The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future

by Chris Guillebeau

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307951526
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/08/2012
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 33,536
Product dimensions: 5.86(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

CHRIS GUILLEBEAU is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The $100 Startup and The Happiness of Pursuit, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller Born for This. He is creator and host of the annual World Domination Summit, a gathering of cultural creatives that attracts such speakers as Susan Cain, Brené Brown, and Gretchen Rubin. Guillebeau speaks at dozens of events, companies, and universities, including Google, Facebook, SXSW, Evernote, LeWeb, and more. He recently completed a personal quest to visit every country in the world (193/193).

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 • Renaissance

You already have the skills you need—you just have to know where to look.

“The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”

—maya angelou

On the Monday morning of May 4, 2009, Michael Hanna put on a Nordstrom suit with a colorful tie and headed to his office building in downtown Portland, Oregon. A twenty-five-year veteran sales professional, Michael spent his days attending meetings, pitching clients, and constantly responding to email.

Arriving at work, he settled into his cubicle, reading the news and checking a few emails. One of the messages was from his boss, asking to see him later that day. The morning passed uneventfully: more emails, phone calls, and planning for a big pitch. Michael took a client out to lunch, stopping off for an espresso recharge on the way back in. He returned in time to fire off a few more replies and head to the boss’s office.

Inside the office, Michael took a seat and noticed that his boss didn’t make eye contact. “After that,” he says, “everything happened in slow motion. I had heard story after story of this experience from other people, but I was always disconnected from it. I never thought it could happen to me.”

His boss mentioned the downturn in the economy, the unavoidable need to lose good people, and so on. An H.R. manager appeared out of nowhere, walking Michael to his desk and handing him a cardboard box—an actual box!—to pack up his things. Michael wasn’t sure what to say, but he tried to put on a brave face for his nearby colleagues. He drove home at two-thirty, thinking about how to tell his wife, Mary Ruth, and their two children that he no longer had a job.

After the shock wore off, Michael settled into an unfamiliar routine, collecting unemployment checks and hunting for job leads. The search was tough. He was highly qualified, but so were plenty of other people out pounding the pavement every day. The industry was changing, and it was far from certain that Michael could return to a well-paying job at the same level he had worked before.

One day, a friend who owned a furniture store mentioned that he had a truckload of closeout mattresses and no use for them. “You could probably sell these things one at a time on Craigslist and do pretty well,” he told Michael. The idea sounded crazy, but nothing was happening on the job front. Michael figured if nothing else, he could at least sell the mattresses at cost. He called Mary Ruth: “Honey, it’s a long story, but is it OK if I buy a bunch of mattresses?”

The next step was to find a location to stash the goods. Hunting around the city, Michael found a car dealership that had gone out of business recently. Times were hard in the real estate business too, so when Michael called the landlord to see if he could set up shop inside the old showroom, he had a deal. The first inventory went quickly through Craigslist and word of mouth, and the biggest problem was answering questions from potential customers about what kind of mattress they should buy. “I had no business plan and no knowledge of mattresses,” Michael said. “My impression of mattress stores was that they were seedy, high-pressure places. I wasn’t sure what kind of place I was trying to build, but I knew it had to be a welcoming environment where customers weren’t hassled.”

After the first experience went well, Michael took the plunge and studied up on mattresses, talking to local suppliers and negotiating with the landlord to remain in the former car showroom. Mary Ruth built a website. The concept of a no-hard-sell mattress store went over well in Portland, and business grew when the store offered the industry’s first-ever mattress delivery by bicycle. (A friend built a custom tandem bike with a platform on the back that could hold a king-size mattress.) Customers who rode their own bikes to the store received free delivery, a pricing tactic that inspired loyalty and a number of fan videos uploaded to YouTube.

It wasn’t what Michael had ever expected to do, but he had built a real business, profitable right from the first truckload of mattresses and providing enough money to support his family. On the two-year anniversary of his abrupt departure from corporate life, Michael was looking through his closet when he spotted the Nordstrom suit he had worn on his last day. Over the last two years, he hadn’t worn it—or any other professional dress clothes—a single time. He carried the suit out to his bike, dropped it off at Goodwill, and continued on to the mattress store. “It’s been an amazing two years since I lost my job,” he says now. “I went from corporate guy to mattress deliveryman, and I’ve never been happier.”

Across town from Michael’s accidental mattress shop, first-time entrepreneur Sarah Young was opening a yarn store around the same time. When asked why she took the plunge at the height of the economic downturn and with no experience running a business, Sarah said: “It’s not that I had no experience; I just had a different kind of experience. I wasn’t an entrepreneur before, but I was a shopper. I knew what I wanted, and it didn’t exist, so I built it.” Sarah’s yarn store, profiled further in Chapter 11, was profitable within six months and has inspired an international following.

Meanwhile, elsewhere around the world, others were skipping the part about having an actual storefront, opening Internet-based businesses at almost zero startup cost. In England, Susannah Conway started teaching photography classes for fun and got the surprise of her life when she made more money than she did as a journalist. (Question: “What did you not foresee when starting up?” Answer: “I didn’t know I was starting up!”)

Benny Lewis graduated from a university in Ireland with an engineering degree, but never put it to use. Instead he found a way to make a living as a “professional language hacker,” traveling the world and helping students quickly learn to speak other languages. (Question: “Is there anything else we should know about your business?” Answer: “Yes. Stop calling it a business! I’m having the time of my life.”)

Welcome to the strange new world of micro-entrepreneurship. In this world, operating independently from much of the other business news you hear about, Indian bloggers make $200,000 a year. Roaming, independent publishers operate from Buenos Aires and Bangkok. Product launches from one-man or one-woman businesses bring in $100,000 in a single day, causing nervous bank managers to shut down the accounts because they don’t understand what’s happening.

Oddly, many of these unusual businesses thrive by giving things away, recruiting a legion of fans and followers who support their paid work whenever it is finally offered. “My marketing plan is strategic giving,” said Megan Hunt, who makes hand-crafted dresses and wedding accessories in Omaha, Nebraska, shipping them all over the world. “Empowering others is our greatest marketing effort,” said Scott Meyer from South Dakota. “We host training sessions, give away free materials, and answer any question someone emails to us at no charge whatsoever.”

In some ways, renegade entrepreneurs who buck the system and go it alone are nothing new. Microbusinesses—businesses typically run by only one person—have been around since the beginning of commerce. Merchants roamed the streets of ancient Athens and Rome, hawking their wares. In many parts of rural Africa and Asia, much commerce still takes place through small transactions and barter.

Unconventional approaches to marketing and public relations have also been around for a while. Long before it was common, a band had an idea for communicating directly with fans, bypassing the traditional structure of record labels as much as possible. The fans felt like they were part of a community instead of just a crowd of adoring listeners. Oh, and instead of relying primarily on album sales for income, the band would rely on ticket sales and merchandising at an unending series of live concerts. The example sounds like it’s happening today, but the year was 1967, and the band was the Grateful Dead.

What’s new, however, is how quickly someone can start a business and reach a group of customers. The building process is much faster and cheaper today than it has ever been. Going from idea to startup can now take less than a month and cost less than $100—just ask any of the people whose stories you’ll read in this book. Commerce may have been around forever, but scale, reach, and connection have changed dramatically. The handyman who does odd jobs and repairs used to put up flyers at the grocery store; now he advertises through Google to people searching for “kitchen cabinet installation” in their city.

It’s not an elitist club; it’s a middle-class, leaderless movement. All around the world, ordinary people are opting out of traditional employment and making their own way. Instead of fighting the system, they’re creating their own form of work—usually without much training, and almost always without much money. These unexpected entrepreneurs have turned their passion into profit while creating a more meaningful life for themselves.

What if you could do this too? What if you could have the same freedom to set your own schedule and determine your own priorities? Good news: Freedom is possible. More good news: Freedom isn’t something to be envisioned in the vaguely distant future—the future is now.

The $100 Startup Model

I’ve been hearing stories about unconventional businesses for at least a decade, even as I’ve been operating a series of them myself. Through my work as a writer and entrepreneur, I had access to a wide circle of microbusiness case studies: profitable businesses typically run solely by one person without much in the way of startup capital. In preparing for a comprehensive study, I began by checking with many of my friends and colleagues, but I didn’t stop there.

In 2010 I produced a series of workshops on low-budget business ideas with Pamela Slim, author of Escape from Cubicle Nation. The first time we announced a workshop, it sold out in ninety minutes. We then offered spots in another workshop that wouldn’t be held for several months, and it sold out before lunchtime. Since it was clear we had found a demand for this information, I dug deeper.

While hosting the workshops, I became interested in the “follow-your-passion” model—the idea that successful small businesses are often built on the pursuit of a personal hobby or interest. I conducted interviews with entrepreneurs all over the world and documented their stories for an online course called the Empire Building Kit. The course was the inspiration for launching the project on a wider scale and then for writing this book.

I had a number of case studies in mind at the outset, but in preparation for writing the book, I cast the net much wider. I drew respondents from online and offline, collecting data through a Google form that grew to thousands of data points. As I traveled to sixty-three cities in North America on a book tour, I kept meeting and hearing about more unconventional, accidental entrepreneurs.

When I finally closed the nomination process, I had more than 1,500 respondents to choose from. All of the respondents met at least four of the following six criteria:

• “Follow-your-passion” model. Many people are interested in building a business that is based on a hobby or activity they are especially enthusiastic about. As we’ll see, not every passion leads to big bank deposits, but some certainly do.

• Low startup cost. I was interested in businesses that required less than $1,000 in startup capital, especially those which cost almost nothing (less than $100) to begin.

• At least $50,000 a year in net income. I wanted profitable businesses that earned at least as much as the average North American income. As we go along, you’ll notice that the range varies considerably, with many businesses earning healthy six-figure incomes or higher, but a baseline profitability level of at least $50,000 a year was required.

• No special skills. Since we were looking at ordinary people who created a successful business, I had a bias toward businesses that anyone can operate. This point can be hard to define, but there’s a key distinction: Many businesses require specialized skills of some kind, but they are skills that can be acquired through a short period of training or independent study. You could learn to be a coffee roaster on the job, for example, but hopefully not a dentist.

• Full financial disclosure. Respondents for the study agreed to disclose their income projection for the current year and actual income for at least the previous two years. Furthermore, they had to be willing to discuss income and expenses in specific terms.

• Fewer than five employees. For the most part, I was interested in unexpected or accidental entrepreneurs who deliberately chose to remain small. Many of the case studies are from businesses operated strictly by one person, which closely relates to the goal of personal freedom that so many respondents identified.

I excluded businesses that were in “adult” or quasi-legal markets, and in most cases also excluded businesses that were highly technical or required special skills to operate. The baseline test was, “Could you explain what you do to your grandmother, and would you be willing to?”

Next, I wanted to look at businesses started by people all over the world. About half of our stories come from the United States, and half come from the rest of the world. From Silicon Valley to Atlanta, the U.S. is a hub for entrepreneurship, both in terms of values and ease of startup. But as we’ll see, people from all over the world are creating their own microbusinesses, sometimes following the U.S. model and other times doing it independently.

Finally, in making the last selections for the studies presented here, I had a bias toward “interesting” stories. Not every business needs to be sexy or trendworthy—in fact, many of the ones here aren’t—but I liked stories that highlighted originality and creativity. Two years ago in Minneapolis, Lisa Sellman attracted my attention by telling me about her dog care business. At first, I didn’t think much of it. How profitable could a dog care business be? But then Lisa told me how much money she made: $88,000 the previous year and on track to clear six figures the next. All of a sudden I was interested. How did Lisa do it?.?.?.?and what lessons could we learn from her?

Table of Contents

Prologue: Manifesto

A short guide to everything you want xiii

Part I Unexpected Entrepreneurs

1 Renaissance

You already have the skills you need- you just have to know where to look. 2

2 Give Them the Fish

How to put happiness in a box and sell it 22

3 Follow Your Passion … Maybe

Get paid to do what you love by making sure it connects to what other people want 40

4 The Rise of the Roaming Entrepreneur

"Location, location, location" is overrated. 56

5 The New Demographics

Your customers all have something in common, but it has nothing to do with old-school categories. 74

Part II Taking it to the Streets

6 The One-Page Business Plan

If your mission statement is much longer than this sentence, it could be too long. 92

7 An Offer You Can't Refuse

The step-by-step guide to creating a killer offer. 108

8 Launch!

A trip to Hollywood from your living room or the corner coffee shop. 126

9 Hustling: The Gentle Art of Self-Promotion

Advertising is like sex: Only losers pay for it. 146

10 Show Me the Money

Unconventional fundraising from Kickstarter to unlikely car loans. 162

Part III Leverage and Next Steps

11 Moving On Up

Tweaking your way to the bank: How small actions create big increases in income. 184

12 How to Franchise Yourself

Instructions on cloning yourself for fun and profit. 202

13 Going Long

Become as big as you want to be (and no bigger). 228

14 But What If I Fail?

How to succeed even if your roof caves in on you. 244

Coda 261

Disclosures and Interesting Facts 265

But Wait, There's More! 267

Fish Stories Appendix: Twenty-Five Selected Case Studies 269

Gratitude 273

Rockstars from the $100 Startup 275

Index 279

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The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
GeoffreyW More than 1 year ago
Two years ago I was lost and really had no idea where I was taking my life; a college student at the time I was kicked out for a semester for bad grades. While trying to ease my self-pity I browsed barnes & nobel (sorry amazon) and saw Chris's first book "The Art of Non-Conformity". Feeling like an outsider already I decided to buy it and see where it would take me. Needless to say I couldn't put it down and finished it in 9 non-stop hours; it literally changed my life and my way of thinking. From that point I decided I would find a way to become location independent so I could travel the world while self-educating myself. The result: Two years later I'm making $3,000 a month and completely location independent. Some would scoff at the earnings of only $3000 a month but think of it like this - this is $3000 making my own hours, not having a boss, and being able to work in fun places like Santa Cruz, Boliva (which I did this past winter). I'm also two years in to my own "self-college", teaching myself literature, spanish, and business. The "$100 Start-Up" is perfect for those wanting to achieve this goal. I wish I had this two years ago because it is thorough, limits the fluff, and gives you ACTIONABLE steps to get things done. It is possible, and Chris has done an amazing job of giving you a blue-print to get there. Bottom Line: Chris changed my life and he can change yours; buy this book and never look back.
Mike41 More than 1 year ago
Oh, it is of some value. While I was reading it I did make some notes about how I might adapt some of the approaches of the people whose businesses are discussed in the book to the business that I intend to start up. There are some things that I probably would not have thought of by myself. The book "Platform..." by Michael Hyatt covers some of the same ground but is better in that it provides more specifics. The main value of $100 Startup is in the sketches of the various micro-businesses that have succeeded. Unfortunately the sketches are just that--- really brief. The author emphasizes the necessity of "launching" a new product in a vigorous and planned way. The reason is that your best prospects are members of your pre-existing repeat customer base (which could simply consist of people who regularly visit your website). You don't want to make a lackluster presentation of a new product to them because that will turn them off and they will ignore your further exhortations. That discussion may be of value to you as it is in some depth and the author provides some specifics as to how to proceed. To get to it you'll have to wade through a first chapter that starts with a pitiful attempt at poetry by "Maya Angelou" (actual name Marguerite Ann Johnson) and has a facing page with a drawing of a man riding a bicycle with a mattress on the back. Incredibly, the story of the mattress on the bicycle is about one of the author's heroes, a nut from Portland, Oregon who, to seek collective salvation of some kind by being "green", delivers the mattresses that he sells to customers who ride their bikes to his store for free... on the back of a special bicycle. Yeah. Really. That's a good thing to do in a little town like Portland where it never rains and there are few cars on the roads. If you look at the reviews on Amazon you'll see that this guy Chris Guillebeau is presented as a genius. I can explain that. It's "logrolling". Google "logrolling free online dictionary" and take a look at the second definition: "The exchanging of favors or praise, as among artists, critics, or academics." Michael Hyatt and Chris Guillebeau endorse each other for business reasons, as favors to each other. That's how I got stuck with this book. Don't believe it? Buy Platform. Hyatt spells it out how you have to seek endorsements prior to launching your book. There are many groupies/wannabees who, for whatever reason, hang on to characters like Michael Hyatt and Chris Guillebeau. Those are your commenters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best book on creating and growing your own business I've ever read! I've been looking to make myself more financially independent from my day job, and this book has provided me the tools and the inspiration I needed to start a side project. My first website is all ready up, and I'm working on developing my first product. At first I thought about doing something to just make a little extra money on the side, but now I'm actually thinking I could do something to replace my day job. I recommend this for everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't buy a lot of books, but I'm glad I bought this one. I've been thinking about starting my own business and this book felt like a coach on the sidelines encouraging me and making me believe it's possible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read - perfect for those that dream about escaping the mundane and chasing yor dreams. Absolutely love his advice about how we internally wait to take the plunge because of internal fears, etc. The key is - don't way - just do it and he offers advice from hundreds of proven entrep that back up his advice. Best book on this topic I have read to date. Thanks Chris,
wolftever More than 1 year ago
This book was a revelation. It completely changed my life, for the better. The stories he tells, the advice and instruction he offers, are so simple that it's hard to believe I hadn't put all the pieces of the puzzle together before. A real eye-opener. I just read it last month and I've already got my new life plan underway. Still working my "real job" for a while longer, but have already started my own business on the side and am working some other angles. My goal is to be completely free of my "real job" by the end of 2012. I've never read a more inspirational book that also offered real, solid, valuable real-world advice. I highly recommend this book to ANYONE ready to make a major change in their life, and become independent of "the man."
Flaming_Patriot More than 1 year ago
Great follow up to the Art of Non-Conformity. I enjoyed AONC more, but I picked up this book because I'm working on a start-up. It is a quick, easy read with a lot of great insights and anecdotes.
anneb10 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Chris Guillebeau is well-known for his desire to go to every country on the planet before his 35th birthday (on track to do so), and his website, The Art of Non-Conformity. At the website, he offers up travel wisdom and products to help his readers make the jump from corporate slave to entrepreneur. His latest book is an expansion on this idea.The book is well-written and easily understood; more conversation than how-to. He makes the idea of starting your own business - any type of business - not only palatable but eminently do-able. Chris gives not only the example of his own life, but many case studies and anecdotes from real-life entrepreneurs such as the well-known Grammar Girl. He offers up a framework of how to get started, for very little money, how to keep the business going and growing, and even what happens if you (should) fail. The illustrations, done by artist Mike Rohde, are well-done and fit the flavor of the book to a T.All in all, if you are a follower of Pam Slim, or are thinking of striking out on your own, this book is for you. If you just want to flirt with the idea of going into business for yourself, this book is worth reading, if only to fire you up. And if you are a fan of Chris Guillebeau, this book is a must-read.
loveradiator on LibraryThing 3 months ago
This book is full of helpful stories that show people, young and old, who have been able to live their dreams. It's not for the faint of heart, but assuming that you have the courage to take the first step the author provides tools to help you along the way. Reminds me of "Action Trumps Everything: Creating What You Want in an Uncertain World" in that you don't have to have everything perfectly planned out in advance. Get started today and adjust as you go along!What I liked about this book was how everything is laid out as a possibility to be explored. There is no one size fits all. He even shows how some people became fabulously successful doing the exact opposite of someone else. And success is measured with your own yardstick, not based on who makes the most money or does the biggest volume. The book gives you a lot to think about but most of all it encourages you to take action.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book that motivates the would-be entrepreneur. Some really good tips, and the book could serve as a useful reference tool. It surveys beginning a lean startup, but doesn’t treat any one subject with much depth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read!
LisaDunckley More than 1 year ago
The $100 Startup is an interesting book. It has a couple of unusual premises, one is that many many entrepreneurs are more successful if they DON'T expand. We seem to be programmed to think that success means expansion! If one location is good, two must be twice as good, right? Not necessarily for quality of life, it turns out. Another idea that goes along with this, is how for some people, doing everything themselves works the best, not depending on others. And for other businesses, delegating as much as possible seems to be what makes things work. It's important to be openminded about this—don't refuse to try to delegate just because you think you should do it all, and conversely, don't insist on hiring outsiders (or even employees) just because other people think you should. Probably the most important takeaway I got from this book is, do the things that you get paid for. Having a perfect website is not the most important thing. Delaying your opening until the décor is perfect is not important. Do the things that people want to pay you for, and keep doing those things! I think we all get sidetracked trying to make things perfect, when it's not crucial. There are many many case studies in this book, complete with what they spent to start up AND what they earn. Which is something you don't get in other business books. This book is very readable and engaging, overall very enjoyable.
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A_Southern_Ladys_Rambling More than 1 year ago
I really love this book. I think that is has some great information that I have not found in any other business start-up book around. I have found information that I feel like i can really use to make things happen.
TheGreenButterfly More than 1 year ago
This book was everything that I had hoped it would be. There are stories from those who have been through opening one or multiple businesses and Chris does a great job of putting those stories in at the right places in the book. He shows throughout the book that he didn't just write this book based on his opinions and experiences like some authors do, he has done tons of research and talked to a lot of people who have experience which allows him to apply his principles to different industries and be able to connect with the reader's interests. This book was very motivating and it is one that I will definitely keep going back to. I am looking forward to finding a way to open my own business and be my own boss and have the freedoms in life that I think that we should all be able to enjoy. I will definitely be reading more of his books in the future!
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Ok, finished, not impressed. The book claims irs stories are all folks who started business with less then $1,000 most understanding $100. FALSE. Full of success stories but no substance. Almost no useful info. Out pf 271 pages maybe one good paragraph. No better than all of tei s#!t load if other wasteful books out there
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