Business in a backpack
With the help of software I created, my tech company runs smoothly without an office.
(FSB Magazine) -- I'm the founder of Cheetah Learning, which offers project-management training courses worldwide (cheetahlearning.com). We teach our business clients how to meet goals such as developing a product, launching a website, or reaching a sales quota. I also run a corporate retreat in Haines, Alaska, and sell kayak-making kits that can be used for team building at our Haines facility or the customer's site. Our clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield, IBM, and Pepsi, and we posted sales of about $9 million in 2006.
Cheetah has 30 employees, 40 contractors, three offices, and four training classrooms across the country. But I don't have an office, or even a main residence. What I do have is a backpack. It's a five-year-old nylon laptop carrier with a hip belt (targus.com/us/product_details.asp?sku=TSB089US). It costs $69.99, and goes everywhere I go. I make about 35 trips across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for business and pleasure annually. At least once a year I'm overseas.
I wouldn't have it any other way, because I meet new contacts when I am on the road, and that creates more opportunities. My backpack has traveled to England, India, and New Zealand, where I've met with clients and given presentations. I'm amazed that after enduring Alaskan blizzards, it's still in great condition. When it's fully loaded, it weighs about 25 pounds.
Working out of a backpack allows me to connect with clients and colleagues from almost anywhere - I've conducted webinars for as many as 1,000 people from a trailer parked next to the house that my husband and I are remodeling in Carson City, Nev. We have homes in Haines and Wilton, Conn., as well, each equipped with high-speed Internet connections. I also have a Cingular (now AT&T) wireless Internet card. It costs about $349, and lets me work anywhere I can get a cell signal.
To make it easy to access my important documents from anyplace, my team and I developed a software system called Cheetah View. It lets us scan everything into any computer and then classify all the data by category. The system allows me to e-mail documents to anyone who needs them. I started a software business so that we could begin commercializing the web-based tools we created to run this company. We're getting ready to market Cheetah View, and we have also developed Training Bridge, which is a web-based course-registration system.
I stow my Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y4 laptop (toughonline.com, $2,300) in the backpack, along with my BlackBerry 8700 (blackberry.com; $399), my Motorazr cellphone (motorola.com; $249.99), my iPod mini, and my Sony noise-canceling headphones (sony.com; $79.99). I'm usually using my phone, BlackBerry, and laptop simultaneously. It's not difficult with my Bluetooth (bluetooth.com), which links all of them using a short-range wireless connection. Just in case I go down in a bush plane, I always carry a GPS personal-locator beacon (acrelectronics.com, $699).
My backpack also holds more commonplace items, such as magazines and books. Because I develop courses on project management, negotiating, buying real estate, and job hunting, I can usually be found reading a book on one of those subjects. And I always carry a stash of emergency food for the times I'm stuck on an airplane for hours. At the moment I'm carrying dried mangoes, two Clif bars, and two Spiru-Tein High Protein Energy Meals.
Occasionally I have to lug video equipment to create online courses for our instructors. I use a high-definition videocamera (Sony HDR-SR1; sony.com; $1,499) and a digital videocamera (Canon PowerShot G6; canon.com; $550). I throw it all into a rolling bag from L.L. Bean, which I really love (llbean.com; $139).
Another backpack essential is my swimsuit. I go through five or six of them a year because I work out in a pool for an hour every day. It's absolutely crucial because that pack can get really heavy. Swimming and yoga help keep my arms and back strong, so I can continue to carry the thing.