Build Your Own Umbrella
Johnnie Rose, Jr.
How to Startup a Startup from Your Home
In a world of economic uncertainty, how do you protect yourself from torrential rains of an unfulfilling job, souring relationships with fellow office-workers and the ever-present threat of corporate downsizing? Fashion your own umbrella in the form of a home-based business and be not afraid to use it.
The economics of the situation are quite simple: join a large corporation and put yourself at risk of corporate restructuring that may ultimately lead to the demise of your working person. Join a small, high-powered startup and put yourself at risk of burning out within the first ten seconds; if that doesn’t happen, prepare yourself for an environment in which the majority of startups fail due to lack of money, lack of commitment or a heartbreaking combination of both.
And unless lawmakers are willing to pull off what Toby Ziegler did on The West Wing's Slow News Day, an episode in the TV series' fifth season describing how Social Security is saved by the incumbent administration, the young people now playing Quake 4 and cruising the Internet on high-speed ADSL won't have a government paycheck to meet them at retirement. Add to that the recent rash of office and school shootings, and staying home to earn your keep is even more attractive. There must be an alternative, and that alternative is already sweeping the country at an accelerated pace: people going into business for themselves.
I'm typing this column from a corner office that overlooks my front yard and a bit of the side lawn. Downstairs is a kitchen, and the garage is a floor directly below my comfy computer chair. Yes, I'm working from my home. Today, I sent official business email borne of the serenity and solace of a quiet neighborhood while listening to Japanese Rock on my makeshift radio composed of Windows Media Player and earphones. I talked with friends over the Internet, watched 24 (my favorite TV show) and pondered the meaning of life for all of about five minutes. One of the joys of undertaking a home business is increased dynamicity: you simply aren't held back by the literal trappings of an office.
But do you need the trappings of an office to concentrate on your duties? A positive of staying home to earn your keep is ever-present comfort: if you want, you can wear your pajamas all day to perform tasks related to your work or seamlessly transition from busying yourself at the computer to showering, massaging away the stresses of the day. Though the creature-comfort side of you may regard this as the perfect environment in which to do business, you have to be careful; there's nothing preventing you from taking a two-or three-hour lunch, or deciding not to come back to the grindstone after finishing your romp in your home spa. A high degree of self-discipline is simply required.
For most people, leaving the office signals the end of the workday. This is the point at which you engage your catlike reflexes to reach your way home and put your desk or cubicle a good dozen miles behind you. Running a home-based business, your cubicle-equivalent is never more than the width of your house away; this gives rise to the temptation to pause the workday rather than solidly conclude it. If, like me, you're a workaholic, the tendency to spend energy on commercial pursuits at the expense of your pleasure or family time becomes an issue. Therefore, setting clear boundaries on when work starts and stops is key. Ironically, you may find yourself approximating an office-like time schedule.
Creature-comforts don't describe the full extent of why putting together your commercial outfit is alluring. Many limitations are relaxed or eliminated: you write your own paycheck, you decide your own hours and your activity level scales up or down in synchrony with your needs. This is a great deal of power to have at your fingertips; working for someone else, you grant some or all of this power to the company you work for. You must desire to bring this power back under your control and then manage it to some practical end. When the goal of your home-based business is harmonious with your internal drive, the fulfillment of this goal is the true reward. Do what you love and the money will follow.
One of my favorite computer games to play is Master of Orion 2, known to aficionados as MOO2. The game is twelve years old, yet I still find fascinating parallels between its gameplay and the way things work in the real world. Within this empire-building adventure, there are certain technologies that, once discovered, dramatically improve worker efficiency: the Automated Factory, Robotic Factory and Autolab. Look at those names again, closely. You'll find that these technologies share a common theme. Without knowing the specifics of what they do, you can already draw the conclusion that greater efficiency comes through automation; by assigning repetitive tasks to automated systems.
A challenge of working at home rather than in a workplace with like-minded people is the ensuing belief that you're going it alone, and, alone, the large change you need to affect to achieve profitability may seem impossibly distant. However, that which yesterday, was seemingly impossible can become commonplace tomorrow, when the proper automated systems are put in play today. You'll have to find the automated systems that are right for your business. In my programming endeavor, a high-quality code editor is my Automated Factory, my hands are my Robotic Factory and my brain is my Autolab. And I have Japanese Rock for my Pleasure Dome (another technology that greatly increases morale).
An encouraging trend produced by the modernity in which we live is the ability to transact without being involved in any detail of what's happening. This ties in heavily with the concept of automated systems I mentioned: people have put up entire websites that introduce a product, give you a trial of the product, take your payment details and charge your credit card or bank account, without the site owner doing anything but sitting back and watching the situation unravel in much the same way as you or I watch the news---except, for these people, every story reports a sale and the newscast runs 24/7. This is, perhaps, the future of small business in a world of automated economics.
Above all, you must be willing to seize the opportunity inherent in running a home-based business. Take a second look at the word: opportunity. The last five letters spell "unity." There must be a unity of positive thought in your mind that enables you to meet hardship with perseverance as well as triumph with humility. Good luck!
Johnnie Rose, Jr. attended Princeton University and founded Jerrata.com Worldwide, producer of the first Web operating system built for PHP programmers: Jerrata Backbone. When he isn't plucking the strings of his favorite IDE, Johnnie reads email sent to his address at email@example.com.