Run a startup, travel the world, defy convention: Q&A with Chris Guillebeau

[Here’s a Q&A I originally posted on Memeburn]

Building a startup on-the-go while you travel the world may seem unlikely. The status quo would have us believe it borders on the impossible. Thing is, Chris Guillebeau has done just that. Oh and he also writes books and evangelically spreads his unconventional ideas on entrepreneurship and startup communities.

The word “unconventional” is actually a pretty accurate description of Guillebeau. The American entrepreneur reckons you can build a startup for less than US$100 and even wrote a book explaining how. His popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, focuses on travel and personal development topics and meshes with his personal mission of helping people live life by their own rules using a “non-conformist” lifestyle.

We caught up with him during his travels and talked about his insights on building a startup, how he uses technology and where he thinks the next “big thing” in tech will come from.

MB: Building a startup while office-bound is hard enough, how do you build both a startup and a community as you travel the world?

CG: I’ve never separated travel from my work. For 10 years I’ve been actively travelling to 20+ countries a year, and for the same time I’ve been building online projects. I think it helps that I enjoy what I do. I don’t feel like I’m struggling because I’m motivated to keep working away.

MB: You are constantly building ‘Unconventional Products For World Domination’ and send blog updates, sometimes in airports, from the world. What are the top three things that go into building a new product?

CG:

  1. Understand what people really want. (It’s not always what they say they want.)
  2. Create a highly compelling offer. The offer is at least as important than the product or service itself, and most people save it for last. Don’t save it; design your whole structure around the offer.
  3. Ensure good follow-up and over-deliver whenever possible. Your customers will stay with you for life if you keep helping them.

MB: You recently released a book to help writers get their books published. What doesn’t the world know about self-publishing?

CG: The world doesn’t know that the break between self-publishing and traditional publishing is overstated. You can self-publish and traditionally publish. For me, I love both options.

MB: Can cheap, democratised technology overcome barriers in entrepreneurship?

CG: Sure, and we see that especially in Africa. In the future I think we’ll have more and more African entrepreneurs accessing a global marketplace instead of just buying and selling within Africa.

MB: In 2011, you embarked on your ‘Unconventional Book Tour’ which involved your blog readers. What three lessons can you share from that tour and rallying your audience as part of a cause for common interest?

CG: The book tour is continuing now and I hope to visit South Africa at some point. (I’ve been many times as a traveller, but never as an author on tour). Among other things, I learned that meeting readers is an excellent source of inspiration. After a meetup, I go away thinking about the people I heard from, many of whom are living remarkable lives of their own. It helps me to serve them better when I know who they are.

MB: What’s the most challenging tech situation you’ve ever found yourself in?

CG: I’m constantly searching for Wi-Fi access everywhere I go. Surprisingly, some poor countries have better access than some rich countries. It just depends on the country and even the specific area.

MB: What’s your latest book, The $100 Startup about?

CG: Two things. First, it’s the story of 70 “unexpected entrepreneurs” from all over the world who started businesses by using small amounts of money and the skills they already had. Second, it’s a blueprint for readers to do the same. The goal is to inspire a revolution of freedom, as more and more people choose self-employment over traditional jobs.

MB: What has changed for you since you built your first startup, which inspired you to write a book to educate entrepreneurs?

CG: I’ve learned to become more strategic. In the early days, I was primarily concerned with getting by and paying the bills. This was better than working a regular job, of course, but I wasn’t really building anything of real value. These days I feel focused on a clear goal, so it’s a lot easier.

MB: Where do you think the next big tech innovator will come from?

CG: I’m less interested in innovation and more interested in usefulness. Most of us aren’t going to make the next iPhone, but we can all make something that improves people’s lives. To me, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.

The Kindle version of The $100 Startup is already available for sale.

 

NetwebTV Tech4Africa Special

I recently wrote about the Tech4Africa Conference, which actually turned out to be amazing. More awesome than the conference itself were the organizers, who gave me an all-access blogger pass. Emerging Media and the Tech4Africa team are rockstars.

We interviewed some of the speakers, delegates and Seedcamp participants.

The Tech4Africa Special

In this NetwebTV special, we spoke to:

  • Gareth Knight, the founder of Tech4Africa, about how it was received and whether the change he foresaw ago when we spoke was achieved.
  • Gareth Ochse – the founder of iSigned and one of the competitors in Seedcamp Africa. I heard they are also one of the companies who qualified to attend Seedcamp Week in London

Speakers and delegates

We also caught up with some of the speakers and delegates who gave us their views on development in Africa as a whole.

Erik Hersman, the co-founder of Ushahidi spoke their development and how it’s changing lives. It is also one of the most talked about projects on the web.

Mark Kaigwa, a Creative Director and Entrepreneur shares his views about the conference and what it means for Africa. Kenya is 4 to 5 countries away from where conference was, so Mark came a long way.

Clay Shirky was the keynote speaker at the conference and he also took a moment to speak to us. In a nutshell – Clay is a professor, speaker, thought leader and an icon in all things economics, community and open source.  He is the author of 2 books and shares his expert views on how social phenomena were started small and grew globally.

Take a look at the video below and share some of your views with us in the comments.

Learn from the best at Tech4Africa

In the third episode of NetWebTV, I was fortunate to interview Gareth Knight. His views on building a business, I have followed since (with a bit of tweaking for context). Now, any opportunity available to hear him speak I cease every time.

The episode is more about how he built a company that got acquired and a project he was developing at the time called Tech4Africa. As he put it then, it was meant to be a conference that brings global viewpoints to the African context. The chicken in me at the time thought it was overwhelming and impossible. Fast forward to over a year later, the idea has spread online and tickets have become more coveted than a black BMW M6 convertible in Soweto.

More accessible than the shiny M6

This conference, being the first of its kind in South Africa and possibly Africa, might have been inaccessible for people in South Africa. Mostly the entrepreneurs who need to attend it. That’s one of the questions I asked Gareth off camera.

Seemingly he gave that a lot of thought to that and worked it into the package. Not to mention having tickets that are discounted to make it even more worth your while. The caliber of speakers and topics they have challenge current thinking. I find that a significant influential force in contemporary business ethic.

Is it for everyone?

No. And like all things that are really worth your time and investment, it shouldn’t.

The conference is very focused. It is about technology and how it affects you as an entrepreneur. The knowledge of speakers like Clay Shirky, is definitely for people who want to make real and rapid progress. Fortunately, not everyone is that person which means there is only a few of you out there. Otherwise there would not be such a great demand for you.

I was meant to tell you more about the learning prospects at the conference.

Tech4Africa Scholarships

One of the major things lacking in Africa is the skill needed to develop globally competitive businesses, but the conference also addresses that. The discounted tickets already make it easier to attend, but in partnership with Old Mutual, the conference also has tickets for people who need to need learn.

Below are some workshops and what they are about:

1. A masterclass in Usability and Accessibility

Gain expert knowledge from a global leader in usability and accessibility

Usability tests are an excellent way of discovering problems with a product or service.

2. Google University

A deep dive into Google Analytics and Adwords

Google Analytics is a powerful web analytics tool, AND it’s free, and Google Adwords is a great way to drive traffic to your site. However, you get the most out of them when you understand how they work, and how to customise for your needs.

3. A Masterclass in Architecting applications and Advanced Javascript

Learn best practice for developing applications that enable you to work fast and agile, whilst being robust and secure; and learn advanced features of the JavaScript language to create complex applications

4. Successful digital projects

A strategic look at the digital project implementation lifecycle, for decision makers and programme managers.

Whether you want to or not, you are now project managing a group of (hopefully) willing people to create a product that you are attempting to get done in an (un)reasonable amount of time, within an (in)sane budget.

For the entrepreneur there is Seedcamp.

Seedcamp is a programme created to jumpstart the entrepreneurial community in Europe, and now Africa, by connecting next generation developers and entrepreneurs with over 400 mentors from a top-tier network of company builders; including seed investors, serial entrepreneurs, product experts, HR and PR specialists, marketers, lawyers, recruiters, journalists and venture capitalists.

The scholarship applications close tomorrow.  Go on, signup and read more here.

Aside: No BMWs were dreamt of during the writing of this post.

Not tech savvy . . .

So why don’t you attend the BarCamp in Johannesburg tomorrow? The BarCamp is an unconference  where anyone can raise a relevant topic that you think is worth sharing at the session. Besides, geek has been the new cool for a long time long time now.

Some active  and influential online professionals will be attending, sponsoring and presenting over the 2 days of this prestigious gathering. If you want to find out how the movers of social media locally are doing it, this is one of the places to be.

Some of the proposed sessions that will be covered:

  • Add your session here, it can be as short as 5 minutes
  • Build a quick Twitter mashup using Django & Jquery in 30 mins
  • Guitar Hero multi-playa – just to unwind
  • OSSA – FLOSS Lobby Group
  • JavaFX

Go to the page and proposed your own session, if you have anything to offer. They also welcome sponsorships and other contributions.

Signup here to attend and you’ll be boat-loads more tech-savvy by Monday.