SheevaPlug… a “Plug Computer”…a Cool Idea with Loads of Microbusiness Potential

A small computer in a wall-plug, running Linux.

Marvell is selling this “development platform”, targeted at the following applications:

  • Network Control Plane Applications
  • High-performance Storage
  • Single Board Computers
  • Enterprise Printers
  • DVRs, NVRs, Video Surveillance
  • High-volume SMB Gateways

For those of the “Creative Class” looking for new microbusiness ideas, it might be something worth looking at.


Is The Recession The Best Thing to Happen To Canada?

There are two interesting new ideas that I find very promising, and if the City of Ottawa is able to capitalize on them, it may create a major new source of growth for our local economy.

Richard Florida is a professor at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.  His primary area of research is that of the “Creative Class”.   Dr Florida argues that the economy is shifting away from routine-oriented jobs to creativity-based occupations.    He also argues that the ability of an economy to adapt and weather disruptions are greater for a creativity-based economy compared to routine-jobs based economy.   Dr Florida recently delivered a report to the Ontario government on this topic – it is interesting reading.

In Ottawa, we have Tony Bailetti, a professor at Carleton University.  His primary area of research is that of  “Ecosystems”.   He argues that the business models of the world are changing.   During the Industrial Age – companies were vertically integrated.  During the Technology Age – companies were horizontally integrated with outsourced partners.  In the emerging Ecosystem Age – Dr Bailetti argues that it is all about creative knowledge workers and collaboration.    An ecosystem is not a single company, but rather is a collaborative community formed around a central keystone organization that facilitates collaborative relationships and access to wide established markets.  And this is more then just a theory – Ecosystems exist today and their numbers are growing.   A leader in this emerging Ecosystem business model is headquartered in our city! The Eclipse Foundation is a very successful keystone organization — they are at the heart of the worlds most successful Integrated Development Environment platform.

Ecosystems are a means of organizing and enabling knowledge workers, leveling the playing field against established Technology Age and Industrial Age competition, and flattening the world relative to allowing world-wide virtual teams to come together to create innovation, wealth and economic growth.  Ecosystems effectively give a practical framework around how we can capitalize on the power of the “Creative Class”.

Dr Florida and Dr Bailetti’s work have evolved independently but are very complimentary and timely.

I would love to see Tony and Richard get together as  their ground-breaking ideas represent a strong opportunity for Ottawa, Ontario and Canada to re-invent itself.

If you are one of those people who is planning  to create their own microbusiness and you are looking for ideas to pursue – you would be wise to learn more about what Ecosystems are and how you can capitalize on them.   The good news is that Tony is planning to make an important announcement on Thursday about a new initiative related to Ecosystems that you will want to know about – because it can help you – I’ll post an update to this post on Friday.

Off-shoring for Small Business – Here to Stay or Passing Fad?

The world is increasingly flat these days.

Off-shoring of jobs and business functions continues to expand in scope and variety.   Today, off-shoring is very common for call centers and programmers for large companies.   However,  off-shoring has now extended to jobs such as  receptionists and administrative assistants and is being aimed at small to medium businesses as well.  Some off-shore service companies are offering staff for as low as $3.36 an hour!

Examples of off-shored services being offered include:

Administrative & Business Services Writing and Editing Services Internet/Web Services Customer Support Services
Word Processing
Data Entry
Forms Processing
Executive Support
Business Plan
Market Research
Planning & Scheduling
Events Management
General Office Operation
Copy Editing
Web Content
Copy Editing
Advertising Copy
Proofreading & Editing
Creative & Technical Writing
Newsletter editing
Advertising Copy
Internet Research
Web Site Hosting
Web Site Design
Web Site Consulting
Graphic Illustrations
Affiliate Marketing
Site Submission
Website Advertising and Marketing
Order Processing
Customer Surveys
24 Hour Live Operator Answering
Customer Email Processing
Live Online Customer Support
Follow Up Calls
Tech Support
Customer/Contact Management
Desktop Publishing Personal Services Human Resources Sales & Transcription Services
Business Cards
Multimedia Creation
PowerPoint Presentation
Designing Cards, Invitations, Calendars
Resume Writing
Salary Histories
Reference Letters
Paper Writing
College Admission Letters
Complaint Letters
Personal & Family Website
Travel Planning
Gifting & Invitations
Applicant Screening
Background Checks
Payroll & Benefits Management
Job Announcements
Training/Employee Manuals
Payroll & Accounts Payable Processing
General Transcription
Digital and audio
Inbound and Outbound Telemarketing
Lead Generation
Internet Sales
Website Marketing

Large companies have been doing off-shoring for years.  However, managing off-shore services is an unknown for many small businesses today.

Successful off-shoring requires solid internal business processes and a well-defined outsourced job task.  Successful execution requires effort on the part of the small business to provide direction and oversight — and associated comfort, skills and understanding of how to manage remote staff (that you will never see and who live in a different culture!).  Related concerns include non-US/Canada access to business information, internal systems security, outwards facing business image and the churn-rate (and associated retraining required) of the off-shore staff.

Some examples of small-business oriented off-shore services include:  Tasks EverydaySupport Resort, Velan, and SupportSave.

A start-up company called oDesk is interesting because it provides tools and methods to research, vet and manage service providers which may be off-shore.  oDesk service providers span a wide range of services, from development to writing.

These are early days for off-shoring for small businesses.   It’s not clear yet if this likely to be a long-term trend.  It is also not clear yet how effectively a small business can leverage off-shore services or what business processes and job tasks can practically be off-shored.

oDesk may also be the first of many start-ups to focus on ways to make off-shore labor and virtual teams part of the normal fabric of small businesses.   oDesk changes the cost to find, and manage off-shore talent – moving it from big company to small company domain.   Process engineering with supporting tools that change the delivery model economics and allow small business customers (or individuals) to take advantage of previously “high end” or “high cost” services may represent a large opportunity for entrepreneurs.  oDesk and RiseSmart may be the vanguard of a new wave of start-ups that rise out of the recession.

Have you used any off-shored services for your small business?  If you have – what service provider are you using and how is it working out for you?

What Industries or Businesses Do Well During Recession?

There is a scene in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” where several guys are tied to crucifixes, and suddenly Eric Idle launches into the song, “Always look on the bright side of life.”   This is  my favorite part of the song:

If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle – that’s the thing.

And…always look on the bright side of life…
Always look on the light side of life…

For those looking to see the bright side of the recession and create their own job, the question that comes up in the current environment is “What products and services are people going to continue to buy during a recession?”

The following is a list of industries and businesses that are generally expected to see continued (if not increased) sales during a recession:

  • Funeral homes
  • Accountants (tax preparation, bankruptcy)
  • Health care (clinics, doctors)
  • Dry cleaning
  • Car insurance
  • Loan modification, loss mitigation and credit counseling
  • Rental real estate vs purchase real estate
  • Liquidators
  • Pawn shops
  • Flea markets, traders, classifieds
  • Discount retailers
  • Do It Yourself (DIY) industry for hardware, supplies and instruction for keeping up maintenance rather than replacing
  • Debt collection agencies
  • Education and training, as layoffs create need to prepare for alternative employment
  • Temporary staffing and contract employment services
  • Outplacement services
  • Rental and leasing firms, as companies have less cash for purchasing equipment
  • Resellers of just about anything used or refurbished
  • Equipment repair
  • Home maintenance
  • Auto repair and maintenance , as people will tend to put off purchasing a new car
  • Automotive parts suppliers
  • Lottery, alcohol and tobacco
  • Grocery stores, as people will tend to eat out less

From a statistical perspective, Sageworks, a company that specializes in financial analysis of private companies has published data for 2008 which listed the sales growth for the top 30 privately held businesses, which provides another perspective on what companies may do well in a recession:

Top Performing Industries by Sales Growth

They also published data on a subset of retail industries to highlight sales trends:
Sales Declines in 5 Small Retail Industries - 2008
Sales Declines in 5 Small Retail Industries – 2008

And they also published data on the top 10 most profitable industries as measured by net profit margin:

Top 10 Most Profitable Small Businesses - 2008
Top 10 Most Profitable Small Businesses - 2008

“Following the money” is more important now then ever before.   To that point, a Silicon Valley start-up  called RiseSmart recently raised $3 million in first-round funding in a bid to outwit the traditional outplacement industry.  RiseSmart is focused on providing what have traditionally been “high end” outplacement services (for job seekers looking for $100K+ jobs) to a wider market by using technology to streamline the service delivery costs and market price.

If you are looking to create your own opportunities in the challenging economic environment, you might want to take a look at the work on Business Ecosystems.

If you have an established business and are wondering what actions you can take to survive and prosper, please take a look at this blog entry.