Thinking of starting up—but don’t want the daily trek to an office? Home-based businesses, or virtual businesses, provide plenty of advantages, especially if you’re looking to bootstrap your operation. Here’s a look at 11 entrepreneurs that ditched the office to cut overhead expenses, be closer to family, and enjoy, as one entrepreneur put it, the “10-step commute.”
Green and Profitable
Shel Horowitz started his first home-based business in 1981 on the kitchen table of a rental apartment. Horowitz is still home-based with Green and Profitable, an international marketing consulting and copywriting service focused on the green market, with clients throughout North America, Europe and Asia, and Australia. Horowitz now works from a 1743 farmhouse in Western Massachusetts with mountain views, which he’s completely solarized. “It would be very hard to push work away after 40 minutes and go take a hike on the mountain if I were in a conventional office, feeling the pressure to "get it all done" before I went home again,” Horowitz says. Three years ago, his farmer neighbors opened a cafe across the street. “Now, for many business meetings, I suggest their store, watch them drive in, and walk across the street. They've got wi-fi, good organic fair-trade coffee, and home-made baked goods; people love meeting there and I don't have to clean my office for visitors so much anymore.”
As a former U.S. Army Drill Sergeant, Daniel Alarik adapts well to change. Alarik started his business, Grunt Style, a clothing line for military-types, in Fort Benning, Georgia. The business quickly grew to nine employees within a year, but after moving back to Chicago when he left active duty, Alarik was forced to downsize the business. Now, Alarik says he runs the business completely from home – about $80,000 in inventory in the basement and another $40,000 throughout the house. “After a year of traveling twice a month we decided to completely move everything out of Georgia, letting go of everyone of our employees and base the business entirely out of our house,” he says. “We have been in business for just two years now and have grossed well into the six figures both years, now we are doing it out of our home. It’s cheaper and I feel that I finally have control over our business.”
Los Cuatro Tulipanes
Matt Landau is not your typical 29-year-old. In 2005, after graduating from the University of Richmond, Landau, the New Jersey native packed his bags and moved to Panama City, Panama. While working on developing his travel and investing site, The Panama Report, Landau developed a friendship with the owners of Los Cuatro Tulipanes, a boutique hotel in downtown Casco Viejo, Panama. And when the owners of the hotel expressed interest in selling, Landau jumped at the opportunity to buy. The hotel now has eight full-time employees, while The Panama Report has four. Landau, a serial entrepreneur at heart, also runs Boost Occupancy, a hotel consulting service. “I do have an office [at the hotel,] but I tend to be much more productive in the privacy and quiet of my own home which overlooks the Pacific,” Landau says. “With the cost of labor low in Panama, things like live-in maids, messengers, and cooks makes working at home like working in a very well-appointed executive compound.”
Long Haul Films
Melissa and Tom Dowler
Melissa Dowler and her husband Tom run Long Haul Films, a production company that makes documentaries and bespoke films for weddings, events and corporate clients. The couple’s workload is split between shoot days when they’re on location and editing and administration days when they’re handling post-production or working on marketing. So why stay at home? “Every saved penny counts and we made the decision to create a great at-home working environment so we weren't spending our money on office or co-working space,” Melissa Dowler says. “We're lucky to live in a spacious loft that is ideal for what we do.” Dowler explains that the loft is a former photographer's studio so there’s plenty of space and light to conduct shoots right on site when needed. “Many people warned us that we'd struggle as a husband and wife team working from home, but we each feel we have our own space and we love that we're able to collaborate closely on projects and also take breaks together for lunch or the gym,” she says.
SUMO Heavy Industries
Bart Mroz and Bob Brodie
Bart Mroz and Bob Brodie run SUMO Heavy Industries, a Philadelphia-based digital commerce agency that focuses on consulting and user interaction design for e-commerce companies. Despite being home-based, the company is seeing some serious growth: the company made about $500,000 in revenue last year, and employs about 20 part-time contractors. When Mroz started the company two years ago, he was living with a roommate—but when the roommate moved out, Brodie moved in. The two business partners live together and work together—perhaps a toxic mix for some entrepreneur co-founders—but not for Mroz and Brodie. “What’s fun is that we get along really well,” Mroz says. “We have the same kind of strive for what we do. So even though we live together, it’s not an issue. We separate the work from the fun.”
Edith Wagner has worn many hats: she’s been a social worker, a juvenile officer, and worked in PR before starting her own business, Reunions, a trade publication for reunion planners with a circulation of about 15,000. Based out of her home in Milwaukee with one (near) full-time employee and several part-time contractors, Wagner says the entrepreneurial bug struck later in life than most. “I left [PR] when I was 40 feeling that was when life was beginning,” she says. “I am not one of those who burned out, I just needed to do more creative work.” Now 73, Wagner says she has no desire to retire.
In July 2001, Jodi Echakowitz launched Echo Communications, a boutique PR agency focused on the tech sector, with clients including BlackBerry Partners Fund, Hitachi Data Systems, and LinkedIn. Based in Toronto, Echakowitz employs a team of nine public relations consultants, all of whom work virtually. Her decision to take this approach was based on a few factors, including reducing the overhead expenses of a rented office space, making services more affordable for clients, and the ability to start the business with less capital costs. It’s also a family decision, she says. “My son has Aspeger's Syndrome,” says Echakowitz, who’s originally from South Africa, “and given the amount of time he requires to support him in his day-to-day life, working from home made it that much easier as we live close to his school.”
Conquer the Clutter
Maria Spetalnik is the founder of Conquer the Clutter, a professional organization company with four employees based in Virginia, a few miles out of Washington D.C. “Realistically, the cash outlay for an office for a business where nobody is ever there doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” says Spetalnik. Working from home also comes in handy: Maria’s husband Scott, who co-founded the company in 2010, shattered his elbow two months ago, which allowed Maria to care for him while he recuperated.
The Fresh 20
Melissa Lanz launched her business to escape corporate life, which she says “was making her miserable.” Launched in 2009, The Fresh 20 is a customizable meal plan service. “At the beginning of my business, I maintained an office in downtown Los Angeles, which made me "feel” important…In six months, I visited the office five times which made me feel stupid,” she says, noting that she quickly ended her lease. “ I enjoy being at home for an extended morning with my family.” Lanz employs a team of nine, most of whom work also from home. “The whole dynamic of being bogged down and having someone see you sit in a chair from nine to five—it’s archaic,” she says. The company is now on track to earn over a million dollars in revenue by 2013.
Matthew Cheng is the founder of eCoupons.com, a small business based in New Jersey, a few miles outside New York City, which he launched in 2002. Based out of his three- bedroom home, which he shares with his wife (each have an office in one of the bedrooms), Cheng says he initially started out in an office, but the arrangement just didn’t make sense. “We did try office space for a time but ultimately found it was more comfortable working from home,” he says. “For example, we found ourselves staying in the office later and eating out more versus cooking at home. Although this may sound like more work was getting done, it wasn't very healthy and made us feel more tired in the end.” Overall, Cheng says he prefers working from home because of its flexibility and convenience. “As a small business owner, I find myself working all the time (one way or the other) and it's nice to have all my equipment in the next room.”
Rynn and David Caputo
Rynn Caputo, formerly a senior manager at Johnson and Johnson, was tired of the corporate grind. On the first night of her honeymoon in Tahiti, Rynn and her husband David met two chefs, each of whom owned an Italian restaurant back in the States. “The next morning, my husband woke up and said ‘This is what I want to do with my life,” says Rynn. Rynn felt the same. The couple enrolled in culinary school in the southern coast of Italy for six months, quit their jobs, and traveled through 20 regions of Italy. “Our parents thought we were crazy,” says Rynn. Eventually, the couple bought a 193-year-old stone farmhouse in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, and built an addition to the home that would serve as the commercial-grade creamery for a cheese-making business. In July 2011, the couple launched Caputo Brothers Creamery (named for their two sons). The company is already producing some 300-500 pounds of cheese per week, and distribute in some of the country’s top cheese shops, like Murray’s in New York City. “The growth has been explosive,” notes Caputo.