Can You Really Start a Business With $100?

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I know, sounds ludicrous.

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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17 responses

17 responses to “Can You Really Start a Business With $100?”

  1. Ed Gaile says:

    I bought the book and am about half way through now. Love the case studies. Chris presents them in a way that you really see that the people starting these businesses are just regular folks that started taking some action.

    • Re: “you really see that the people starting these businesses are just regular folks that started taking some action.”

      Love hearing those sorts of success stories! It’s motivating, ya know.

  2. The book is a really great read! I’ve enjoyed the tons of case-studies and honestly, it’s motivating to hear how other people have found success with their endeavors.

    It’s not hard… Well, for me at least, it was the getting started that was the hard part. From there, everything just sorta came together. And so far, so good 🙂

  3. Jon Chandonnet says:

    Reading your post this morning allowed me to have a moment of clarity and lead to an insight about a possible mission for my work. I’ve been circling around this for some time — months at least, but probably closer to years. Thank you.

  4. Debasis Panda says:

    Its the best ever book for entrepreneur.Love to have this book.I was waiting a book like this for long.Got so much information for my business.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I just finished this book yesterday, and it’s great. So, too, is your disclosure statement!

  6. Heather says:

    I haven’t read the book yet but I’m a huge fan of Chris’, an avid reader of AONC, and an entrepreneur myself. I just wanted to chime in that I couldn’t agree more about the “education, effort, and WHY” being the absolute essentials to doing well when you go out on your own. The thing that I see so many people miss the mark on is expectations. They’re unrealistic. AND community. People don’t realize how crucial it is to surround yourself with a bunch of forward-thinking entrepreneurs that are on the cutting edge and growing through the same stages that you are. Without a strong community, I may have given up a long time ago. But instead at one year I have totally slain all my 3-year business goals and life is looking amazing. I even love the 10 hour work days. Really, truly. It’s all worth it.

  7. Evan says:

    From Charlie’s post I note that a few people got through to him. For others, they have a talent for or extensive background in business. Can people become wealthy without theses things? Of course. And the path is somewhat different.

  8. I once read a 100 page book on the secret to having everything you want. I will reveal the big secret: it is simply a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve the goal. Most people lack a willingness, not an ability.

  9. Tahlee says:

    Chris is a rockstar! I’m about half-way through now and it’s all gold, practical, no BS stuff.

    I love the concept of convergence (so critical and way more helpful than “just do what you love”).

    And the extra resources he has on his $100 startup website are fantastic!

  10. Tahlee says:

    ps – I’m hoping my new blog will be the beginning of my $100 startup 🙂

  11. I know that it offers motivation and guides and such, but I think the most important facet of this book is the back to basics demonstration. It is proof that a business is nothing more than a product and people willing to buy it, not always huge ad budgets and commercials.

  12. Alex says:

    The book gives you the motivational fuel that most of the people lack. I think most of us forget that even the Egyptian Pyramids started from one rock at the bottom.

  13. Johannah says:

    I don’t have the book (sorry Chris) but I get the general idea. I have a 27 year old “start from scratch” business that has supported my family well…. Just started to write, and needed that extra kick to get it moving.

  14. […] Fields has an inspiring review review of Chris Guillebeau’s new book, “The $100 Startup.”  Johnathan’s FTC disclosure at the bottom is hilarious and […]

  15. Rob Calhoun says:

    I came here at the advice of John Poelestra’s post “How To Start a Business With (almost) Nothing” He said your FTC disclosure was worth the trip and I must say it was.

    You hit on the greatest advantage/setback (half full/half empty) of entrepreneurship. The discipline to do the work is a huge stumbling block. The understanding that the knowledge is not inherent, doesn’t come naturally, and takes time to learn is what escapes the vast majority of those who try their hand at being their own boss.

    That’s why so many “silver bullet” and “instant business with no money or work” type books, courses, and businesses really make so much money. People are desperate for shortcuts.

    The difference in what Chris seems to be saying (Disclosure- I haven’t read the book yet) is that it is possible, here’s people that have done it, here’s how they did it, and it takes work!

    It’s sad but too many people never hear the words “it takes work” no matter when you say it (beginning, middle, or end) or how many times you say it.

    Then when the reality hits them they act as if just one more time would have been enough for them to understand and blame you for misleading them.