidst the ashes, 1,000 true fans sits there waiting for me, unscathed, with a grin on its face that says, "I'm still here, Hardy. Your move." Despite my lingering doubts and insecurities, I've got nothing left to lose. It's time for me explore this frontier fully, write and publish prolifically, and leave behind a rich body of work. After years of resisting the call, I'm ready to say yes. I'm ready to devote myself.

Sure, I've got all sorts of reasons why this feels logically important. I believe it will meet a need in the market and make for a great business. I want to prove (to myself, in particular) that even after several failed attempts, I can build an effective business while staying true to myself. And I believe that once it's adopted more widely, the true fan model will nourish the lives of creators and consumers alike, and result in a more delightful, diverse, human internet for all of us.

Those are all valid and convincing reasons, but if I'm honest, they mostly feel like post hoc rationalizations for something deeper and more inexplicable. The real reason is I'm obsessed with this one idea. Or maybe possessed is the better word?

That's why I'm re-launching The Forest today, even though I don't feel ready, and why I'll be spending the next few years writing and exploring here. Because I can't not do it. Because no matter how many times I've tried moving on, 1,000 true fans keeps whispering in my ear, informing me that we have unfinished business together.