In late 2007, I quit my lucrative job in Silicon Valley and handed in my two week notice. Two weeks later I was boarding a plane bound for the beautiful Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. I haven’t had an official job ever since.
In the past 8 years I’ve been on my own, trying to make a buck anyway I could. I’ve failed. I’ve succeeded. I’ve failed again. Then I bounced back.
One of the most common emails I receive is how to become location independent. So, in this article, I want to tell you everything that I learned about killing your mediocre day job and building something that you can truly call your own.
Warning: the advice below will be blunt and frank, and may hurt some feelings. Reader discretion is advised.
Focus on providing value
People keep asking: How do I start a business? What do I do? Is it hard? Is it easy? These are all wrong questions. There’s really no such thing as a “business.” All you’re doing is taking something that you know how to do well and, instead of keeping it inside, you’re offering it as a product or service to others. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate things. Forget theory and case studies. Think in concrete terms.
Can you provide me with value that’ll improve my bottom line? Can you make me richer? Can you make me more successful? Can you help me feel better about myself? Can you help me fuck hot women? Yes? Congratulations, you’ve just gotten yourself a new customer.
There are no rules
People spend countless hours reading various sites on making money. Most of these sites hold your hand and tell you exactly what to do. They force you to think along some kind of rules. They box in your mindset.
What no one tells you is that there’re no rules. The key is to be creative and think outside the box. Always think in terms of adding value. Someone out there is selling an eBook, but you don’t have to do that. Someone out there is selling a course, but you don’t have to do that. Or maybe that’s exactly what you should do. When you create an online audience by teaching them something valuable, you’ll have a better idea what kind of solutions your audience wants and is willing to pay for.
Forget what’s cool or trendy
The corollary to the above is that sometimes it’s helpful to forget what’s cool or trendy at any given time. People like writing about cool and trendy stuff because that’s what people like reading about.
But few people realize that you can make money—lots of money—selling very boring stuff, like, well, power tools. (One of my friends is doing just that and he’s making an absolute killing.) A boring solution to a pressing problem is always better than an ad-hoc solution to a fleeting problem.
Beware copying someone else’s successful idea
When people are given freedom, they tend to mimic each other. This happens subconsciously without you even knowing it. We’re all doing this to some extent. I was doing it for many years before even realizing it (I’m probably still doing it, but at least I’m more conscious about it). So, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re following a cool businessman, blogger or celebrity, and naturally structuring your future business model based on theirs.
That’s probably not going to work. The main reason is that you see a successful person, but you have absolutely no idea how they got there. Who knows, they could’ve went through a hundred different tiny iterations before finally finding their groove and succeeding—or being discovered by someone bigger.
Moreover, don’t forget that you’re a different person from the one you’re trying to emulate. The other person is leveraging his/her personality and character to attract fans and customers in ways that you cannot.
All of us are given our own set of lemons from which we must make lemonade. But your lemons and my lemons and that other guy’s lemons with 50,000 followers are completely different. It’s very crucial to learn how to make lemonade from your own lemons. You need to play with the hand you’re dealt. The good news is that the quicker you realize this, the less time you’ll waste and the quicker you’ll succeed.
A much more savvier approach would be to take what someone has done and slightly tweak it, thus creating a new angle to an existing idea that’s already successful.
Should you work on the side or build it in Argentina?
There are two ways of building your own business: you can quit your job and try to build your business full time or you can slowly build it on the side in your spare time. This really depends on your unique situation: whether you have a family to support, have other obligations, the amount of money you have in your bank account, your tolerance for risk, etc.
If you’re a young guy in his early 20s (this is also applicable to guys in their 30s), my advice is to save around $2-3k and then go live in Argentina or Thailand while trying to build your online business. In those regions of the world, you can really keep your costs down by renting an apartment or room for less than $200-300/mo, cooking your own meals and hustling the rest of the time. You’ll even have money left over to hit on women in the local bars. If I was starting out, this is the exact path I would take.
Learn marketing, branding and sales
I will tell you right off the bat that your problem will not be the nuances of your initial product. If you’re a writer who’s writing an eBook, your biggest challenge won’t be writing at such a high level so it’s good enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. If you’re a software engineer, your main problem won’t be using the latest and greatest memory allocation library (trust me on this; I’m a software engineer).
Your main problem will be finding customers; your main problem will be making sure that others know you exist. It’s a noisy world and nobody knows who the fuck you are.
Think about what you represent. Now learn how to correctly package all that in a message that someone like me will understand and become interested in. Although I’m a great programmer and can build amazing apps, I know that marketing and sales will always be the key here. No one will buy my product if they don’t even know it exists.
All else remaining constant, when it comes to making cold cash, a great marketer or salesman will always win over a great programmer or writer.
Don’t marry an idea
I’m not a huge fan of the whole “Never give up” advice. There I said it. It’s a dangerous mindset because it lets you rationalize marrying an idea and then trying to make it work—despite not having any luck with it whatsoever for the past five years of your life. This happens all the time. What most people don’t tell you is that there are good and bad ideas. And you want to avoid the latter at all costs.
The way to do that is by willing to abandon (or at least scale back efforts on) an idea if it doesn’t seem to be working. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but here’s a helpful tip: you must disconnect your identity from that idea. Just because you’re working on something that you think defines you, doesn’t make the idea automatically successful and profitable; just because you’re thinking of giving up on an idea, doesn’t mean you’re giving up on yourself. There are two entirely separate entities here: you as a person and your crappy idea.
As always, abundance mentality is very applicable. Remember, there are lots of interesting ideas that are ready to be developed and executed. Lots of things that people are impatiently waiting to pay for with their hard-earned money. From your perspective, there will be work and there will be work. If it feels like work, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Not a born businessman, either? Not a problem
My blessing (or curse) was that growing up, I happened to be surrounded by natural hustlers who lived and breathed making money anyway they could (an old friend of mine was peddling custom made t-shirts in my High School). He’s probably a millionaire know.
I’m not like my friend at all. I have an analytical mind that’s better suited for writing code, reading books, and discussing philosophical questions. A natural businessman I’m not.
So, while I never wanted to “start a business,” what I always wanted to do was travel, something that I’m obsessed about. I’d rather be sitting in an apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Barcelona or Singapore, rather than sitting in some cubicle in generic and boring Silicon Valley. This is absolutely non-negotiable.
My challenge became to figure out how to make this lifestyle possible. And that’s where making money online comes handy. Do you see what I’m getting at? For me, things happened in reverse: I wasn’t looking to become a businessman, but a businessman discovered me.
Even now, after reaching a certain level of success, I would never call myself a businessman. I’m just a hack who has—through lots and lots of trial and error—figured out how to make a few bucks online that nicely funds my travels and booze.
Nobody fucking knows anything
Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There’s no shortcuts in this game. There are no ways of making lots of money very quickly. If that was the case, then we’d all be rich.
Business is not a science. The outcome can’t be predicted in a lab with pinpoint accuracy. It’s nothing more than a conversation between you and other people (your prospective customers). Sometimes they like what you have to say, other times they don’t. It’s a process, not a one-time shot.
A core characteristic of successful hustlers is their willingness to be comfortable with uncertainty. Since it’s pretty rare to hit a home-run at the first (or 5th) at bat, you need to keep moving, keep testing, keep adjusting, keep improving. And then repeat the process until you get it right. I personally view it as a game and enjoy playing it. If you want to succeed, you must enjoy it as well.
If you can’t deal with uncertainty, if you can’t deal with not knowing how much money you’ll make this month or whether you’ll be able to cover next month’s rent payment, at least initially, I can tell you that you’ll have a pretty difficult time. The only way to mitigate this uncertainty is by having confidence in oneself.
Do you think you’re capable of taking all your experience, knowledge and willpower and molding that into something provides consistent value to others? If not, there’s always a way of receiving a stable bi-weekly paycheck straight to your bank account in exchange for taking orders from someone else.
(If there’s further interest, I can continue with more money-theme posts by getting into some details of location independent businesses)
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