Published on Forbes 5/28/2014
Recently, our friend and business associate MJ Gottlieb published an article about why entrepreneurs might consider starting their business in a garage. We found it insightful and wanted to share his key points, along with a few thoughts from our team at Fishbowl.
Many of today’s great businesses had humble beginnings. Fishbowl started in a few small offices around an old kitchen table. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple AAPL -0.26% in a family garage and Jeff Bezos from Amazon did the same thing. So did Larry Page from Google, as did the founders of Mattel toys, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Dell. At Fishbowl, we don’t believe that it is the actual space that inspires and determines greatness. We believe it is the people and what they create.
Our offices at Fishbowl are more than 30 years old and the former home to legendary software greats Novell and WordPerfect. You can feel the history of technological discoveries that took place in the ‘80s and also the energy of a vibrant workforce that inhabits the technology park today. The upside of our current location is that we avoid high maintenance fees, expensive rent, and other potential problems. We build products and services for SMBs who request simple, down-to-earth solutions that are cost effective and easy to implement and use in their business operations. We would rather invest in our people and products than in high-priced external architecture that has to be constantly polished and maintained. Our offices are comfortable and unique, reflecting the tastes of the employees who inhabit them.
One of our employees describes us as free-thinking, get-it-done, gritty-garage-band types. One thing we know for certain is that the employees supply the energy that brings the space to life.
Does it really matter how big your desk or where it is if your hands are doing noble, innovative work? This is Mike, a veteran Fishbowler who puts the “Boom” in our product.
What differentiates Fishbowl from many other high tech firms is that we have no plans “to make it big” or leave our “garage.” The heater and air conditioner work most of the time. Sometimes the air conditioner comes on in the winter and the heater in the summer, but we make it through. Our stairwells are sturdy and vintage rose color is slowly growing on us. We can only assume they were in vogue in the ‘80s; it doesn’t matter to us because we found a way to make it work as part of our color scheme.
Many of our high-tech neighbors have moved on to state-of-the-art, designer spaces. We have chosen to remain in our original Bowl and invest in our people and technology.
There’s brilliance in what older buildings, garages, and other buildings have to offer to young entrepreneurs. MJ points out that in the book, David and Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell talks about how people use disadvantages and turn them into strengths. It is also interesting to note that it works the other way around as many people use their strengths to expose potential weaknesses.
MJ also shared a number of examples of how we can find hidden assets and extract great strength from something as seemingly blah as a family garage. Here are his six reasons to make sure you don’t overlook the value of your family garage and to show the hidden assets within this seemingly impractical workspace:
1. No overhead
When you start a business, the last thing you want to do is spend any money that you do not have. By working in a garage, entrepreneurs can make and mix, revise and improve their product, service, and/or idea without increasing their bills.
2. Need a place to do what you want
The greatest companies have started with the craziest ideas. The founder of the Post-it note actually started with the idea of trying to create something that would stick to anything. His complete failure in that area led to a completely unexpected success.
3. Work crazy hours
Creative people often work strange hours. For instance, in fashion, the designers always work at night for some reason. Entrepreneurs work even crazier hours as the demands upon us far outweighs our allocated time (supply). What we often do is work until we cannot work anymore or when our brains are about to explode. A beat-up couch is often one of the biggest necessities in an aspiring entrepreneur’s garage.
4. Steer clear of the naysayers
Entrepreneurs are often misunderstood. So much so, it is as if we are not only speaking a foreign language but hail from a different planet. We need a place to be crazy and foreign… and to be Martians.
5. Build miniature companies
Daymond John from ABC’s Shark Tank started his company in his garage, not to test the product but for actual production. He packed his mom’s garage with sewing machines and seamstresses and made polar fleece garments and discarded the rest by burning it outside despite the fact that his neighbors in Queens were not too happy about it. Hopefully they are now Shark Tank fans.
6. Quick turnaround
One of a company’s greatest assets when it’s starting out is the fact that there is no middleman (or woman). The entrepreneur is at the forefront of everything and is required to take care of pretty much every task. That leads to quick turnaround and lightning-fast customer service when the number of customers is really small. After all, they are stuck in their garage so they have no choice but to be responsive!
Wherever your business calls home, be it an office, factory or garage, make it memorable because one day it will become your legacy.
There you have it. MJ’s six compelling reasons for starting a business in a garage, and a little fish food sprinkled in for good measure. Our advice to emerging entrepreneurs: Less is more in the beginning. No matter where you start your business, never forget where you came from and why you started the business in the first place. When you pack up and move to fancier digs after achieving your first taste of success, don’t leave behind your original passion. Regardless of the real estate you ultimately reside in, you must keep the old fire alive and burning with energy and innovation.