Sitting at your office desk, squinting in the direction of the distant window as you work through the post-lunch slump, do you dream of starting your own business and being your own boss?
But then you think of the cost of starting your own business – the cost of office space, IT infrastructure, staff, and realise you just can’t afford it.
Or can you?
Running a business from home is nothing new. But technology such as the internet and cloud computing is increasingly providing easily-shared lower-cost software options for start-up firms. Cheap internet telephony services let you stay in touch with people half a world away.
Friends Jamie Waldegrave and Chris Huey met at university in Durham before taking jobs in the financial services industry.
In October they quit their jobs and decided to start their own business. TipToken is a group-buying website, and has been live for just three months.
So far uptake has been promising, says Mr
“We’ve been really pleased with the response,” he says.
“It takes time to grow, but the numbers are moving in the right direction, we’re getting more and more traffic to the site and more sales, which is really nice.”
The partners are the only full-time employees of the company. For any other work that needs to be done they use remote freelancers thousands of miles away, as they don’t need full-time staff.
The business is web-based. Skype lets them talk to their developers and designers in India, and for all other IT needs they rely on cloud-based services accessible from anywhere, so they can share data with staff based anywhere in the world.
The self-funded operation started on a shoestring budget, and Mr Waldegrave says working as a virtual company is the only reason they exist.
“The cost of taking on in-house design staff and development, or keeping a local company on retainer would be impossible,” he says.
“We don’t have to upgrade to bigger offices, and we don’t have to worry about employment law. That would have slowed us down a lot. We can do things quicker and faster.”
Taken on trust
Mr Waldegrave says that building a relationship with remote workers you can trust is vital.
“The ones we started out with, they were no good, didn’t get the work done and it was a real problem. We had to go through the process of getting the deposit we’d paid back and that took a lot of time.”
“We do a lot of research on someone before we take them on, and try not to have too many different people.”
One of the ways TipToken tries to minimise problems is by using sites such as PeoplePerHour. com, an online marketplace for remote workers.
The company says they’ve seen a growth in registered users from 50,000 to 136,000 across 150 countries on the back of the virtual business trend.
Chief executive Xenios Thrasyvoulou says the company focuses on providing talent, rather than outsourcing menial tasks.
“They’re no less talented than those who are part of your core. It’s just that you don’t need an SEO
“But you want someone to be on your instant messenger, to be able to call on a Saturday and get an answer, in the same way as an employee anywhere in the world.”
So how far can you take the virtual company? Mr Thrasyvoulou thinks there are limits.
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“It’s a fallacy that you can be 100% virtual, it gets to the point where it gets quite draining on the one person that’s the owner. You need a core to grow with.”