Thomas Frey: Running a solo business in the past meant that you had a one-person practice, most often offering a professional service, well suited for lawyers, accountants, and doctors. However, a new breed of solo business has emerged that allows people to leverage the power of the Internet and control a vast empire from their home office or wherever they happen to be. Across the world thousands of people are giving birth to what is being called an “Empire of One”.
In 2004 Mike Cayelli worked as a manager in the contractor division of a large hardware chain when he decided to break loose and launch an online retail business. He started by doing his homework, looking for interesting niche products he could sell.
"I wanted a product that could produce high sales volume and a high profit margin," said Cayelli. "I didn’t want something that only sold one unit per week."
Since his house was rather small, he was looking for a product that was small where the inventory could fit into something the size of a footlocker, and could be hauled around in a car trunk.
"One morning at 6 a.m. I stumbled onto some cuff links for sale on eBay and noticed there was tremendous action on that listing. I ran upstairs and woke up my wife and told her I’d found the right product."
Not wanting to risk everything, he held onto his day job and with a $500 investment, made some overseas contacts, purchased a small initial inventory, and started selling under his new business name, CuffDaddy
Unlike the fashionable business trends of the past, and far different than the junk bond era or dot com IPOs, the Empire of One has the potential of significantly shaking up the world of commerce because it signals a stealthy shifting of power far different than anything in the past.
Cayelli continues, "When I put the first samples up for sale at eBay and they sold extremely quickly, I knew I was onto something. We wound up with six regular vendors based in China, Hong Kong, and India that provide us with a product line that we buy for between $1 and $6 a pair and sell for $15 to $55 a pair."
As for shipping, about 90% of his orders can be mailed first-class with two stamps in a .13-cent padded envelope. This year he is projecting sales in his growing cufflink empire to be a very respectable $500,000.
In addition to the money Cayelli hopes to make, the features that make an Empire-style business like this so appealing are the fact that they are lawsuit-resistant, governmental-control resistant, tax-resistant, employee-problem resistant, and for the most part, unregulated. It’s the closest thing to being crowned king in the business world without having responsibility for filling potholes.
Current CEOs and business executives will be drawn to this kind of business because it gives them greater power and control without all the responsibilities. Headhunters trying to recruit corporate executives will find the allure of the Empire of One to be stiff competition. It is an opportunity well suited for the global economy and it knows no limitations.
Americans who do all or part of their job at home equal roughly 45 million and that number is growing rapidly. There are an estimated 24.7 million small businesses in the United States.
The number of solo entrepreneurs in June 2005 fell 3.1 percent or 303,000 from the month before, Labor Department data showed. Self employment tends to fall as the economy grows. That’s especially true among laid-off workers who start tiny companies after failing to find work in slow times. For every 100 individuals that join the ranks of the unemployed, 7 will start a new business.
At least 70% of new startups will be started by lifestyle entrepreneurs – people who’ve gone into business to take more control over their lives and to build a lifestyle that suits them. Health and happiness are bigger priorities than wealth. 57% said they would not take on extra stress even if it meant more money.
Only 23% of entrepreneurs go into business to make lots of money, and only 3% want to be the next Richard Branson. From the 23% who want to make lots of money comes a growing subset of empire-builders wanting to break the traditional business mold and start something they can manage and control themselves.
Empire of One Defined
An Empire of One business is a one-person (sometimes married couple) business with far reaching spheres of influence. Typically the business out-sources everything – information products marketed and sold online, or products manufactured in China or India, sent to a distribution center in the US, with customers in the UK and Brazil. Manufacturing, marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, legal, and operations are all out-sourced to other businesses around the world.
Yes, much of this has been done before, but a person’s ability to leverage people and products across country lines in a below-the-radar fashion, and still maintain control of a vast and virtual empire is refreshingly new.
The Empire of One business model is one with great appeal to former corporate executives with global contacts and good ability to manage things remotely. With improving economies and Boomers searching for meaning and significance in their lives, we are about to see an exponential increase in these types of businesses in the years ahead.