Start a business for $100?! Not a chance. Ten years ago, I’d have agreed. Even 5 years ago, it would have been a challenge. But something’s happened in the last few years that has changed the game of entrepreneurship forever.
The cost of entry has plummeted. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. It means thousands or even tens of thousands of people who’ve been Jonesing to do their own thing can give it a go with far less risk.
On the other hand, it’s a disaster in waiting, because the vast majority of those people will not do the work and the learning needed to cultivate both the mindset and the skillset needed to thrive in the world of entrepreneurship.
Then they’ll go running back to the comfort of a paycheck, blaming entrepreneurship when the real culprit was not the field itself, but rather their ill-fated “got nothing to lose, I’ll just wing it” approach.
Enter My friend Chris Guillebeau.
Over the last 4 years, Chris went from scraping by to running a massively popular website, The Art of Noncomformity, with a huge global following. He built that into a streamlined one-man digital educational publisher, Unconventional Guides, with a bottom line that rivals and exceeds many traditional publishers with staffs, overhead, inventory, complexity and constraint.
He then launched a conference, World Domination Summit, that sold out 500 seats in hours the very first year. And sold out nearly 1,000 seats in minutes the second year.
Well, that’s all well and good, you’d figure, but to do that, clearly this dude must have no life outside his business. And just as clearly, you’d be wrong.
Guillebeau is in the final year of a 5 year quest to visit every country in the world. He’s only got 8 left and he spends a huge chunk of every year traveling, hanging out with his wife and meeting great people. All the while, bootstrapping everything he’s done. No VC, no loans, no big staff to manage or tie him down and a powerful ethic to give back along the way.
The question he’s been asked hundreds of times over the last few years is…how?
How in the world did you do this, in a space everyone said was already too packed to make a mark and a living, at a time when people were supposedly not spending money and without leading with an egomaniacal sense of entitlement?
How does a mensch from Portland build something so powerful? And, the question that always follows that…how can I do the same? Online, offline, in any country around the world.
What’s the secret sauce?
To which Chris has responded with the publication of his new book, The $100 Startup. This book is a roadmap, chock full of information, insights and tons of case-studies. It’s Guillebeau’s synthesis, but the stories and ideas span the gamut from cafe owners to information-marketers and mattress sellers to food bloggers.
One part inspiration, one part education, one part Chris’ genuine heart and soul, it’s a book that every person who aspires to turn a dream into a stream of income should read.
BUT, there is a but…this is not a book about taking an idea, selling it to venture capitalists and scaling it into the next Facebook. It’s based on a far simpler premise and set of expectations. That, in this day and age, nearly anyone can start with a modest budget, craft a streamlined, interest-driven business and grow it into something that generates a healthy dose of both income and happiness.
Now, let’s talk about one other thing, the old “sure he can do it, but I’m not him and I don’t have the opportunities he’s had.” I’ve heard criticism of books like Chris’ (and Danielle’s, mine and beyond), arguing that they have great information, but assuming “nearly anyone” can do what’s in the book is overselling the promise.
Some may argue that Chris has some special mojo, that very few people can do what he’s done, that to say anyone can make something real out of a dream is just not true. We, after all, are not Chris. And, to that, I agree. You’re not. I’m not. Nobody is Chris.
To say that few will rise to the level of Chris’ success is an absolute truth. But to say that few can rise to the level of Guillebeau…is straight up fluff. Often attempted justification for fear, doubt and inaction. Go read Charlie Gilkey’s post about this before you comment below.
Yes, Chris is unusual. And so are the 50 or so people whose case-studies appear in the book. But what makes them so uniquely capable of pulling off the extraordinary is not some odd quirk of genius, but rather access to ideas and information that are capable of being acquired and mined. That, and the willingness to apply effort, sometimes in the face of extraordinary headwinds, to stay in the quest.
So, yes, Chris and the band of entrepreneurs cited in the book ARE unusual. But, with rare exception at least in the developed world, in a way that is not born of genetics or luck, but rather of effort, education and a “why” so powerful it raises the quest to the level of moral imperative.
Many of the greatest success stories come not from the blessed and fortunate, but from the bowels of despair.
If there’s something inside you, and it’s been yearning to get out, go check out Chris’ ideas in The $100 Startup. Buy it at the bookstore, or if you’re on the fence, just go check it out from your local library.
Then, come back here after you’ve read it, tell me what your $100 startup idea is in the comments and why it means so much to you.
[FTC disclosure - Chris is a close friend. I didn't pay for my copy of the book. Other things I didn't pay for over the years include socks bought by my mom, the occasional complimentary upgrade to a grande at my local Starbucks and the ski gloves my in-laws got me for Christmas 4 years ago. Oh, and Chris has also got really good hair and is a dead ringer for The Dread Pirate Robert in The Princess Bride, which, as much as I love him, makes me a bit jealous. Does this make me biased? Who the hell knows. Take it for what it is. Now, where'd I put the keys to that new Lotus Diablo Chris promised me in exchange for this post...]
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