Many people imagine lifestyle design to include things like running a successful business, traveling the world and maybe even writing a book. One of those goals would be a great accomplishment; Brian Armstrong of StartBreakingFree.com has done all three while still in his twenties. Not only is Brian building businesses, he self-published his own book on becoming self-employed and also recently moved to Argentina. Brian Armstrong is a great role model for my future plans and I think we can all learn a lot in this interview.
Please tell us about your current life now. Where do you live?
I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina (at the moment). I’m able to work here on my laptop while traveling, which is a pretty fun. I decided to try it out after living in Houston, TX for many years and eventually quitting to start my own business. After a LOT of trial and error, I was able to get a few businesses going to the point where I felt comfortable about not needing to have a “real job” anymore. When my roommates got married and it was time to move out, I decided I should take advantage of my mobility and go somewhere fun: now I’m in Buenos Aires but plan to keep traveling while working.
What is it like in Argentina?
It’s a poor man’s New York City. Huge (13 million people), lots of exciting things to do, and a good deal if you are spending US dollars. But you are occasionally reminded that you’re in the third world. For example, on the outskirts of the city, which you see when coming in from the airport, there are some pretty serious slums. And it suffers from all the usual problems of socialism where some processes are inefficient and things stay broken for a long time. However, it’s all part of the adventure and once inside the city it is really a bustlong modern metropolis that feels a bit like Europe. Part of my goal is to see all the world has to offer, and Buenos Aires is certainly a fun stop along that trip.
What are the costs of living there?
A lot of people don’t believe it’s possible to travel the world and actually spend LESS money. But since I moved here I don’t have all my “stuff” back in the U.S. like a home, car, cell phone and gym membership, so my costs have actually gone down. I spend $450 a month to rent a room in one of the nicest neighborhoods here, Recoleta, although I share a house with other people so it’s cheaper than normal. You can grab a fairly basic meal here for $6. A nice steak dinner, which are famous here, will run you maybe $12 US. A glass of wine, also great here, at a restaurant is about $3. If you need a tasty snack you can grab empanadas or hot dogs from a street vendor for about $1 each. The subway is cheap ($0.35 per ride) and you don’t need to own a car. Some things are mysteriously a bit more expensive; groceries and a gym membership are about the same price as the U.S. Haven’t figured that one out yet.
Do you recommend Buenos Aires for others?
Yes, it’s a great destination – it really is a bit like Europe but with lower costs. I don’t think I’d want to live here permanently but I’m having a blast at the moment. I’ve met lots of interesting people and made new friends quickly. It’s often a challenge to stay in and get work done some days. My Spanish is also improving rapidly. It was pretty bad when I arrived.
Do you have a place to return to or a home base somewhere?
I don’t have a home base at the moment. I literally sold most things (car, furniture, etc) and took off to South America with just a backpack and my laptop. However, I think at some point I’d like to create a home base so that I can mix traveling in with rest stops. But for now I’m just going to travel indefinitely for a year or two and try a bunch of cities to find out where I might want to live more permanently.
How do you earn an income?
I earn income from a web business I started (UniversityTutor.com), my blog (StartBreakingFree.com), and several rental properties. I currently earn LESS than I would if I had a full time job in corporate America, but I also have total freedom, so it’s a trade off. I hope that eventually it wil be the best of both worlds; earning MORE while still not having a job as my businesses starts to grow, but I know this will take time. The last four years have definitely been an education in business and it’s been getting better every year. The good part is that since I don’t have a job, it frees up 40 hours a week to work on accomplishing my business goals.
You have focused your business efforts on building real online companies, rather than the popular make money quick ideas. Please tell me why you chose that route.
For me it was simple, I wanted to build a long term business I could be proud of and not fill the Internet with more spam and “made for adsense” sites. For a while I got into reading all the Internet marketing ideas out there, but it always rubbed me the wrong way. There is something to learn from everyone, but in general that community was too focused on making a quick buck instead of creating something of real value. I really believe that the only way to make a lot of money is to help a lot of people. So nowadays I try to think about how to make useful things instead of how to make money. Ironically, I think it’s the useful things that end up making the most money without you even trying. But like anyone, this is sometimes easier said than done and I need constant reminders. Every morning I read a bunch of blogs, and get inspired by the incredible work some people out there are doing. This helps me strive to be better and keep learning.
You have published a book. Please share your experiences with that.
After reading a bit about the industry, there is a great book out there called “How To Write A Book,” I decided to self publish. Lulu.com was a big help with this and I’d recommend them. The publishing industry is still light years behind what we’re used to in the Internet world, and Lulu.com was great at helping navigate a bit of that. There is also a big chicken/egg problem for authors. No publisher will give you the time of day if you are an unknown. But to stop being an unkown you have to get published somehow. You can see the dilema.
For me the solution was not to submit manuscripts, which would have never even been opened. I just skipped all that and went to self publishing. The margins are higher, but it doesn’t have the credibilty of a big publisher, which is useful for getting press, meetings with important people, etc. I read somewhere that most authors make money on their second book, not the first one. And I think this is true. The first one is a really a trial run to get some credibility so a publisher might take you more seriously on the next one.
After writing the book I realized I had to market it somehow so I started the blog. By the way, the book is about how I quit my job to start working for myself and is called Breaking Free). I think if I were to do it over again, I’d reverse it: start the blog first and THEN publish a book only after you have a following.
Blogging is a GREAT way to hone your writing skills, find your voice, and interact with your audience to find what they’re interested in. Just as an example, sometimes I’ll put out a blog post which I think is pure genius and I’ll spend tons of time working on it. I’ll put it out there and NOBODY will care – imagine crickets chirping. Yet, another day I’ll post something I threw together in 2 minutes, a passing thought I had, and it will get passed all over the internet generating TONS of traffic. For an example see this post on how to stop letting little things in life piss you off.
So blogging is great for a writer. More than a few people have published very successfull books JUST by taking their most popular blog posts from the last few years and sending it to a publisher. You can go right into wordpress and have it sort your posts by most popular and bam, you already know what content people liked and what they didn’t.
Where are you going to go after Buenos Airies?
I’m going to spend about a year traveling all of South America. I haven’t really decided yet but my tentative plan is to head west toward Chile, then up around in a big circle and end in Brazil. After that I might try Asia.
Do have any advice for people interested in starting a business?
1. Most of the stuff you try won’t work, and that’s ok
2. Invest as little time and money as possible to get your idea off the ground and test it out. Then if it doesn’t work, no big deal. Try the next one.
3. When you have an idea you’re excited about, get going on it right away, if you wait around too much you’ll lose your motivation.
4. You don’t need a business plan or investors or any of that. Do a quick Google search to see what else is out there and if you still like it a day later, get to work.
5. Start cheap, particuarly anything online, by outsourcing the site, using free WordPress templates, or giving a programmer equity for his work
6. DON’T take on business partners and DON’T take on investors for web businesses. Bootstrap. You need to be the one in control of your destiny, not bogged down in drama of managing other people’s expectations.
7. Once you have one that starts to work, don’t be continually rushing off to start a new business every day. Force yourself to stay focused and really make that one blossom.
8. Entrepreneruship is an emotinal rollercoaster; you will doubt yourself and wonder if you made the right decision on a regular basis. Get around other like minded people as often as possible to stay mentally tough.
Brian Armstrong’s Blog StartBreakingFree.com
Brian’s Internet Business UniversityTutor.com
Breaking Free the Book