Accidental Tech Entrepreneurs Turn Their Hobbies Into Livelihoods
InformationWeek interviewed five accidental entrepreneurs, including the founders of del.icio.us and Digg and the author of the blog Dooce, to find out how they freed themselves from the paycheck-to-paycheck grind.
The Armstrongs use software called Movable Type (more on that later) to run their blog and Apple iBooks and a G5 tower to compose and manage it. Heather takes pictures with a Nikon D70 camera, improves them with Adobe Photoshop, and posts them to the Flickr photo-sharing service. She uses a simple File Transfer Protocol program to move files around. Their hosting provider is Liquid Web; they pay $200 per month for the server access and bandwidth.
As for the content, Armstrong blogs in loving, exasperated tones about the joys and frustrations of being a stay-at-home mom and tells stories about her extended family (including her mother, whom she refers to as the Avon World Sales Leader). Leta is the star of the blog, with their dog, Chuck, a popular supporting player. The blog is a cheerful chronicle of 21st century digital domesticity, peppered with good-natured profanity, toilet humor, and sentimental stories.
Risk paid off for Rose (right, with Digg CEO Jay Adelson)
The Trotts started writing Movable Type as software for Mena's blog, Dollarshort, in early April 2001. It was a hobby. Then they were laid off from their jobs at a small Web design firm, where she was a designer and he was an engineer, in September 2001--amid the dot-com bust and just a few days before 9/11. They released Movable Type a month later.
Movable Type is one of the dominant software platforms for managing personal and professional blogs. The software lets authors create a blog easily, using templates or by creating a fresh design from the blank page. Authors write posts either in a form in their Web browser or offline, then Movable Type handles the rest--publishing the posts to the Web, collating old posts into archives, managing user comments, and handling subscriptions by e-mail or RSS feed. Movable Type was light-years ahead of competitors when it came out. Other blogging tools predated it, but none had its power and flexibility. Competitors have emerged since--open source WordPress, most notably--but Movable Type remains competitive in functionality. Because it's written in a scripting language, Movable Type can be customized by users with programming skills. An API set allows for extensions.
You don't need programming chops to use Movable Type or even need to know any HTML. Anybody who can write an e-mail or compose in Microsoft Word can publish and update a Movable Type blog. The software was initially donationware--users lent what they thought was appropriate. In late 2001, Six Apart introduced a commercial license for $150. Now the company has 135 employees.
It's Delightful! It's Del.icio.us!
Like the Armstrongs and the Trotts, Joshua Schachter saw his hobby become a business as demand for it took off. Schachter created the del.icio.us service while working in IT for several financial companies; his previous employers included Montgomery Securities, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley.
The Business of Going DigitalDigital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.