I had an opportunity to interview expat and serial entrepreneur, Chris Osborne. Chris is only 26 years but has already lived abroad for more than 4 years and has started several business. He shares some of his experiences living abroad, starting businesses, outsourcing, and hiring foreign workers.
Where are you right now?
I’m in Bali right now. I plan to spend an extra month or two here and then make myself busy for a while before returning home for a wedding. I love the lifestyle Bali provides, especially the work/life balance. I work through sunrise and then go for a bit of a surf in the afternoon. I then come back to work before heading out to a restaurant for great food and wine.
What other countries have you lived in?
I lived in Thailand for four years and I have done extensive travel around the Southeast Asian region: Philippines, Burma, Vietnam, Taiwan, Laos, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Why did you choose Thailand for four years?
The lifestyle, people, low cost of living and great food! I quickly got to know some great friends from my holiday days spent in Koh Samui which made it even easier. For the most part (especially outside the tourist hang outs) the Thai people are very gracious, very open, friendly and welcoming to foreigners. The dining options in Bangkok are unreal. So the food is definitely is a big part of it, and the weather. Coming from the UK that’s quite a welcoming change.
Is there any business reason why you chose Thailand?
Not really, no. Working online gives you the freedom to set up almost anywhere.
Was it difficult to get a visa to stay in Thailand for four years?
No – As soon as I committed to stay in Thailand for a while I went and opened up a business so that I could get a work permit and business visa. This is easy to sort out, especially if you hire a company that specializes in setting up new businesses for foreigners. They are advertised everywhere from the internet to the national/local papers.
What kind of business did you start?
The first office was providing search engine marketing services to small companies in the UK. I actually did this before I arrived in Thailand so the move to manage my clients in Thailand was very easy.
For the second office (After taking a year gap where I spent most of my time in North East Thailand), I had this idea that I would sell websites that were already designed and had some content on them. The idea was that people starting out online could pick up one of our ready made sites and build it up. A French friend and I built two ourselves and sold each for 500% profit, without much planning and additional testing. I got carried away with myself and had this crazy idea that I could create a factory and turn out 50 sites a day.
I quickly knocked up a business plan, got some funding from the UK and rented out a huge office with the aim to have 50 full time staff within a year. After two successful months and a team of 12 or so Thai staff, the place where we were selling the sites changed their terms of service which basically meant our sites were listed in a different section on their site. Sales went down overnight and within a couple of months trying to sell the sites elsewhere, I had no choice but to move the core business in a completely different direction.
This is when I entered the toughest nine months of my life. I had a team which I down-sized to 5 staff, we moved to a smaller office and I basically spent nine months figuring out what our core product was going to be. This was my biggest mistake – I should have cut loose here and figured out the core product. At this stage the money from my investors had run out (which has since been paid back in full) and I turned to using my own. We launched an online magazine, Juice Mag and an RSS aggregation service. None of the businesses really took off quickly enough to cover overhead costs and with sales across my own portfolio of sites decreasing due to neglect. I decided to let the remaining staff go and take a break – which is where I am now.
Although I lost a boat load of money and had problems after problems, I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I got to really understand Thailand through my business and working with Thai’s – more so than I would have with basic friend to friend interaction. I also had a lot of fun and have walked away with so much more knowledge and experience. I’m now working on my next business and I can already see an improvement.
What are Thai staff like to work with? Do they work hard?
Good question. They definitely have a different mindset. A high speed working environment with a lot of pressure does not work well in an office full of Thais. And coming from that environment I often found it quite hard to adapt. There are more problems to expect, which you can find more information about in an article I wrote on my personal blog that goes into the Thailand Business Culture in greater detail.
How expensive is it to hire Thai staff? Can you give me an idea of the average salary?
Average salary for a fresh university graduates is between 18,000 and 25,000 BHT (US$530 -$740)
What does it cost to live in Thailand?
This all depends on your lifestyle and what you want out of life living in Thailand. It’s the same for a holiday. When friends were planning their holiday to Thailand, they would ask me how much spending money they would need. I would tell them the more they bring with them, the better their holiday will be.
The minimum salary for a foreigner in an office type job is 60,000 baht (US$1765) a month – I think this works as a good base salary. For someone like me that is always looking to work hard and play hard, I think a budget of 100,000 baht (US$2940) is needed. This would mean being able to live in a nice apartment, being able to go out and socialize 5 times a week (beers/cinema/restaurants etc.), being able to take the odd weekend away and can comfortably take care of small health care issues.
Many English teaching positions pay about 35,000 baht per month. Do you think that is too low in Bangkok?
35,000 a month will give you a very simple lifestyle – but is doable as this guy documents a month living on 30,000.
How much was your apartment in Thailand?
That’s quite expensive for Thailand.
I come to Thailand with a western salary… so I’ve always spent the same amount on things, but the big difference between living in Asia compared to England is that I’m able to get so much more for my money. People would laugh at the difference between my one bedroom apartment in London compared to my apartment in Bangkok but both cost the same. The great thing about living in Bangkok is that there’s something for all budgets.
Can you give some advice for people interested in setting up an Internet business?
Work your arse off. Seriously, don’t just dream about running an Internet business, you have to put the hours in. Make sure you work harder than anyone else you know.
I think now is a great time to build web services. Whether you do so in your spare time from work or doing it full time. Live cheap, and invest any left over into building new cool stuff. You won’t see the returns just yet, but hopefully within 20 months you’ll see traffic increase and can then explore monetization methods.
I have received some snotty emails through my blog which I basically put down to jealousy. They see the nice hotels I stay in and the great restaurants I dine at, but they don’t get to see what it takes behind the scenes. I think a lot of people think that making money online is easy, but there’s a huge difference between beer money and a full time salary. Making a full time salary online requires a lot of hard work.
Do you currently have employees anywhere?
I outsource all my work. It varies depending on where I’m based really and the Internet connection and how long I’m going to stay somewhere for. Right now, I know I’m going to be in Bali for the next two months. So, I’ve got about 10 different freelancers working on different projects and I pay them per project.
Do you have any plans to go back to the UK? To live? To settle down and live?
No, not until I have my own. I think when I have kids, I’ll probably move to France or Singapore.
MyEggNoodles (Chris Osborne’s personal blog)
Juice Mag (One of Chris Osborne’s online ventures)