16 January 2011 ~ 4 Comments

Travel or Start a Business? Why Not Both at the Same Time?

Paras Chopra recently wrote an article asking whether you should do a startup or travel the world. His definition of a startup is a 100+ hours work week with a rapidly growing team, in anticipation of a big payoff day. In regards to my upcoming travel and business plans, I’ll give a different opinion on this matter, freely borrowing ideas from Tim Ferris concepts of lifestyle design and mini-retirements.

Starting a business? You mean, after traveling?

What’s funny is that even after I tell people:

I am going to travel AND start a company

it seems they always hear:

I’m going to travel and THEN start a company.

The idea of travel and work being so diametrically opposed seems to be well ingrained in our society.
Traveling is something you do to escape your work routine. You work 47 weeks and have 5 weeks (or, if you are unlucky, 2 weeks) when you try to forget about work. It doesn’t seem to be something people even question! Or you work for a few years, take a sabbatical and then you go back at it again. While I certainly see the value in sabbaticals, in this time and age, there might be some in-betweens, sustainable lifestyles reconciling work and travel.

So let’s get at it and debunk the myth.

Designing a location-independent lifestyle business

“startup” in its popular meaning spans a wide range of companies, going all the way from the affiliate mini site operated by one person to the rapidly expanding venture-backed Silicon Valley company. I mentioned my goal for this company of mine would be to experiment with a different lifestyle: taking advantage of the freedom an online business can bring to be location independent. So, that brings some constraints such as:

  • difficult to hire a team while traveling
  • difficult to meet customers, advisors or investors face-to-face
  • difficult to support customers with a big time difference (if traveling in far-flung countries).

Constraints are good, and so these constraints drive the following business requirements:

  • one-man operation
  • outsource work that provides good return for your money (for e.g design)
  • customers must be web savvy enough not to need your direct presence
  • choose a small profitable niche so as not to need external funding on a “big bet, big payoff” kind of company
  • automate everything that can be so your presence at a fixed location is not required, at least at the beginning.

After the traditional question “so what are you going to do?”, people often ask me if I saved enough money to travel.

Is traveling expensive?

People who say they want to be rich to be able to travel are fooling themselves. Traveling is cheap. Traveling while keeping a house, a car and bills in Europe or the USA is not cheap, but that’s different. You need much less money to travel the world than just staying at home in Western countries. In many countries you can comfortably live/travel with 20$ per day. That’s 600$/month! (excluding intercontinental flight tickets, of course. We’re talking about long-term travel here, not the 3-weeks Bahamas vacation) Still, if you want to be traveling regularly, you have to figure out how to earn money while traveling. That’s the hard part! (nobody said it would be easy. Oh wait. Tim Ferriss said it. Do take his advice with a grain of salt).

Business-friendly traveling

Backpacker kind of traveling seems to be a bit extreme if you intend to earn a living at the same time (except maybe if you plan to pick up fruits). It’s all good to go from hostel to bus to hostel every 3 days, but it’s very tiring and not very compatible with trying to run a business.

So, a better option for traveling and working at the same time seems to be what I’ll call slow city hopping.

Slow city hopping

Slow city hopping would entail traveling to a city you want to discover and check if you like it for a few days (staying in a cheap hotel). If so, you can rent an apartment for a couple of weeks. You can discover the local culture, benefiting from a real immersion that most travelers don’t enjoy, busy as they are covering the whole continent in 1 month. You can go on weekend trips to discover the neighboring regions. Then, when you feel you have enough, you can travel to the next city. And you can repeat that until you are homesick and decide to go home.

Cities have a few advantages over the idyllic beach location for a traveling entrepreneur. They have good facilities, high-speed internet, possibly nice cafes or even coworking spaces to work at, and people with skills that can help you (still more easy to do that face-to-face than over the web). You can also sharpen your skills by going to local conferences, user group meetings and barcamps.

A Final Word

So, I hope this gave a good overview of why to start a web business AND travel is not such an outlandish idea. I don’t really subscribe to the “you need to have no life and work 100 hours/week for 3 years if you want to make it” philosophy.

Hey, I’m still French after all.

Congrats! You made it until the end. You can follow me on Twitter.

4 Responses to “Travel or Start a Business? Why Not Both at the Same Time?”

  1. Thomas Vilarinho 16 January 2011 at 11:39 pm Permalink

    Hey man,
    I am not sure if it would work, but Ive heard of some couch surfers that offer their place for longer term surfers. I think if it is specially a more IT enterpreuneur guy, he may gladly host you for a few weeks (possibly with internet connection and electricity), exchange some nice advices and you could offer him some smelly cheese (or that awesome green liquor from the basque part of France). Sounds also like a nice plan to network. Shit, if you come to norway, you can do it at home =) But remember that here you have to think twice before offering to pay the beers.

  2. Tjerk 17 January 2011 at 5:15 pm Permalink

    Well i think you at least make your product popular in one gegraphical area. That means marketing, finding the press, getting the buzz, get people to use your product. I think that is very difficult if you are all over the place. But then again… we are in the internet era ;-)

  3. tommy 18 January 2011 at 9:01 am Permalink

    @Thomas, I think you should write a book about couchsurfing! I’ll be traveling with my girlfriend thoough, so that’s going to be tough ;-)

    @Tjerk, I think it depends what kind of product you’re selling. If it’s a big software package for dutch universities, then it’s probably better to be close to your customers. However, if you sell mac software, games or a todo app, I think it doesn’t really matter.
    However “Marketing, finding the press, getting the buzz”: why is it necessary to be somewhere in particular to do all these things?


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