The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future - Chris Guillebeau (2012)
The story about freedom and value doesn’t end in the Western world; these themes are just as important in helping people create opportunities for themselves wherever they are. In many parts of Africa and Asia, more people work as buyers and sellers in the informal economy than work as employees for someone else. They may not all be professional bloggers or mobile application developers (yet), but they earn their living through the principles outlined in this book.
In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I met a tuk-tuk driver named Rhett. Tuk-tuks are the open-air taxis of Southeast Asia in which you can ride anywhere in the city for a dollar or two. Some tuk-tuk drivers, just like some cab drivers in other places around the world, are unreliable and dishonest. Rhett, however, is both reliable and honest, always arriving early to pick up a passenger and sometimes delivering regular customers to their destinations at no charge.
Most tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia make just $2 to $5 a day, but Rhett earns up to $50 a day. He does this through a combination of hard work and careful strategy. The hard work comes by not sleeping or gambling the afternoon away as many of his colleagues do. The strategy lies in understanding that he is better off by serving regular clients instead of constantly roaming the streets looking for one-time fares. While I was in town visiting a friend, Rhett made it clear that he was at my service, giving me his mobile number and telling me to call him “day and night.”
After his core business model of serving regulars was established, Rhett created “multiple streams of income” by adding a sign for a popular bakery on the back of his tuk-tuk. The bakery pays him a fixed amount each month, plus a small commission for any business he brings in. He also regularly asks his customers for referrals and testimonials to increase his client base. If a customer needs help getting to a destination outside of Phnom Penh, Rhett will find a taxi or bus driver available for hire, making sure he is honest and then following up with the customer after the trip to confirm that all went well.
He does all of this while speaking only limited English (“I practice every day, but my tongue becomes tired,” he told me) and without any formal education at all. Some of the extra money he earns goes to a savings fund, a safety net almost no other tuk-tuk driver has. His daughter is now in college, the first in their family to finish high school.
As you work to improve your own circumstances, with freedom as the goal and value as the currency that gets you there, consider how these principles apply elsewhere. I like Rhett’s story because it shows that creativity and initiative will get you far, regardless of the starting point. In many parts of the world, however, the starting point is much farther away than it is for most readers of this book. Starting a business in the developing world is often a difficult, highly bureaucratic endeavor—which is why so many people like Rhett operate in the informal sector. In some of these places, millions of people still lack access to clean water and other basic needs.
In my own business and writing career, I invest at least 10 percent of all revenue with organizations that make better improvements around the world than I could make on my own. (This includes the royalties for this book, so if you’ve purchased it, thanks for the help.) I don’t consider this investment a charitable act; I consider it a natural response to the fact that I’ve been more fortunate than others.
While creating freedom for yourself, how can you be part of a global revolution to increase opportunity for everyone? If you’re not sure, you can join the $100 Startup community in our campaign for clean water in Ethiopia by visiting charitywater.org/aonc. You can also sign up with groups, such as Kiva.org and AcumenFund.org, that provide loans (usually very small ones) to help people start microbusinesses in their own communities.
Of course, these answers aren’t the only ones. If you have a better answer or just a different one, work on that instead. Pursue your dream of freedom wherever it leads … while also thinking about how it can intersect with creating more opportunities for people like Rhett.
DISCLOSURES AND INTERESTING FACTS
No business exists in a vacuum, and many of the stories told here will evolve over time. Financial information was supplied to me by those in the case studies and was current at the time of printing. We did our best to ensure accuracy with repeated fact checking and verification, but any errors are mine.
My wife, Jolie, teaches at the Happy Knits store profiled in Chapter 12. She is also responsible for several other leads to craft businesses. Jonathan Fields (Chapter 7) and Tsilli Pines (Chapter 13) are longtime friends.
I was offered samples by some of the businesses mentioned in the study. Accepted: a bottle of California Syrah from Verge Wine, blog promotion from Evernote, and a free Empire Builder bag from Tom Bihn. Declined: a jar of mustard from Sono Trading and a free Excel template from Mr. Spreadsheet.
When I wasn’t roaming the world conducting interviews, much of this book was written in the following Portland cafés: Rocking Frog, Albina Press, Crema, Stumptown, and Starbucks on 37th and Hawthorne. Most popular order at the Rocking Frog: hot cinnamon donut and 12-ounce Americano.
Number of times the phrases “cha-ching!” and “woop-woop” were removed from the manuscript during copyedits: eight.
John T. Unger (Chapter 14) has revised his list of the best things that ever happened to him. He now puts meeting his wife, Marcie, another artist, at the very top of the list. They live and work in a new studio with a much sturdier roof.
When next in Cambodia, you can hire Rhett the tuk-tuk driver by calling +855 12 543 767.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
All good things come to an end, and if you’ve read this far, I hope it’s been a good use of your time. If you’d like more, head over to 100startup.com, where you’ll find a community of other readers, unexpected entrepreneurs, and people from different backgrounds all planning their escape to a life of their own making.
In addition to all the customizable exercises from the book (the Instant Consultant Biz, the One-Page Promotion Plan, and so on), you’ll get a number of resources that didn’t make it in the final version:
✵ Data and sample interviews from the study, including transcripts and audio files
✵ Video interviews with Benny Lewis (Chapter 4), Jen and Omar (Chapter 6), and Karol Gajda (Chapter 8)
✵ Economics of blog subscribers, where you’ll see how much money an average blogger earns
✵ More analysis on subscription payments, upsells, and pricing structures you can use to ramp up your income
✵ The two words all business owners can say to set themselves up for an unlimited series of long-term product launches
And as they say, so much more! All of this info is free, and you don’t need to register to receive it. We also have a community forum and additional resources for sale, including more case studies and specific business strategies. Join us at 100startup.com.
Finally, if you enjoyed the book, feel free to let me know. You can write in directly from chrisguillebeau.com, where I follow the model outlined in several of the case studies in this book, publishing at least 80 percent of my writing and business work on a regular basis for free.