SAN FRANCISCO--There's a whole lot of mobile startups these days, but how many of them are actually, you know, mobile?
A company called Needle is, and if you'd wandered near South Park here today, you would have seen its so-called Mobile Contact Center -- essentially a huge RV -- parked on the street with several employees working away inside.
Ostensibly based in Salt Lake City, Needle contracts with retail partners to provide them experts to chat with end users. The idea is that there's likely no one better suited to explaining a product, or answering questions about it, than someone who actually uses it. Among Needle's clients are Urban Outfitters, Astro Gaming, Under Armour, and a number of others.
Essentially, the company is selling a platform that pairs paid experts with retailers in a bid to help end users get real-time information about products, explained Needle CEO Morgan Lynch.
The truth is, though, Needle's biggest product right now is itself--and the Mobile Contact Center. Parked on the edge of South Park here, the giant RV is a huge advertisement for the company, and the idea that a startup really doesn't need an office these days. At least a stationary office, that is. All that's required is some tables, some snacks, some computers, and a little Internet, courtesy of a collection of Mi-Fi devices.
Lynch explained that recently, Needle had ended its lease for office space in Salt Lake City and decided to lease the RV and head out on the road as a way to show just what is possible with wheels spinning underneath.
To be sure, the idea of entrepreneurs doing their thing while in motion isn't new. After all, the Startup Bus has gotten a lot of people excited about the notion of building new companies from the (lack of) comfort of a bus seat.
But Needle's take on the idea -- staffing its RV with several of its experts (working for three different clients) is interesting, even if it's just a gimmick. The vehicle is large, comfortable, has working space for at least five or six (inside) and has a comfortable roof deck where several others could work, conduct meetings, or simply relax under the skies. "You can be sitting up here on the sundeck," said Lynch, "and I can whip out my laptop and I can be effective."
Right now, Needle is touring around the West, and will be stopping in Los Angeles and Las Vegas before heading back to Salt Lake City. Not long after, Lynch said, Needle is planning an East Coast tour.
Ultimately, the idea is to point out that people can do good work from almost anywhere, especially if they're happy. "You get the best output from people if they can work when and where they want to work," Lynch said.
That's something that Doug Fleming, a 25-year-old Needle employee, seems to agree with. Fleming, a former professional video game player who is taking some time away from Major League Gaming to switch from playing Halo to playing Starcraft, is part of the Needle tour as an expert user of Astro Gaming's high-end headphones.
"I love it, it's awesome," Fleming said of his job at Needle. "It doesn't really feel like a job. It's like talking to a friend about a product you love."
As he explained what he's doing onboard the Needle RV, Fleming answered questions on Astro Gaming's behalf. He could be working for a more typical San Francisco startup, but instead, he's on an RV, getting ready for the next leg of the tour. Yet, the location doesn't matter. Whether it's San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Vegas, Fleming can do his job.
It's unlikely that a slew of startups will follow Needle's lead and start setting up shop in RVs or buses. But the company is successfully demonstrating one thing: Doing work these days has low overhead, and doesn't necessarily require an office. At least not one that's got a foundation.