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Entrepreneurship from Home (EFH)
WFH is ushering in an EFH era, and everyone can participate
Welcome to issue #3 of next big thing.
And a warm welcome to the 210 new subscribers since last week.
Entrepreneurship is a personal growth engine disguised as a business pursuit.
My EFH Journey
My journey as an entrepreneur began out of my parents' home. I first learned about Half.com right after I moved to the U.S. (from a family friend, Rajiv Dutta). The following summer, in 2003, I had to figure out what to do with the textbooks I had purchased and used in the prior school year. I had my father set up an account on Half.com, and I began to list the books.
I remember the excitement of having a book sell, packaging it in a bubble mailer, taking it to the post office, and shipping it by media mail. I listed a few other items for sale on Amazon Marketplace and eBay. I was 14 years-old. This was my first entrepreneurial adventure, and I continued selling my books and other items through high school. It wasn't much of a business, but it gave me a taste for entrepreneurship.
In the summer of 2009, I found myself back at my parents' home working on a more tangible entrepreneurial project. Carter Cleveland, who I'd begun working with during the school year in college, had moved into the bedroom next door to mine (thank you to my parents for being so generous!). The two of us were working on Exhibytes, a platform for discovering and collecting art, which would later rename to Artsy.
It was not too dissimilar an economic environment to today - the unemployment rate was up (to around 10%, not nearly as high as levels today), and a lot of students were struggling to find internships or full-time jobs.
We had decided to build. We were in our own world, working on a startup from home.
Many of us are forced to work from home (WFH) today due to the covid-19 crisis, and I've been thinking back to the summer of 2009. As it did then, this feels like the perfect time for entrepreneurship from home (EFH).
Before moving on in this discussion, I want to recognize that it is a privilege to be able to WFH, or have the setup or skills to enable EFH, during a time like this. If you’re struggling to remain in your home, or are a frontline worker helping those in need, or are anyone else deeply impacted by this crisis, know that you are not alone. Please feel free to share your story in the comments.
EFH as an Internship
Whether you're a current student or graduating, a freelancer or an employee or a laid-off worker, or someone who hasn't worked for some time, EFH can be for you.
I'm biased, but I've always felt that the best time to dip your toes into entrepreneurship is during college. Most college students have few responsibilities beyond schoolwork, have lots of unstructured time, and are surrounded by other like-minded people. These are the perfect ingredients to start something new.
Here's one idea for those of you still in school - organize a weekly video call with other entrepreneurially-minded students. You can call it Idea Factory - anyone with an idea can talk about their idea, and anyone else can give feedback on it. There's a code of conduct - everyone is present to bear witness to no one stealing anyone else's idea, and no one calls someone else's idea bad.
This is a great way to pressure test your ideas with others, get early users, and even find co-founders. We actually started Idea Factory in 2008 at Princeton (in-person), and several startups came out of it. The Princeton Entrepreneurship Club recently re-launched Idea Factory over Zoom*, and invited me to join for the first session last month! There were dozens of students on the call and four of them pitched their ideas.
Go give entrepreneurship a try from home this summer - you'll never regret it.
If you're looking for a way to earn a living, whether beyond school or not, there's an entrepreneurial project out there for you.
Internet platforms have enabled so many different types of EFH. And because of shelters-in-place being enacted around the world, new entrepreneurial opportunities have opened up. Here are some inspiring examples to get your creative juices flowing, no matter your skills:
Launch a home daycare using MyVillage or WeeCare or Wonderschool: if you are one of the many parents who's had to build an impromptu daycare within your house for your child, why not consider serving other children and making this a business? These platforms enable you to start a licensed program quickly, and give you the tools to run a daycare from your home.
Bread-selling using Etsy: Etsy is a marketplace for people to buy and sell homemade goods. This great WSJ piece highlights the boom in business for Etsy sellers making baked goods, with orders for bakers surveyed increasing 200-450% in the past two months from a year ago.
Coffee Shop from Home: Ben Ramirez, a dad in San Francisco, has opened a coffee shop out of his home to serve essential workers. He serves coffee from his kitchen window, and though he's doing it as a public good for now, perhaps this can be a catalyst for a business down the road.
Become a virtual babysitter or barber or something else leveraging your skills: Platforms like SitterStream are enabling parents to book virtual babysitters for their kids, and enabling babysitters to continue to earn a living from home. Indeed, there are many entrepreneurs working out of their home simply leveraging video conferencing. My friend Greg Isenberg launched You Probably Need A Haircut to enable barbers to get paid for (virtually) helping people cut their hair at home. And this tweet by Aaron Levie captures a fraction of the myriad opportunities available to entrepreneurs over Zoom:
Participate in The Passion Economy: several of the above examples touch on The Passion Economy, which is for individuals who have skills that may be "under-monetized or under utilized relative to their potential" according to my friend Li Jin in her latest essay. She lays out many examples such as online course platforms like Teachable, creator membership platforms like Patreon, or subscription newsletter platforms like Substack 😉. Patreon, for instance, has seen skyrocketing creator and patronage growth since the beginning of WFH.
As I mentioned in #2, the enterprization of the consumer has been happening for a long time, as I know first-hand through having used platforms like eBay and Half.com almost two decades ago! The examples above are just a fraction of the ways for anyone to become an entrepreneur.
The companies enabling EFH have seen remarkable growth in the last few months, as much of the population has transitioned to WFH. Webflow, a way for people to build websites without coding, is a good proxy for this, given that one of the first things many people do when they form a new business is to create a website. Check out this tweet from their co-founder:
And Shopify*, the platform for creating online stores, is trading at an all-time high in the public markets.
WFH —> EFH
Tech companies were some of the first businesses to enact WFH policies in the U.S. But what has been remarkable over the past couple of weeks is that many have concluded WFH is here to stay for a long time.
Facebook*, Google*, and Salesforce* have all indicated their employees can WFH through the end of 2020. Many tech employees in Silicon Valley are leaving because the cost of living is so high, and they don't need to be here for the rest of the year. And this isn’t just happening in Silicon Valley. New York City is going to face all sorts of challenges as many of the large financial institutions, as well as companies like Nielsen, are preparing for a long duration WFH.
Even more remarkably, Lambda School, Square and Twitter* have all announced permanent WFH policies for employees who would like to do so. This is a seemingly irreversible decision, and one that hasn’t received enough attention. My guess is that several other companies will follow suit, particularly as those with permanent WFH policies may have an edge in recruiting the best talent.
What does all this mean for EFH? My prediction is that the more people WFH, the more people will do EFH.
WFH will expose more challenges for talented people to tackle through entrepreneurship. For starters, there are problems to be solved just in how to do work as a distributed team. We're already seeing a flood of innovation here, with companies like Remote.com recently raising new rounds of financing and companies like Tandem* scaling rapidly to meet demand.
More platforms will be needed to serve people looking to earn more money from home. If you're a doctor, you can WFH and see patients using Doctor on Demand*. If you're a licensed notary, you can join Notarize and notarize documents virtually. Every profession that can be will be virtualized, enabling more people to WFH, and get stuff done from home.
But the innovation won’t stop there. There are new social networking platforms to be built, new ways for people to communicate, new games and ways to entertain, new marketplaces, new methods for delivering a great education, new technologies to make healthcare accessible to everyone, new ways to spur action to solve the climate crisis. All of this can and will be dreamed up from home.
Even if you're not yet an entrepreneur at home, you can support EFH by being a customer of the businesses being built by those at home, or those that are enabling people to do so.
As one example, my wife and I recently ordered a meal from Shef (thanks to my friend Cat Lee’s recommendation!), which enables chefs to sell food cooked from their home kitchen to locals. It felt great to support a local entrepreneur and a fledgling startup as a customer. I’d love to hear about your EFH stories in the comments.
The next big thing will emerge from the EFH era. It's time to build, from home!
I started next big thing to share unfiltered thoughts. I’d love your feedback, questions, and comments!
*denotes a company I'm affiliated with as an investor - see my substack about page.