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Do a startup or travel around the world? (paraschopra.com)
67 points by paraschopra on Dec 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

Why did you put an "or" into a question about two things that go together so nicely?

I'd highly recommend starting your own software company. And I'd highly recommend traveling around the world. I've been doing both for the better part of 10 years. At the same time.

So my advice is to do a quick search & replace on your question. Switch "or" for "and", turn it into a statement, then go do it.

Would love to hear your point of view on this. Have you documented your experiences anywhere? Blog post or HN comment?

Also, do you think having such a lifestyle can have be called as truly financially independent?

A quick spin back through my blog reveals that I've been shamefully lax on writing about the actual mechanics of running a software company from the road. I'll need to do something about that.

In the meantime, here's a quick overview of what I've been up to since I started working from the road:


From a financial perspective, it's completely counterintuitive that traveling is actually a lot cheaper than staying at home. But if you think about it a minute, it starts to make sense. Imagine you cut your rent and car payment down to zero (by ditching both car and apartment), as well as all the little bills that went along with them. Now replace that with the comparatively small expense of staying in $5/night accommodation, and otherwise living on about $20/day.

When I was planning my first long trip, taking the $2,000/month "keep life in the US alive" line-item out of the spreadsheet extended my $10k budget from 2 months to 10 months. Bill a day per month, and yes, you're pretty much set for life. Of course, you're only set for life if you don't plan on coming home, so it's probably best to leave a bit in reserve for when you do.

I'm guessing those rates only apply for south-east asia and south america and maybe some rural locations in Europe or eastern europe.

Out of curiosity, are you writing software or managing programmers remotely? I tried traveling and working as a consultant but dual screens and comfy chairs don't do well in a suitcase.

Given the option of a 22 inch monitor in a cube or a 12" thinkpad on a sandy beach, it's amazing how quickly you can get used to coding with small fonts.

South America is more realistically $25/day all in. SE Asia, as mentioned is about $20. Indonesia is more like $10. Africa is free.

Some countries even pay you to come, see Chile and its $40k grant: www.startupchile.org

Can you elaborate on Africa being free?

Free enough that you don't need to think about it as an expense. I think I bottomed out at $0.70 per night for a room in Malawi. Double that if you want to splurge on something nicer.

> I'm guessing those rates only apply for south-east asia and south america and maybe some rural locations in Europe or eastern europe.

For western european hostels budget about 16 euros per day. It used to be closer to 8 but the supply of budget travelers has increased sharply in the last decade.

The details are helpful, thank you. I've been pondering what to do about my room when I leave next week.

I'm thinking about attempting the same thing. Leaving the country in a week and a half. Thinking about getting a few of my ideas out there while I travel.

He wrote "or" not "xor"!

In natural language OR means exclusive or, not inclusive or.

It clearly does not.

or does it?

Surely there's an implied "Either" at the beginning of his question? That's how I would read it.

Do you have any preference towards countries in terms of health care available?

I always feel like the lack of a universal healthcare system in the US discourages lots of people from pursuing a startup full-time.

Whatever happened to Fairtutor (http://www.fairtutor.com/)?

All you people suggesting "do both" - do you really know what you are talking about? We may have different definitions of what a startup is.

If by startup, you mean a one man website that is some kind of low-maintenance subscription service, then yeah sure, go travel the world.

But if you define startup as I do, as a venture-backed, aggressively growing company employing people, then how the hell are you going to travel the world while managing that? Please tell me if you have a way, because I would be genuinely interested :)

I entirely agree. You can sustain a travelling lifestyle with web work, whether a niche, "muse" product or freelancing work, but that's not a startup. A startup requires a lot of "personal, on site" touch.

I put my thoughts together here too: http://swombat.com/2010/12/27/startup-vs-travelling-lifestyl...

Hey, great blog post! Little nitpick: can you edit my name as 'Paras Chopra'? I know my name is not exactly as easy as John Smith :)

Oops! Will fix as soon as I'm in front of my computer (on my iPhone now). I hate it when people misspell my name... But to be fair, I did try to find your full name and couldn't find it on your blog or on twitter, so I had to make a guess :-)

How can you misspell Smooth Wombat :-) I always wondered: is that a Bloom County reference?

Nope... don't know what Bloom County is. It's just the last iteration that I got to when I decided that my previous nick wasn't up to scratch...

FYI: It is/was a newspaper comic strip. The relevant quote was "SMET: the sound of a wet rag hitting a smooth weasel!"

Doing the former - a low-maintenance, mildly profitable company in your spare time whilst travelling the world - certainly doesn't harm your chances of succeeding in a venture-backed, aggressively growing company employing people later in life.

This. I've traveled quite a bit before building my startup and I can attest to A) how distracting the experiences across the world are (why travel and bring work from your country of origin and not travel and work in your destination country, bartending or cleaning dishes, something more cultural?) and B) how involved building a startup is.

With a small, niche, business; I can see it happening no doubt. Like running a small remote consultancy or e-commerce site selling drop shipped products. But a startup needs its founders present, communication face to face is unbeatable and often times your cofounders aren't set to travel the world with you.

So, what's my advice? Live some life while you're building your startup, man; go on short trips, go to Burning Man, visit Prague or fly to the B.V.I for four days. Be sure you have some fun. Once you've either succeeded in making FU money from your startup, or your startup has failed, then go experience the world (you don't need FU money to see the world, hence why you do it even if your startup fails).

My plan? Either FU money, passive income, or a failed startup. Once one of those things happen I'm planning on crewing on a sailboat to get to Europe (or SA, or Aus) and living life for a while outside of the USA (think...years).

It helps to leave one poor sap in the Bay Area to talk to investors, but the rest of you can certainly head off into the sticks.

I've done my share of remote consulting for venture-backed, aggressively growing startups. For the last 6 years, at least, I haven't physically set foot in any of their offices.

If you want to do it with a whole team, here's how I've done it in the past:


We launched our startup http://lanyrd.com/ while travelling around the world - we got ill in Casablanca, Morocco during Ramadan, so we hired an apartment for three weeks and launched the first version of the site. We've continued to work on it while travelling around Egypt and South Africa.

Now that the site's starting to take off we're planning on staying in the same place for a few months (still outside of our home country), but so far we've found balancing the two less difficult than we had expected.

I think the problem is that it's a question of definition... A lot of people here who say that it's possible to travel, define a startup as a smaller "lifestyle" business... If you find a good niche it can bring good money while taking less hours. See for example patio11 for an example of someone in that camp, as a result of his experience and way of thinking he wrote http://www.kalzumeus.com/2009/10/04/work-smarter-not-harder/

Now paraschopra's definition of a startup is closer to the traditional VC backed, big payoff definition. He hopes to make it big, become a leader in the field of A/B testing and get FU money...

None of those two ways of thinking are bad. It's essentially a question of risk and reward... The first can lead to financial independence with a nice recurring revenue (for example letsfreckle.com or one of my customer who earns 20 000$/month profit with his website while delegating all the work) and is usually less riskier and less stressful.

The second type of company is more of a high risk high reward scenario where if you get bought or IPO, you get enough FU money to truly have financial independence...

So, it depends on where you stand on the risk/work reward scale... I don't want to look back in a few years and feel that I've wasted my life trying to earn it. So, while I do work long hours, I take breaks, I go on holidays and I travel and use Wifi connections to do any urgent work that comes up. I don't expect my business to be the next google, facebook or flickr but if it's profitable and allow me to support a comfortable lifetime while eventually not taking too much of my time I'll be happy..

Travel, then startup. I'm kinda doing it backwards at the moment, but I did a fair amount of traveling before going to work at this place and it was some of the most valuable life experience I've ever had.

I think that if I can sum it up in a thought it's this: there is a remarkable difference between reading and thinking and reasoning about a subject, and actually experiencing it. Even if I don't use many of the facts I learned while traveling (i.e. the odds and ends of the Knights of St. John's defense of Rhodes against the Turks and their subsequent move to Malta), I learned that it's one thing to read about the layered defense of Rhodes, and another to actually walk among it.

In other words, I can read and reason all I want about the situation of my customers, and their problems and solutions to those problems, but until I actually get about working with them, in their space, on their problem set, with their data, and within their constraints, I'll never really get their issues and thus never really provide a 1-1 solution for those issues.

It might seem like a simple concept, one I thought I understood before I set about traveling far and wide, but I really grokked it much better after seeing the world and trying to understand.

(oh, and the never ending different national interpretations of historic world events I find endlessly fascinating and very perspective setting -- very helpful when understanding how to think like your customers)

You have to work extremely hard (think 100+ hours per week) for several years


Interestingly I'm mentioned in that blog post :)

But I still don't agree with that premise..

>Startup requires a lot of sacrifices from you. You have to work extremely hard (think 100+ hours per week) for several years.

100 + hours of work per week?!

What kind of startup is this? That's 14 hours / day!

yep, sounds about right.

You need to hire people. If you can't afford to hire people, then you don't have a business.

I'd say travel now, and do a startup later. You need a kind of focus if you do a startup that you just can't achieve when travelling.

Why not?

Some posts here talk about living in a foreign country for some time while doing a startup. That is different from travelling around the world. It's not the same spending 2 or three months in the same place than spending just 1 or 2 days in a place and then continue travelling. In the latter assumption, I don't see it viable.

Why do you have to spend only a couple days at each location?

My rule of thumb is I need to stay about a month at each location, so that I don't feel rushed and it's worth the time to setup a temporary base.

A week-long vacation, trying to cram everything in the shortest amount of time, is not real "traveling" for me.

Why can't you work and travel? Many cities in the world have good wifi, cafes and cheap hotels and its possible to work and travel at the same time.

In fact, it can be quite refreshing to meet different kinds of people (not just more startup people). I did this for three months this year (lived in Saigon) and I look forward to doing more of this in the coming years

I think I see a big false assumption in a lot of comments on this thread. That being, that good wifi only exists in cities.

That's probably true in the US, and to a lesser extent Europe, but in places like Southeast Asia, Central & South America, etc., the internet is everywhere. As in, pick the most remote beach you can find, and so long as there is a little grass hut to sell you beer, there will also be an internet cafe.

The cool part is that the more off the beaten track you go, the cheaper things get. Look in the jungle behind that beer-selling, wifi-having, hammock-laden beach bar and you'l find rows of little bungalows that you can rent for $200 per month.

Bootstrap your startup on a beach like that and suddenly "ramen profitable" becomes "paradise profitable", and you'll discover that you can live there indefinitely on just a few dozen new paid accounts per month. Or, if you prefer, do one day's worth of billable work per month to keep you living like a king.

Don't forget to send us a postcard.

I'm typing this from my iPhone in a bar in Siem Reap, Cambodia, so forgive my brevity and spelling.

Wifi might be prevalent in most places but quality and reliability will always be am issue. I've found it to be ubiquitous is SE Asia, however I've had days where slowness could cause even SSH to bog down to a few characters a minute.

Bigger issue, do you mean travel or live in a foreign country? Because yes, you can very easily find a cheap country with good internet, but traveling itself can be a full time job when you're only spending a week at a time in one place.

If it were me, I'd just travel, and do the startup later.

Hey, I'm thinking about stopping by in Siem Reap when I set off to southeast asia (and start working on my project) in a few months. Do you have some tips about good places to stop by in southeast asia?(by that i mean, interesting places that are also work-friendly) Can I reach you somewhere (no contact on your HN profile)?

The biggest cost I see in doing a startup from rural SEA is that there's no one doing the same thing to meet up with in person periodically. That's the main advantage of the bay area (and of course access to customers, investors, and partners).

I travel with a Sprint Touch Pro 2 (GSM/CDMA hybrid) and with Sprint's international unlimited data plan for $40/mo I have 3G in over 100 countries. Perfect when there is no wifi around!

Exactly, that's what I'm going to do starting end of february for 5 months. 2 months in jakarta where my girlfriend finishes a job, and then 3 months in southeast asia, planning to stay a couple of weeks in the same place, working on software projects and doing a bit of exploring. Would really like to hear more about people who did that, as I have a couple of questions that remain unanswered for now.

- Do you create a company before leaving, or after coming back home? (That would allow you to charge for early versions of your product, thus verifying people are interested to buy)

- How do you tap in the local developer/designer community to outsource part of your project?

- How do you decide whether to rent an apartment/stay in hotels? I would prefer to stay in an apartment, however I imagine you stay first in a hotel in a couple of days before deciding to rent an apartment.

- What kind of place did you find more energizing to work at? A busy metropolis, or a remote village with fantastic views but no like-minded people?

1. I don't think having a registered company is really important. You can get started with Paypal without having a company. Atleast in Vietnam, you can get a bank account by just showing your passport

2. Be on a lookout for local barcamps/tech events. I attended Barcamp Saigon last month and it was big - http://twitpic.com/3f8gn0

3. Start off by staying in a hotel and then move into an apartment if you want to.

4. I think this depends mostly on where you come from. Since I come from India, I like the hustle bustle of a place like Saigon. Also there are a lot of clubs there and I like that. The best part is that you can easily move to another city if you want to. You just have your backpack to carry around :)

Seriously, it can easily become an "and" statement right there. In the past 2 months, I've been in almost every major US city and that's without a huge sales/marketing push. If you build the culture and company right you can literally go anywhere for a good purpose:

a) telecommuting employees

b) visiting customers

c) potential recruiting

d) valuable conferences

Startups are a crazy crazy adventure.

I would say if your startup is not in one of the current 'hot' spaces like private shopping, group buying, etc. and can wait then definitely travel around the world, but travel with a entrepreneur perspective, dont just spend your money on the beaches drinking expensive cocktails :) travel the countries, watch their economy, local business models. I thinks most of the travel destinations are current emerging economies. Think about how technology can facilitate the developments in those markets. Face the realities. Talk to people from the industry your startup is aiming at in those countries. Note everything, think about if your idea is applicable in those markets. How will you expand if you decide to go global. Think big. After travel I think you will have a more solid and healthier business idea with global perspective.

In a couple of weeks I will launch http://storageroomapp.com and a little later move to Buenos Aires for a couple of months and work from there.

This of course has disadvantages, I cannot speak to local customers in person, but on the other hand living is much cheaper and more interesting than at the current place I call home.

I wouldn't want to manage a startup while traveling from place to place, but I think it should be no problem to just work from somewhere else and do weekend trips. This is exciting enough for me and I think I can get to know the world better with a couple of short term stays than traveling non-stop.

If I feel I need to go home to make progress, I go home, otherwise I will continue to live in different places all around the world.

I've done some startups in interesting places (Anguilla, Sealand, Iraq), and decided to take 6 months to travel around the world diving before going full time on my new startup (in Palo Alto). I figure once I have employees, customers, etc., it will be several years before I can go on a stress-free vacation.

While it's possible to travel and do certain kinds of "lifestyle" startup, I think traveling around the world, or even extensive personal trips, are incompatible with a high-intensity venture funded startup. It's just not fair to the other team members who depend on you, your investors, etc. I can see taking 4 weeks a year off (spread out a bit) as long as you stay reachable, but that's about the limit.

Traveling around the world solo while running a business is not going to work out. If you travel in a group, it's possible.

Can you expand on why this is so?

You will be lonely, and making new friends takes a lot of time away from your work, and you'll not know where to get cheap stuff or where to go and all that. If you just go to one place, it's doable, but travelling around the world alone and trying to bootstrap something sounds near impossible.

do both, learn the needs of the people, find an interesting problem to solve, then find an interesting city where you can teach English and earn a steady income to finance your project.

I started to comment before deciding to turn it into a blog post instead:


Whatever you do, enjoy every minute and day of doing it. Don't make it feel like a sacrifice, waiting for that magical future to happen. Worst thing you could do is run a startup and feel bad about it or that you are missing out on something. Happiness is in the here, in the now.

I swear someone really famous wrote a book on this...

haha. . does it start with a 4 by any chance ;)

I don't really see the point of doing a start up to fund some vague future travel. If you want to travel go travel.

If you have to ask, travel.

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