They say necessity is the mother of invention. Happily, what she’s rapidly giving birth to (following one of our worst global economic crises ever) is a legion of history’s scrappiest and most resourceful bedroom entrepreneurs. Dream of building a better widget or publishing the next great American novel? Then enough with the excuses, because with the following high-tech products and services — which let you bring million-dollar ideas to life faster than you can say “cha-ching!” — it’s now easier than ever to launch your own cutting-edge start-up.
Think of Etsy (www.etsy.com) as your friendly neighborhood art fair, only with global reach, instant sales processing and millions of online passers-by. An online marketplace where purveyors of handmade goods can connect with customers (who can browse and buy everything from handmade jewelry to vintage clothing), Etsy makes it easy to set up shop. Vendors get their own virtual stall to stock with their own custom goods and can build their own art gallery or fashion boutique in minutes.
Books and Magazines
Dozens of self-publishing resources like Lulu (www.lulu.com) and iUniverse (www.iuniverse.com) let you print paperback and hard-cover books on demand or produce eBooks for viewing on the iPhone and on eReader devices. But custom magazines (both print and digital) and newsletters are suddenly fair game, too, courtesy of services like MagCloud (www.magcloud.com), MailChimp (www.mailchimp.com), Constant Contact (www.constantcontact .com) and Issuu (www.issuu.com), which are geared toward independent publishers. Blogging platforms like WordPress (www.wordpress.com) and TypePad (www.typepad.com) can also get online magazines up and running overnight.
Food and Beverage
Foodzie (www.foodzie.com) does for foodies what Etsy does for bohemians and allows independent providers to sell cured meats, candies, dairy goods, coffee and tea, and sauces and jellies direct to everyday shoppers. Register for a custom online store and you can share treasured family recipes (such as your grandmother’s pound cake) with the ravenous masses. Foodoro (www.foodoro.com) takes more of a gourmet focus but also provides a great way for purveyors of high-end baked goods, condiments and prepared dishes to get thousands of customers salivating.
Gadgets and Electronics
With DIY high-tech projects all the rage, it’s no wonder custom vendors like SparkFun (www.sparkfun.com) let you sell unique electronic parts and devices to hobbyists and manufacturers alike. Just one catch: how to build a working prototype? Enter MakerBot ($750 and up, www.makerbot.com), an affordable 3-D printer that constructs plastic parts ready for handoff to a factory for manufacturing. Afterward, trade directory Alibaba (www.alibaba.com) can connect you with potential production partners.
Software and Video Games
Got an idea for the ultimate software utility or digital diversion? All it takes is $99 to grab Apple’s iPhone Developer Program (www.apple.com) and start building, then iPhoneAppQuotes.com lets you quickly source price quotes from prospective developers. Alternatively, for the same amount of money, you can buy a premium membership to Microsoft’s XNA Creator’s Club (creators.xna.com), which lets you publish indie games for sale on the Xbox 360. Enterprising musicians can also use the Rock Band Network (creators.rockband.com) to place tracks in the popular party game.
*Noted entrepreneur and TV/radio host Scott Steinberg (www.toptechexpert.com) has self-published books, software, magazines and more. His latest venture, high-tech consultancy TechSavvy Global, is helping empower tomorrow’s DIY execs.
Buy the Book
Promising reads for armchair tycoons
Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate and Measure Success in the New Web by Brian Solis ($25, www.wiley.com) dives deep into the field of social media to reveal how to effectively use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to excite prospective customers plus how to grow the communities that’ll buoy your brand.
Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit from Giving Something for Nothing ($27, www.hyperionbooks.com) by Wired editor Chris Anderson examines the power of alternative pricing strategies and distribution models. Consider it welcome food for thought for any prospective online entrepreneur.
Crush It! Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion ($20, www.theharperstudio.com). Equal parts self-help and instructional manual, video-blogging sensation Gary Vaynerchuk’s magnum opus illustrates the power of personal branding and shows how tapping into free online tools can turn any individual into the next industry megastar.