Beginnings, Process, and the Calm Before the Storm
Greetings from East 42nd Street in New York City.
I’m here to begin a new journey as The $100 Startup goes out to the world tomorrow. Here are a few notes on the early beginnings.
It all started back in 2009. I had established the blog and began a new way of life: writing for a living. Or mostly, writing because it was what I wanted to do more than anything else.
I was traveling a lot, working my way through the middle part of going everywhere. I wrote posts and created products, adapting as I went along.
Not everything I wrote was amazing; not everything I published was a mega-hit. I made some mistakes.
But I kept learning, asking questions, trying different things.
A couple of things helped, and the best thing was that I met people. Introvert that I am, I learned to host meetups and connect with readers as I went on the road. This made a huge difference. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t just faceless people out there on the other side of the screen—they were real people with fascinating lives.
It was no longer just about my own little blog or quest to see the world; in many cases these people had their own quests and big projects. They were doing exciting things of their own.
I went back and regrouped, determined to learn more about them.
Among others, many of these people were what I called unexpected or accidental entrepreneurs—those who had created freedom for themselves by following their passion and creating something valuable. Most of them didn’t have MBAs or any real business training; they just did found a way to craft a business model around something they loved.
Since I had always worked for myself, I was intrigued with their stories. I collected a couple dozen of them of them and created a product called the Empire Building Kit.
J.D. Roth and I launched EBK on board the Amtrak Empire Builder train, selling $100,000 in copies on day one as we rolled along through North Dakota. Then we closed it for a month and did another $100,000 the next day it was open. It was clear we had a hit, but more important, it was clear that people were eager to learn about a specific way to create their own escape plan.
My first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, came out that September. I went on the road to all fifty states and all ten provinces in Canada, meeting more readers and hearing more stories at every stop.
There was James in South Carolina, who had packed up from Seattle and drove a Mustang “down south” to open an authentic coffee bar in the land of iced tea and biscuits.
There was Bernard from Croatia, who answered my survey questions from a beach in Thailand while working for clients in the U.S.
In California, Brett Kelly told me about making $120,000 from an ebook. The money was great, of course, but what it represented was even better: It allowed his wife Joana to quit her second job. Brett now works at home and the ebook continues to sell by the bucketload, at least $300/day in largely passive income.
Most of these people had started on their own, without a lot of money, but in a few cases, they needed money and found a creative way to get it. Emma in Hong Kong couldn’t get a bank loan for a business, so she asked for a car loan instead. She used the money to start the business and repaid it early. (There never was a car.)
Shannon Oakey told me about going to her community bank to ask for a loan. She had all her finances in order and had supported the bank for many years, but they still turned her down. Shannon decided to do it herself through a Kickstarter campaign. She got more money than she needed and mailed a printout of the result, with a lollipop wrapped up inside, to the loan officer who turned her down.
The stories went on and on, and I began paying closer attention, asking for details and filing away various notes. Then I realized the obvious: this needs to be a book.
While I was in the middle of the first book tour, I drove from North Dakota to South Dakota. We were in the final negotiations for what would become The $100 Startup, and I had to make a choice between competing offers. I talked to my great literary agent on the phone, made a decision, and that was it—the deal was done.
I pulled over in Brookings, South Dakota and made a stop at the “Choco Latte” coffee shop. I ordered an Americano (“no choco, please”) and felt a rush of relief as I settled down to relax for the first time in a while.
This feels great, I remember thinking. Now I just need to write the book.
Fast forward to last year. I rearranged my travel schedule to be home for three whole months, a world record. We began a comprehensive research study, looking for people who would fit our model of “unexpected entrepreneurs.”
The respondents had to be able to talk about money in specific terms. How much did they make? How did expenses compare to income? What was the initial startup investment? What went right—and wrong—along the way?
Most important, what could the rest of us learn from these people? What were their secrets?
From a pool of more than 1,500 respondents, I chose the top 100 for further interviews. I made phone calls to Thailand, Dublin, London, and elsewhere. I wrote and received email after email. After a month, we had thousands of pages of data in Google Docs, Evernote, and scattered around various hard drives.
And then I wrote. 1,000 words a day for 90 days—not all consecutive, but almost every day. (This is how you write a book. The basic process is pretty simple.)
And then we edited. Wow. Talk about process. The whole manuscript was rewritten three times. Entire chapters were discarded. It was painful but worth it, all in pursuit of something that would be both inspiring AND useful to those who wanted to create their own independence and freedom.
Fast forward another six months. After returning from the Sudan, I spent the entire month of April at home in Portland. I got up at 6am and went to Crossfit with J.D. He drove while I made various notes about the launch plan, MacBook sitting on my knees. Back at home, I made breakfast and answered more emails.
Then I settled into a daily 5-hour routine. Every day, I did back-to-back media interviews of various kinds and wrote all sorts of guest posts, Q&A features, and op-eds, all set to go out over the next two weeks.
I did this every day, six days a week. On Sundays I went for a long run and to brunch with Jolie, but then I got back into the written interviews in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Wes Wages was traveling the country, visiting New York, South Carolina, Oregon, and California to document some of the people in the book. The initial results were compiled into a great book trailer (240,000 views so far!) that featured several of the inspiring stories from the book.
Finally, the day came—yesterday. I got on a plane and flew to New York, capital of planet earth and a place I love dearly. I’ve been going on walks, seeing friends, going out to dinner, and getting ready.
Tomorrow morning I’ll go for a run in Central Park, and tomorrow night we’ll begin the tour.
I thought I’d share the backstory behind this project for those who were curious, but make no mistake—the book isn’t about me at all.
This is truly a revolution, friends. The best is yet to come, and The $100 Startup is just one part of the story. The rest of the story is up to you.
The goal of the book is to share these case studies and teach readers to do this too. One of the best things I hear is when someone quits their job to go it alone. I’d like to hear it a lot more often, and I think this book will help.
It’s not a self-help guide, it’s a blueprint for change and action. It’s a mission to connect the twin concepts of freedom and value. You create value by helping people, and you can earn a good living for yourself.
I’ve done everything I can to make the book a success, but now it’s up to the rest of the world.
See you tomorrow?
*The $100 Startup debuts tomorrow—look for it online or ask for it at our favorite bookstore. Tour dates and cities are here—all tickets are free. There may also be cupcakes!
Image: See-ming Lee
I’m sure after all those hours worked the book will be a huge success. Looking forward to meeting on the tour. Best of luck with the book tour and launch.
It’s great to read the backstory, Chris! We’re looking forward to your visit to Chapel Hill next week. Enjoy the first week of your launch!!
I just completed reading AONC from the 1st article till this article (it took me a few weeks!). You have a really inspiring legacy project going on and I look forward to reading your new book.
I am currently working on my own side project and it will be great to pick up more lessons that I could implement to make my side project a success. Good luck on your launch!
Respect. Your routing inspires me also work harder. I am really looking forward to all the examples of entrepreneurs in the book. The book comes out in Germany on May 24.
I’m sad to say I can’t make it to tomorrow’s event after all – the date of my calc final was announced after your book launch, and it is tomorrow evening. I know where I’d much rather be! Best wishes as you kick off your book tour, and thank you again for the advance copy! It was a fantastic, insightful and inspiring read. I can tell it is going to be of immeasurable help to me as I take the next step, and I’ve got a solid hunch others will feel the same. 🙂
Thanks, everyone! I’m psyched.
Yes, I think that’s the UK English version (which will be available elsewhere in Europe). At some point we should have a German version as well, but that will be a bit later.
I’m in the middle of my own $100 startup (blog) and it just became profitable! Congrats on the new book and the ever-growing empire. Hoping you add St. Louis or Chicago to the tour, as I’m pretty far away.
Bravo!!! Enjoy every minute. I will be curious to read what the $100 part is because the hours, if you count that kind of thing, are probably inestimable! I have been starting a couple of things of my own and the climb still feels steep but you have reminded me to keep going.
This book is fantastic, thanks for the advance copy! I’ve read it a couple of times already. Anyone interested in starting a microbusiness… this is required reading.
Good job Chris. 🙂
Great Stuff. It came just a moment when I was feeling down about my progress and gave me the kick up the b- I need to get going again. Thanks.
I am in the midst of having my two $100 start-up businesses burgeon at the same time. Last weekend I did a world trade (hair) show in Atlanta and networked with small business owners from Nigeria, France, Canada and more! This past Saturday I walked the runway as a featured Designer of Wearable Art at the nation’s third largest Fashion Week in Cleveland, Ohio! I feel like I’m living in a dream because both businesses started much like you describe your journey — a small amount of cash, then some good ideas + more cash , TIME, more ideas more cash (you get the idea!) But now the payoff is becoming so much greater and exciting than I could have imagined! (All the ‘failures’ along the way were well worth it!)
Here’s to all the $100 start-ups yet to be ‘born’ as a result of your book… the creative minds and the willingness to take risks!
Hey Chris! Can’t wait to dive into your latest book. I preordered it on kindle this morning. I must say that it has been awesome to follow along on your wild ride. My sister and I came to your book tour stop in Omaha, NE. It was nice to meet you in person and witness firsthand what you are about. My youngest son is interested in reading this book in particular. He has decided at 12 that he wants to make his own money and I imagine this book will inspire him to think big and go for it!! Thanks for all of the hard work!
Just ordered my copy – can’t wait to read it! Best wishes for your kick off!
Was really nice to read the story behind the book 🙂 I’ve already pre-ordered my copy but now I’m looking forward to it even more!
Wishing you continued success on your entrepreneurial journey. Thank you for honoring me with inclusion in The $100 Startup. I’m thrilled to be part of it. 🙂
What a great story, Chris. I clearly remember the Empire Builder train story (so cool how that worked out) and the EBK launch–I had only read here and there on your blog at that point and didn’t yet have a complete picture of what, exactly, you were doing but I jumped on board. The book is fabulous–exactly what I need to keep building my empire, and I know so many others will benefit from it as well.
It’s all so exciting, and I’m wishing you the best of success!
Just ordered the book this morning! Looking forward to meeting you in Chapel Hill. Congratulations on what will, no doubt, be a great tour and a successful book.
Can’t wait to buy the book!
Only found your website today. Great inspiration. Will definitely buy the book. Enjoy the ride! Cheers from the UK.
I’m curious to how you figured out what data to collect and how you went about collecting the data then being able to go through it effectively. Any tips on this?
This is so exciting, I keep feeling the energy of what you are doing and know your journey will spread the light of insight into many. Thanks most for being you and exploring your potential with such great passion and heart.
Looking forward to hearing about all the great success.
Also can’t wait to buy the book!
I’ve purchased a couple of your products in the past, Chris.
And you always deliver!
Can’t wait to read the inspirational stories.
Good luck with the launch.
I’m so excited! Ordered the book long ago from Amazon and it’s sitting in my orders to be fulfilled. I wonder if it will ship tomorrow or arrive tomorrow? Either way, I can’t wait!
Brilliant post..thanks for sharing..inspirational.
Wishing you and the book launch and all that follows the best of everything..
Chris, I wish you a great book launch day! May it hits the heights. And, by the way, I think Frank needs to bring more than 100 books to the Atlanta book signing!
Tried to sign up for vancouver BC tickets – no luck – site down or overwelmed?
Looks like it’s OK over here! Maybe try with a different browser?
I’ll be there and I’m bringing a friend to tomorrow’s launch in NY!
This is so awesome. I can’t wait to read the book. Your work has been a beacon to me for a while. My husband and I recently left our jobs and moved from NY to the Bay Area. Instead of looking for jobs, we are going into biz together. I can’t wait to buy the book and share it. Also looking forward to your gathering in SF!
I really appreciate this detailed account of the writing, editing, and marketing process. As someone who has a book contract and needs to do all of the above, I find your own entrepreneurial enterprise to be very educational. Thanks. I might try to find some of those cupcakes in Manhattan tomorrow night.
Best of luck for the launch Chris! Will be doing what I can do help, while I read the book =)
I’m looking forward to meeting you on Thursday in Washington DC. I was looking for the venue and it still says TBD. Hopefuly we’ll know soon so we can plan accordingly.
I’m looking forward to the new book and the next tour! That’s still the greatest time I’ve ever had in an Indigo in Toronto!
Chris, your new baby was all the buzz around Cubicle Jungle today. Congrats and Happy Trails! See you in The Valley of the Sun in June!
Good luck on the tour, it sounds like a great project. I am adding this book to my reading list for sure 🙂
Best of luck
Matt (Turndog Millionaire)
Oh man, this is awesome! I want to be part of this! I couldn’t believe I am going to launch my new blog soon and I’d like to quote from you Chris. Sending you message soon.
Chris, just wanted to say good luck and congratulations! I started following you in 2009 and unfortunately was out of the country during your first book tour. Now I’m out of the country again so I’ll miss the second one.
Here’s hoping there is a third book and I can pay you back ever so slightly by hosting you when you pass through Philadelphia (or wherever I find myself at that point).
Thanks for all the continued inspiration!
Way to go, Chris!!!
Look forward to seeing you in NYC tonight (Tuesday)!
Got my book at B+N and have not put it down. Great stuff and looking forward to the downloads. I have got lots of ideas from all of the people in the book. Well worth the wait. As always you over delivery and I Thank you. Hope you make it to Chicago
Got it on my iPad/Kindle as we speak. Loved the beginning where you write about not being as concerned about cost cutting or budgets as you are about figuring out how to create the money for your dreams and goals. Wish someone had handed that idea to me when I graduated high school. Now that I think about it, I’ll buy a copy for nephew who just did!
Look forward to reading this book on my Mac, kindle app! Great reviews already, no surprise, your a true inspiration!
Rock it, Chris! My review is up–I have this feeling you’re getting about 2.5 million emails about now so I’m just leaving this comment here after reading today’s post about the book going live–I’m truly psyched for you and spreading the word!
Thanks for the background story of the $100 Startup. I bought my copy already and am looking forward to reading it fast. Your blog is oneof three I have not deleted in an effort to manage my email in box. Have fun on your tour.
Kindle version is more expensive? Weird, luckily books a million is at a normal price of $12.99. Thanks Chris, I’m getting my copy today.
It’s a glitch from the publisher…. should be fixed soon!
I’d love to get the book, but
_ I live in France, so getting it is much more expensive
_ I don’t have a Kindle
Hence my question : is there any way to buy it in PDF somewhere ?
It will be available in France at some point. The publisher doesn’t sell the PDF directly, but you can buy digital copies in other formats besides Kindle — Nook, iBooks, etc.
Just bought it on my Nook–I loved AONC and am looking forward to diving into this one. Hoping to find my path out of the rat race and betting this is one of the signposts.
Luck on your launch, thanks for all the great content on your site.
I just bought 2 copies of your new book – one for my brother and one for myself! 🙂 Thanks for neing so inspiring and sharing your insights! Good luck with the ratings!
If you have display problems with the book on Kindle for PC, make sure you are using Kindle for PC version 1.9.3.
I had to do an update manually (automatic updates don’t seem to work properly), then I removed the book from the PC, started Kindle for PC new and downloaded the book again.
Everything’s fine now and I can start reading 🙂
@Chris, please ignore my mail on that issue, thanks again for your impact on my life and have a great time on your book trip!
Just ordered the new book – looking forward to its arrival, and wish you the best of luck for its success. And I hope my fair city NYC treated you well!
Tell me this will be available in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia soon. Somehow all the sites that sell this book doesn’t ship here.
I always love the calm before the storm. Thanks for an awesome post. Such a pretty reflection on all that you did to get here. So inspiring. I’m stoked to read the book!!
I’m looking forward to reading your book, can I ask why the Kindle version isn’t available anymore? It was there earlier in the week, I was going to pick it up today with my Mother’s Day gift and I only see the hardcover!
It’s a glitch — should be fixed again soon! 🙂
Hi Chris, I live in Brazil and I am trying to buy the Kindle edition but it is “unavailable for your country due to copyright restrictions”. When will it be available internationally? Thank you.
Should be soon… I’m not sure where there’s currently a delay.
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