Make Kitchen Table Companies with Cloud Plus Mobile

Lego Robots

I was thinking through all the various ways that a kitchen table company can be built these days. Running a company around your own lifestyle, on your own terms, and with an eye towards getting home in time for dinner can really happen, once you think through some business models, work with some of the new technology, and learn how to market in a human business way. It’s really a renaissance for such things, isn’t it? In my mind, it’s a mix of cloud computing plus mobile technology that really helps this along.

Cloud Technologies

My notes are stored in Evernote. Why? Because I can read them on my laptop, on my computer over in the office, on my Android phone, etc. My important work files are stored in Dropbox for the same reason. If I’m working on a new proposal or a design with Josh Fisher, I can’t have his recommendation files on my laptop but not at the office computer. I need things where I’m working. When I create new files, I use Google Docs, so that I know they’re safe and sound and accessible wherever I can get a web browser.

That’s the whole cloud computing thing. There are lots of other tools that use this kind of tech, but you get the idea. So, why is this important to a kitchen table company? It means that Rob Hatch can take a quick pause while on vacation, find the spot in the document that I couldn’t, put a little highlighter on it, and go back to what he’s doing without having to drive to any specific office. That’s not how things used to be. Remember?

Web Storefronts

We make kitchen table companies by having a web-based storefront, too. Think about it. My Blog Topics project took form from the following: an idea (thanks, Julien), a drawing (thanks, Josh), and a blog post (thanks, Matt Mullenweg). Oh, and a new technology. Thanks, Letter.ly.

My parents put together Mom Pop Pow! in a few days. They had a little help (okay, they had some huge help from SpreadShirt), plus some developer help from John and Todd and Shayne at 9seeds. But it’s a kitchen table project quite literally with my parents. They shoot the show in the kitchen, and they make money when someone buys a shirt or uses their Amazon links. (So far.)

So, you’ve got cloud apps to keep your stuff where you need it. You’ve got an idea of how storefronts can work on the web (or a few ways). The next thing that I think helps with Kitchen Table Companies is that mobile computing has changed where we do all that.

Mobile Computing

Between smartphones and the iPad (and other tablet computers), we have devices that let us do our business where the action is, no matter what we’ve chosen for a line of work. If we need to take money remotely, we can use Square. You can schedule simple interactive meetings with GoToMeeting (note: they’re a client) on your iPad, use Skype as a video phone or even as instant messaging on your mobile device.

There are plenty of other business applications that free you from having to work in front of a desktop or laptop for a good chunk of the day. Lots of family-minded business people do some bit of their business from the kitchen table these days, even if that’s checking the occasional email or responding to a text from a colleague.

Now, there’s a balance required here. You may or may not have had that moment where your significant other gets a bit hairy when you keep checking mail or Twitter or whatever when you’re supposed to be reading the kids’ bedtime stories, etc. There are ways to work this all out:

  1. Don’t touch the tech when you don’t have to touch the tech. Wanting to check in isn’t helpful.
  2. Talk with your significant other about what kind of work you do or don’t have to do on any given day, and check with them before you jump into it, just to make sure that timing is okay.
  3. Keep it brief, when it’s “off work” time. Yes, lots of us think we’re at work 24/7, but that’s a choice we’ve made. We’re on work when we set up a sense of hours.
  4. Talk often about what you need to manage on-work time, including being clear when you need some uninterrupted time. If everyone has a say, and everyone’s on board, it works a lot better.
  5. Set all your devices to stun/vibrate, so that you’re not interrupting everyone with the pokes and prods that the digital world sends your way.

Just Pieces and Parts

The tools don’t make a kitchen table company. Instead, you’ve got to take the pieces and parts, marry them to your ideas and the life you want to lead for yourself, and then experiment with understanding what’s going to work for you and for your customers as a business. Honestly, this part is the fun part for me: figuring out a business from a bunch of parts.

My businesses of late focus on how we can move ideas into the hands of people that need them, but then I swing back around and build community elements into the project, so that people can support each other in using these ideas. That’s what we did when we launched 501 Mission Place for nonprofits, and it’s how we’re going to build Kitchen Table Companies for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The parts I use to make these businesses? Google Apps, Google Docs, Evernote, WordPress, vBulletin (forum software), aMember (membership software), some great design by Josh Fisher, some help from Liz Stewart, 9seeds, and Rob Hatch, and the support of great facilitators like Estrella Rosenberg and Joe Sorge.

And you? Have you looked into ideas around kitchen table businesses? Do you run one right now? What else are you curious about?

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