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Posted: September 01, 2011

Small biz: Home-based businessman is his own lone employee

Mike Taylor

Michael Schmidlen and I first talked about three years ago after I received his entry for our annual Top 250 Private Companies ranking. His firm, Advanced Datacomm Solutions, reported revenues of more than $3 million. Yet it listed only one employee.

I thought this might have been a mistake, so I called him. "No, that's correct," Schmidlen told me. "It's just me working out of my house."

That's been the arrangement for the better part of 18 years. Advanced Datacomm Solutions is a reseller of voice and data communications products and services. Schmidlen's story seems especially relevant today, with so many professionals - many in their 50s when they should be in their peak earning years - finding themselves out of work and pondering the possibility of going into business for themselves.

"Working from home is a blessing and a curse," says the 52-year-old Castle Pines resident. He describes his home office as "kind of like a siren calling you to the rocks. I've literally woken up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep and come down and worked for a while.

"But I would not change the existence that I've lived for the better part of the last 18 years for anything. I don't know if it would even be possible for me to go to work for somebody."

What's also notable about Schmidlen is that, except for one semester of college, his formal education ended with high school. "I've taken a couple classes during the ensuing 30 years," he says, "but for the most part it's been OJT (on-the-job training)."

The soaring cost of higher education and debt incurred by students or their families has led some financial commentators to question whether a college degree is worth it. Schmidlen isn't one of them.

His oldest daughter is a senior at Northern Arizona University, majoring in hospitality/resort management PR and marketing. Another daughter is a junior in high school.

By contrast Schmidlen started out at 19 working for GE, driving a forklift and unloading railcars in Idaho Falls, Idaho, before getting a chance at inside sales and being transferred to Denver.

"I will tell you I've had frustrations over the years because I didn't have a college degree," says Schmidlen, who was named one of this magazine's "25 Most Powerful Salespeople" in our January issue. "When I worked for GE it took me longer to get a sales job because I didn't have a degree. So I had a chip on my shoulder. I was the top salesman in the Denver branch my first year in sales because I had something to prove. But it has not been an impediment to me during the course of my career. If anything, I think it's taught me to go out and understand and figure out what you know and what you don't know.

"I'm happy with the way things have worked out for me," he says. "But I also understand we are truly operating in a global market today. And that wasn't the case when I started out in the '70s."

Schmidlen has an interesting career story to tell, and he hopes to share it. He's been working on a book for about three years. "The working title is ‘Memoirs of an Underwear Entrepreneur,'" he says. "It addresses the fact that I work from home, and I'm sitting here right now in shorts and a T-shirt."
While I was most interested in Schmidlen's experiences as a solo entrepreneur, he seemed more interested in telling me about his transition out of voice and data communication and into mobile software and services, reflected in his new venture, Advanced Datacomm Mobile Solutions.

Related to that, he's also an investor and salesman in a startup company touting mobile technology dubbed "P3 Mobile" - for performance, privacy and personalization. "It enables smartphone users to do a bunch of different things - to control their own privacy settings, which nothing else on the market will allow them to do," he says.

"Obviously there's lot's of hype around mobile, and some of it's founded, a lot of it's unfounded," he says. "But at the end of the day I think this truly is going to be one technology that's going to live up to a great deal of its hype. I've tried to stay on the leading edge as opposed to the bleeding edge of technology. I've had a pretty good knack over the last 20-plus years of my career of doing this."
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

We have done business with Michael Schmidlen over the years and he is a dedicated, hard worker. Working out of your house does have its ups and downs. Michael is right, you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night and there is only one thing to do, work. Great story, appreciate it. By Monty Dent on 2011 09 07

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