Technology has been changing the way people do business ever since the invention of the wheel around 3500 B.C. revolutionized how Mesopotamian farmers and tradesmen moved goods to and from market. Likewise, today’s internet is changing how entrepreneurs start businesses, connect with customers, compete more effectively and grow to scale.
How is the internet changing the world of entrepreneurship? Start with the following three ways.
1. The gig economy and online entrepreneurs
As many as 15 percent of American workers are currently employed full-time in the “gig economy”: as contract workers, freelancers, and temps. By 2020, this number is expected to grow to as many as 40 percent of American workers. The internet is a significant factor making this possible, as sites like Craigslist and Upwork make it easier for workers to find clients in need of their services.
But internet entrepreneurship isn’t all about freelancers. The internet has given rise to a whole new class of online entrepreneurs and content creators who develop and host games, operate online stores, run affiliate link sites, host ecommerce businesses and more.
Whether it’s a side-hustle or full-time gig, what the internet can provide entrepreneurs connects them to the markets they serve. Yet until recently, slow internet connections, data transfer caps and unreliable service hampered many entrepreneurs’ efforts to get established online.
Most start-up businesses are created from the home -- whether that be the basement of a single-family residence in the suburbs or a high-rise apartment building in a downtown metropolitan area. And unfortunately, the internet is not a mobile commodity that can be picked up and delivered to the consumer.
Instead, it's a utility that is delivered over an integrated, continuous physical or part-physical, part-wireless infrastructure. Historically, internet service companies owned and maintained a completely wired infrastructure, but even Google Fiber has recently realized that it’s expensive to bring wired fiber all the way to that house in a suburban cul de sac.
As a result, more beginning entrepreneurs are realizing that they can get super-fast internet in apartments and condominiums in downtown areas, at a fraction of what is available in suburban and rural areas. This fixed wireless, also referred to as microwave technology, is leading the way for increased competition, which is driving prices down and increasing speed expectations.
“It’s absolutely true; we have changed the market here in Chicago. In less than two years, the expectation of speed has increased by nearly tenfold and price points have dropped substantially as a result of our technology,” says Keegan Bonebrake of Everywhere Wireless. “We’re delivering up to 1,000 megabits per second in residential units, for $99 a month.
"We’re seeing the consumer demand skyrocket for ‘big bandwidth’ in residential buildings, and we’re seeing that consumer demand is driving changes in building owners’ thinking.”
Ryan Folger, the president and founder of Anexis Development, says he refused to move into an apartment building at 500 North Lake Shore Drive in Chicago unless he could gain access to Everywhere Wireless and its gigabit speeds. “The building has AT&T internet included in the rent, but it’s only six Mbps, which is simply unusable at this point," Folger says.
"I started Anexis a few months ago, and I’m transferring large amounts of data daily," Folger says. "I needed fast download and upload speeds, which is why I petitioned the property manager to allow Everywhere Wireless to provide its Gigabit service to me. Luckily, they saw the value and accommodated my request.”
2. Communication, connection and collaboration
It’s hard to imagine starting and running a business without email and instant messaging. Yet, before these tools were in common use, scheduling meetings and communicating essential information to people outside your office was actually quite challenging -- not to mention, slow. Now, meetings can be scheduled and carried out at the click of a button, while email and messaging enable information to be shared quickly and easily.
But perhaps the internet’s biggest change for entrepreneurs is the ability to connect with potential new customers and markets for relatively low cost. In the past, entrepreneurs invested big budgets in advertising and marketing to reach their audience. Today, social media allows them to inexpensively and easily spread the word about their startups and target new customers and investment opportunities.
How important is social media for today’s entrepreneur? A recent survey on LinkedIn indicated that 81 percent of participating small businesses were using social media, more than 94 percent of them for marketing purposes.
One challenge with social media, however, is that it can be difficult to tie social efforts to actual profits. This is changing as businesses becomes more adept at using retargeting and other social media tools to drive sales.
There are also other crucial benefits that social media can provide. Chief among these is the ability to better understand and more efficiently reach your target market with the data and analytics that social media provides.
3. The cloud: hIgh tech, low cost
Once upon a time, even small businesses had significant startup costs, especially when it came to technology. Today, the internet, thanks to the cloud, allows entrepreneurs to access high-quality technology for a fraction of the up-front cost of installed hardware and software.
In a recent survey of 1,300 U.K. and U.S. business owners, 62 percent of respondents agreed with the idea that the cloud was enabling a boom in entrepreneurship and startups. Why are so many entrepreneurs turning to the cloud? One major attraction is its ability to help you scale. Businesses that today only have one or two users can easily add users by increasing their subscription level.
But the cloud isn’t just about applications. Servers, phone systems, online storage -- in fact, most of a company’s hardware and infrastructure needs -- can all be managed via the cloud. The cloud puts enterprise-grade technology into the hands of any entrepreneur with an internet connection.
Internet-enabled startups, connection and collaboration, and low-cost access to technology are just a few of the ways that the internet is changing the world of entrepreneurship. The internet has become an invaluable tool for solving many important business problems, including research about and purchase of, the products and services a business needs, and the connections its founders need to make with partners, investors and customers alike.