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Open Thank You Letter to Google

posted May 30, 2011, 7:33 AM by Dustin Romero   [ updated May 31, 2011, 10:01 AM ]

Dear Google,

I am soldier in the US Army deployed to Iraq (yes, Iraq). My name is Dustin. Using Google products I’ve been able to completely set up a business that I have started with my sweetheart Kim (not imagined, not merely funded, started). I am writing this letter to express my gratitude to Google for making it possible for us to make our little dream come true. And from a soldier who would otherwise have no career to go home to (as my enlistment is nearing completing) but now has a business I’m passionate for waiting for me when I get home.
It has not been easy. We have successfully opened a food cart in Downtown Salt Lake City (called The Curryer) that serves an array of curries and naan. The cart was custom built and includes an authentic tandoor oven and a commercial rice cooker. Almost every aspect of our operation has been deeply integrated with Google products from our phones to our accounting. I have the story written below, you can read it if you like.

Phase I: Ideation

Although I’m sure it could be debated at length the first google product we used to start our business was an Android phone (HCT Evo) and Google Talk. I simply wanted to be able to talk with Kim while I was deployed. So we got her a smart phone, the front facing camera didn’t work out like we hoped for Skyping, but  we were able to use Google Talk to send text messages between her Evo and my Droid while I was in pre deployment training. These conversations are where we really took off with an idea we had had before I deployed. This is also where our deep integration with Google began.
After we started developing a menu we needed a place where we could store and collect (collaborate, if you will ;)) information. The natural choice was a Google Doc. We then wanted to try our recipes on groups of friends and family. So we developed a form on Google Docs that we could use to collect information about peoples opinions. Not only was it easy to make, but we were able to use it on our smart phones and friends laptops, making it possible to collect the information anywhere we were at.

Phase II: Purchasing and Modifying the Cart

By the time we were in a position to purchase a cart I was in Kuwait in a three week transition to Iraq. We were constantly traveling and internet was not always available, not reliable, and I often had to use public computers, rotating every half hour. At this stage it was not practical to work with saved files on my computer. Furthermore I had to find a way to call people to set up purchases and modifications.
I scoured the internet and found a cart. I called a friend and transferred the money to him, and he picked up the cart. It was a newer taco cart, still in great condition, but it would have to be modified for our use.

A week before I left my home I had contacted a man who could modify a cart that we didn’t even own yet. I had met him once. Using the Gmail calling feature I was able to contact him without even needing to look him up in my phones contacts, since they had synced automatically.

To modify the cart I needed to find a tandoor oven and a rice cooker. The oven was found using a Google Search, and the rice cooker was purchased using Google Checkout and a Google Shopping search. With Google searches I learned how to maintain and cook with the age old ovens from India.

I recall one night when I was intensely juggling phone calls between a city health inspector who didn’t want to approve our oven, my builder and the man I purchased the oven from. Even though the internet was slow and the connection choppy I was able to make the calls in Gmail, and more importantly they were able to call me using my Google Voice number. All this with fighter jets taking off within 100 meters of my storage container home. Was it so hard I wanted to scream (or cry?), I wont say, but would it have been possible without Google (yeah yeah, but I don’t like Magic Jack, and Skype is clunky and frustrating, and when you’re pushing things to the limit there isn’t a lot of extra energy for dated and clunky interface).

Across the sea and 13,000 miles away Kim was hard at work Googling recipes and learning to cook Indian food from Indian posters on YouTube. Even though I love Amazon for books, and sent her a pile of them (which she read), her go to source is still the wide open internet and an old fashioned (lol) Google Search.

Phase III: Licensing and Accounting

I know that quickbooks is a great piece of accounting software (so I’ve been told), but I have no idea how to use it, and it’s online version made even less sense to me. Don’t get me wrong, I would have learned it, but it lacked an extremely important piece of the puzzle for me. Super easy collaboration. How am I supposed to run a small business if my partner (Kim) and friend (I’ll introduce him later) aren’t able to collaborate what I’m doing???

I was in an online accounting class (that I did most of my coursework on Google Docs for) and I decided I would make my own accounting spreadsheet. Which I did, linking it (using importrange()) to several forms that could be used by Kim and my buddy to report expenses and revenue.

I was so impressed with my ability to use the spreadsheets that I made an inventory sheet that included our recipes, ingredient cost and would calculate the cost of cooking our recipes for various amounts of people. I’ve also added decision modeling, cash flow, cost analysis, to-do lists, payroll and invoices for catering to the list of uses I’ve made for Google Spreadsheets.

For Payroll I set up a Google Calendar for each person on the payroll. They simply add their hours to that calendar and I import it into a spreadsheet (using a script I found) and calculate the hours. I then put that information into my payroll sheet in my accounts and then do a little copy and pasting to keep a history of payrolls. I feel confident with the security options in Google Docs to work on any workstation working with docs that contain private (SSN, etc) information about our employees. I know exactly who the doc is shared with (Private to Me only). and I know that once I log out that information is protected through my super awesome password.

With my accounting set up I had a problem with taking care of the licensing. Kim was heavily involved with school at the time, and was without a car. This made it tough to drive around town to city offices turning in paper work and handling the licensing. We decided we needed to hire an employee. Not just to help with the beginning stuff, but to help with running the cart when we actually opened. This employee was my buddy Kyle (the buddy talked about above).

Throughout the process there were times when we would loose track of what the other person was working on, this created difficulties. Our solution? A shared Google Spreadsheet. We made a very simple spreadsheet, but we were able to talk over the phone (using Gmail) while editing the document at the same time. I’m sure you share the joy in seeing a document come together in real time from multiple sources. :)

Phase IV: Opening and Operating.

With the licensing taken care of and the accounting books set up we were ready to hit the streets. But we needed a website, phone numbers, email. Blah blah blah, all that stuff. I don’t even need to say at this point where I turned. Google Voice gave us a phone number, that can call us anywhere and Google apps gave us email and a website. I created the entire site we use (www.TheCurryerSLC.com) in Google Sites. What’s more our menu on our website is synced to the doc we use for our menu. This makes it so that we don’t have to remember to update the menu on the webpage every time we make a change to the menu. We can also email or share this doc with other people who will get the updated version every time they open it. I use Google Analytics to track traffic to my site, and I plan on using a $75 credit I got from Google to try out promoting our catering and delivery services.

For our actual operation we use Google Calendars to keep track of events we can work at or are working at and schedule who is working and when. I have one calendar “TheCurryer Schedule” that keeps track of where the cart is (in pink), what events the cart can work (in red) and when certain events in the accounting cycle are due (in green), like taxes and payroll. Each person has another calendar for their hours that is used to schedule who is working and when, and also what hours they’ve worked. These calendars are the ones I use to import hours worked into my payroll spreadsheet.

We’re now open, and our operation has it’s ups and it has it’s downs. There are still serious difficulties to overcome in running a business between two people 13,000 miles away, but what we are doing is made much simpler, and in many ways possible, because of what is offered to us through Google. Google is a one stop shop for Small Businesses. It’s a no brainer.

Thanks for reading, and more importantly, thanks for making Google what it is. I don’t think people understand when I tell them what it means to “run” a business from Iraq. I also don’t think people realize how difficult it can be to set yourself up for the future in a time of war. After nine years of conflict many soldiers are leaving the army to pursue their lives and finding that a rapid deployment cycle has left them with few career and education choices. I’ve done something that I’m proud of, something that probably wouldn’t have been possible five years ago (probably not even two years ago), something I probably couldn't have done without Google.

So again, I extend my deepest gratitude to Google, and someday if I’m ever near Mountain View it would be an honer to meet some of the fine innovative people that have made this possible and to vigorously shake their hands.


Dustin Romero



Also Known As SPC Dustin Romero, US Army