Friday, October 07, 2005

Ten customers in 25 years

I'm such a chronic optimist, my family and friends usually just shake their heads and wonder.

I'm the inverse of that old saying "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get me".

Mine goes something like this... "Just because I'm optimistic beyond what can be rationally supported, doesn't mean the world isn't getting better all the time."

So, when thoughtful, generally careful folks that I read start getting nervous out loud, I have to agree that caution is a good thing.

Natural and medical disasters continue to savage our world. H5N1, bird flu is on everyone's horizon.

I don't want to trade on fear. I want to give you something to think about. Perhaps even something to be optimistic about in your work life.

I've crafted up over 30 years of virtual enterprise employment.

To me virtual enterprise does not mean hiding behind a computer screen living off PayPal. To me virtual enterprise has meant planning ways to limit the scheduled and random human contacts in your enterprise life. For a million reasons that have worked in the past, and for all the new reasons on the horizon, you should at least consider this path.

I've organized relatively virtual enterprises around small family based operations, small groups of friends spread around the country, and now also with a cool, fast, high profile company with multiple co-workers and customers all around the world.

If you want to live fully on line, go try. That's the strict vegan version of virtual enterprise. I don't know how to do that. I don't want to do that. Some people are obviously doing it, but it's not a model I can vouch for or think I'd enjoy.

All the biz models I know involve human contact, and risks from interacting with life.

That said, you can vastly limit risks you live with, at least in your enterprise life. It's possible to build a biz model around yourself that gives you increased possibilities for choosing your risks.

Elsewhere on this site is some info about Banner Graphics, the first start up that led to all this.

I now have this interesting recycling work going on, but I used the Banner Graphics section to first talk about what I thought I meant by sustainable work.

I didn't expect that I'd be coming back to that description under these circumstances. I was talking about hanging out with my kids, not pandemics.

From the Banner Graphics site...

"I was privileged to start a wonderful small business called Banner Graphics in the 1970s. My wife, friend, and business partner, Mary and I ran it for 25 years while raising our family and serving customers on 5 continents."

"We worked from our apartment, our house, from business incubators and from really great shops. We were able to keep our kids with us and control our time. Less than 10 customers ever showed up at our door in 25 years. That’s sustainable."

Read on though, friend. I want you to have MORE human contact, not less. I want you to risk MORE, not less.

Just not in retail or large group settings.

Many people will make perfectly wonderful lives in retail. Many more will thrive in office herds. Forever. I just wouldn't recommend it going forward. There are other ways. Safer, nicer ways you can craft up for yourself and maybe some coworkers. Nothing tricky. It works. You can do it. You just need to be smart in the planning and execution.

You're going to need to control a lot of data, and you're going to need to control your presence on the internet. Don't tell me you don't get computers or don't get the internet. Illiterate young people in fourth world countries get computers and the internet. People with tragic disabilities get computers and the internet. Of course you can do it. You have to. I’ll keep on this subject. Start by fixing your interface with these worlds if it's too complicated the way you're doing it now. More on that in future posts.

The internet is your information grid. The shipping grid is your slow motion internet. You can plug yourself into both systems for damn near free, except the use fees.

H5N1 will roll out in ways none of us can predict. Calamitous natural disasters will continue to assault the vulnerable.

Few, if any of us has control over the meta stuff. Learn to adapt the best you can. It’s all I know to suggest. Get yourself some independence and control wherever you can. My pitch is that you can get yourself some physical / economic / spiritual security by rigging up your own start up and emerging enterprises to get as commercially virtual as is possible.

Then I want you to eat lunch with your vendors. Picnic with your neighbors. Fly to a customer 20 states away that you should really know better. Ride a bike until you get lost and end up in the company of great strangers. Make friends unexpectedly.

More contact. More risk. Just do it on your terms. It makes living this life a lot more peaceful. You'll work harder, but you'll be driving, not hanging on in the passenger seat.

Cool, cheap, easy tools are out there. Markets that want to interact with smart, emerging enterprises are out there.

My friend, tough, dangerous times are inevitably ahead of us. But tough, dangerous times have been ahead of every generation since the beginning, much of the worst of which actually happened. And yet, we grind it out, getting smarter and better at life all the time.

Who would have thought that 10 customers through the door in 25 years looked like success?

Choose your interactions. Then get out there!

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