Chris Guillebeau is a writer, entrepreneur, and traveler. His latest book, The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, is now a New York Times bestseller. During a lifetime of self-employment and ventures ranging from online publishing to volunteer work in West Africa, he has visited nearly every country on earth before the age of 35. Host of the World Domination Summit, an international gathering of creative people, Chris is focused on encouraging individual quests while also “giving back.” His main website, ChrisGuillebeau.com, is visited by more than 300,000 people a month.
I interview Chris about his book, how he believes people can start a business on a small budget, how young people can turn their passion into profit, and more.
Why did you call your new book “The $100 startup”? Why is it possible now to start a company for almost no money?
I traveled across the U.S. and around the world, and kept meeting unconventional entrepreneurs — people who had started a business almost unexpectedly, usually without a lot of planning and almost always without a lot of money. Most of them did so for $1,000 or less, and half of them did so for $100 or less. My goal was to tell their stories in a way that readers could use in their own quest for freedom.
It’s now possible to reach people (customers, clients, subscribers, etc.) based on shared ideals and values. Microbusinesses of one sort or another have been around since the beginning of commerce, but the ease of connecting with people is a new phenomenon. Also, a large percentage of the population is being comfortable with making purchases online. These things create a perfect storm of economic convergence. It’s never been easier.
Should college students start businesses over getting internships and jobs? Why or why not?
I’m not interested in telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. What I’d say, however, is that more and more people are opting out of the system. More young people are going it alone and finding much more success by taking matters into their own hands. If you can do so while keeping risk low (i.e. not spending much money), why not try?
Young people choose meaningful work over higher salaries. How can they find work they love and turn it into money?
The key is to connect the work they love with something that other people also love. Not everything you love can be turned into a successful business. I used to play video games, and no matter how good I was at Halo, no one came along to give me a check. However, I later learned that there were *other* things I loved — international travel, creative self-employment, writing — that I could in fact monetize.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on the question of *usefulness*. How will your idea serve others?
Can you share a story from your book of someone who created a successful business with $0 invested?
Most people spent *some* amount of money, even if it was just the cost of a $50 business license or a $10 domain name. But far more important than money was the investment of sweat equity — taking the time to make something meaningful. Brett Kelly wrote Evernote Essentials, a guide to the free Evernote software. His initial goal was that it would make $10,000 over the course of a year. One year later, it had made more than $100,000. Initial startup costs were essentially zero.
What are your top three tips for a $100 startup to get off the ground?
1. Turn your general idea into a specific idea. What’s the product or service? Who is going to buy it? How will you get paid? Again, be as specific as possible.
2. Don’t wait to get going. Aim for 30 days or less to actual startup time. Do whatever it takes to make that happen — get a free website from WordPress.com, sign up for a PayPal account if you don’t have one, and put your offer out to the world even if you don’t think everything is 100% ready.
3. Tell everyone you know about what you’re doing. Don’t spam people, but do contact your friends to say, “Hey, I’m doing this thing — want to help? Can you spread the word?”
4. A bonus, fourth tip: after the offer is out and you get initial feedback, commit to a process of continuous improvement. Every day, identify 1-2 actions you can take to further develop the project. Even if they’re small actions, the process will help you focus on being proactive instead of constantly responding to things.
Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. He is also the #1 international bestselling author of Me 2.0 and was named to the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Subscribe to his updates at Facebook.com/DanSchawbel.