Twenty-five years ago, at the dawn of the consumer internet, a lonely Bay Area software engineer named Pierre Omidyar had no plans for Labor Day, so he spent the weekend working on a personal side-project: a website for person-to-person auctions of collectibles. The first item sold was a broken laser pointer (seriously). Soon other listings followed at an alarming rate and Pierre’s home internet provider required he upgrade his $20/month connection to handle the traffic. Within nine months he had to quit his day job at General Magic because his personal website was requiring so much of his attention.
He wanted to call it “Echo Bay”, but the domain echobay.com was already owned by a gold mining company, so he just registered “ebay.com” instead.
Three years later eBay had an IPO, turning Pierre into an instant billionaire. But even more powerfully, this accidental entrepreneur had created a whole new way for individuals to make money. Suddenly, anyone with anything to sell had access to global markets, via eBay. It was a complete game-changer in ways that no one had foreseen. People all over the world created side businesses selling things on eBay and many quit their day jobs to become full-time eBay sellers.
Thus began one of the most important trends of the internet age — the ability for anyone anywhere to start and run their own business. Today there are grandmas selling their knitting on Etsy, high school kids making money as YouTube stars, and anyone with an opinion launching podcasts.
In Silicon Valley, we love buzzwords. And so “Solopreneur” has become the buzzword du jour to describe people who run their businesses as a one-person-band. Their goal isn’t to hire people and spend their days managing employees. Their goal is to enjoy being able to run an entire company from their living room, with no employees! Pants optional.
COVID has accelerated this trend, obviously, as everyone was in lock-down at home. But to me the most powerful accelerant has been the increasingly-powerful technology tools available to solopreneurs everywhere.
Think about it — today, your “accounting department” is Quickbooks. Your marketing department is Hubspot. Your IT infrastructure department is AWS. Your software developer is named Upwork and your graphic designer is named Fiverr. Your attorney is Legal Zoom, your personal driver is named Uber and your corporate travel assistant is Airbnb.
You are a one-person company with a team of thousands. You are a solopreneur.
It’s one of the most remarkable trends in history — the democratization of entrepreneurship. Do you hate your boss? No problem, quit tomorrow and create a self-directed career for yourself!
Today there are something like 41 million Americans who are solopreneurs, generating over $1.3 trillion in economic activity. That would have been unheard of in previous generations. The means of production are now available to all — even Karl Marx would be impressed.
So here’s to the Solopreneurs. The individuals who work hard every day to create opportunity for themselves, taking advantage of the amazing 21st century tools that make it possible. It all began with a lonely software engineer on a Labor Day weekend.
Want to dive deeper into this subject? Join this livestream discussion on May 14th with a panel of successful solo founders and solopreneurs.