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How technology has transformed becoming an entrepreneur

Peter Macdiarmid/ Getty.

My grandfather Charlie arrived in Australia in 1953. A cobbler from a remote village in Cyprus, it must have seemed strange settling in to Melbourne’s industrial west. Job options were limited if you couldn’t speak the language, so he went to work in the factories. At first the Standard Motor Company and then the Ford factory in Broadmeadows.

Even with the long hours he worked it was a struggle to keep the family afloat. The only luxury he allowed himself was a shot of brandy after dinner. But like many migrants he was aspirational – especially for his children. He wanted them to get educated and do well in the world. After all, that’s why he set out for the lucky country.

The world has changed since 1953, and I often wonder what my grandfather would have done had he arrived today. What opportunities would he have, what doors once shut would now be open.

For a start he could have learned English. Not knowing it always held him back. I remember my Dad telling me that at the age of eight he was translating tax returns that my grandfather couldn’t understand. It must have been disempowering for a parent to be so reliant on their kids for such basic things. 

Had Charlie arrived in Australia today, he could access English lessons for free on DuoLingo, then hop on over to Livemocha and start practicing. He could even search ‘language swap’ on Gumtree and meet a conversation partner for a face-to-face chat at Starbucks.

And what if he wanted a different job than the factory grind. He could jump onto uDemy, Lynda and Skillshare to build bankable skills for about $50 a month. He might have taken to coding, or design, or architecture. With a little effort, he could find work beyond Broadmeadows through Seek and LinkedIn. His new CV would be built on Google Docs with a free template from the gallery.

And even if he chose to work from home and spend more time with the kids, he could still find work from around the world with Freelancer.com. He’d use Skype for communication, Dropbox for storage, and Trello to manage his projects. And if he wanted to get out of the house, he could escape to a café with decent wifi using Workfrom.co.

But perhaps the biggest opportunity for my grandfather, if he were coming to Australia today, could be found in entrepreneurship. Had he wanted to start a business, there would be no better time than now. He might have kept it simple with a Shopify store, selling brandy from all over the world through Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, just like this guy did with wine.

Or he could have stuck with his trade, selling custom leather shoes on Etsy or through a website built with freelancers in a couple of days. He could take payments through Stripe and use Olark for live customer support.

If money was tight, Charlie could turn to Pozible or Kickstarter for funding, and VentureCrowd when things started to take off. He could even coordinate a product launch for a new range of buffalo leather boots with Eventbrite, build a loyal following through Facebook, and set up a WordPress blog to teach shoemaking. Of course he would definitely run a Meetup group for fans of bespoke shoes, keeping his community engaged and excited with updates on Hootsuite and Mailchimp.

Yes, my grandfather’s talents and ideas and dreams could touch and enrich so many more people today than they could in 1953. And because of the Internet, the reverse is also true. I can imagine him subscribing to podcasts from This American Life, following Elon Musk on Twitter or reading Aeon and learning and deciding who he is and how he fits in with this world.

It’s true, the Internet disrupts and it disassembles. It destroyed Borders and Blockbuster and Britannica and more. But it also equalises access to opportunity. It democratises the knowledge and tools of entrepreneurship. It can be a leg up for the underdog, not only enabling them to find work or build a business, but also do something they believe in. Now is the time for the little guy, the battler, the entrepreneur with an idea. It is the best time ever to be aspirational.

Kyri Theos is the Regional Director of Asia Pacific at Freelancer.com

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