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VOL. 126 | NO. 75 | Monday, April 18, 2011

No Place Like It

Running tech company from home brings numerous rewards, challenges

By Aisling Maki

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After tucking her two young children in for the night, Rinu Agarwal, founder and principal of technology group e2global, works from the comfort of her Germantown home, remotely managing a team of employees in her native India, where the sun has risen and the workday has begun.

Rinu Agarwal runs a technology and Web business from her home.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

“I work long hours sometimes, but it’s worth the tradeoff of being able to be with my kids when they need me,” said Agarwal, one of three principals of the Memphis-based company, whose services include website architecture, Web application development and social media.

Agarwal previously spent a year working for a Downtown advertising agency, and five years working as a Web programmer for another Memphis-based company, but the birth of her second child prompted her to temporarily trade in her career for full-time motherhood.

“I was missing working, but I really wanted to focus on the kids,” she said. “Just to have the flexibility with my work schedule, I figured the best thing to do was to work for myself and still be home.”

After a brief stint as a stay-at-home mom, Agarwal decided to return to work, this time as her own boss, scheduling her workday around the activities of her children, now ages 4 and 6.

In addition to her managing an offshore team in India, Agarwal is in constant contact with e2global’s stateside advisers and consultants based in Memphis.

Although it has its perks, Agarwal said home-based self-employment, which takes a great deal of self-discipline, isn’t for everyone.

“There’s no one else there telling you, ‘This needs to be done,’” she said. “You know that you have to do this.”

One of the challenges of a self-employed, home-based small business is the absence of a consistent paycheck. But the benefits – including casual dress code and the opportunity to work outside on sunny days in addition to flexible family time – make it all worthwhile.

“Right now I don’t have plans to go out and work for someone else. I’m really enjoying this,” Agarwal said.

She isn’t the only Memphian who has discovered the rewards of operating a home-based small business that specializes in technology – a popular field for those who decide to break away from traditional office jobs.

Independent programmer Greg Dunn has received numerous job offers since he voluntarily left his position in the IT department of the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office in 2009, but like Agarwal, Dunn has no plans to jump back into supervised corporate life.

“No, I don’t have a steady paycheck, and that’s the downside,” said Dunn, father of two, whose wife, Valerie, works as a high school teacher. “But the big upside is that no one can come in tomorrow and tell me to stop doing what I’m doing. I may fail, but me changing what I do is dependent on my wife and me, and nobody else.”

Dunn, who said he knows people who’ve been hired and laid off again within a short period of time, said he believes people need to rethink their notions of job stability, which for him lies in the independence of self-employment.

“I think there’s less (stability) right now,” said Dunn, whose recent work has included the development of iPhone applications, games, mobile sites and augmented reality pieces. “Especially in the tech industry, working for a company for 10, 20 or 30 years, it just doesn’t exist; to get laid off just kind of goes with the territory.”

Like many self-employed technology workers, Dunn relies heavily on networking to keep his business moving forward. While Facebook and Twitter keep him connected in cyberspace, he stays plugged into real-world social networking by attending BarCamp and TribeCamp Memphis, and Mercury Tech Coffee – a weekly tech talk gathering held at Republic Coffee on Walnut Grove Road.

The Memphis Home-Based Business Chamber of Commerce, founded in 2008 to advance and promote the growth of local home-based businesses, is also helping entrepreneurs to connect through networking events, classes and workshops.

Chamber founder and president Beverly Anderson said that although many people have chosen self-employment for its flexibility, others have taken to entrepreneurship in recent years out of necessity after long periods of unemployment.

Anderson said she receives a steady stream of calls from Mid-Southerners asking for support and resources to open Web-based ventures.

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