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A potted history of my working life

Chris - a potted history of a life less ordinary...

 

... and lessons learned

Born in UK, my first computer was a Commodore PET with 32K of RAM. I studied for a BSc in computing, financed by working in construction. Dropped out to make lots of money, employing five people, bought my own house at age 23, worked 100 hours a week, and went bankrupt two years later!
  Nothing ever turns out the way you expect it to.
Moved to Berlin, Germany, learned the language, started again. Employed up to 30 people on prestige development projects including Berlin City Hall, Ministry of Foreign Trade HQ, etc. Made money, but grew tired of it and correctly anticipated a crash in the market. Moved to Australia with money in my pocket.
  Nothing lasts forever.
Got a job in sales. At the interview, I told them my ambition was to live somewhere sunny, on a boat, with a beautiful girl. I was one of top sales, and became team leader after a few months. stayed two years, couldn't extend my visa, and was getting bored ...
  It's all bullshit until the money is in the bank.
Moved to California, met a model, and we bought a sailing boat together. Sent a postcard to my old boss in Australia. Supported myself with sales jobs (mortgages, home improvements, training materials) while looking for my next big thing. Represented a UK-based space exploration company competing for the Ansari X-prize, initiating a sponsorship deal involving Tommy Hilfiger, monster.com, Qualcomm, and others. This fell through due to differences within the team. My relationship broke up, she kept the boat.
  Make sure you're working with people who all share the same vision.

Put everything in writing, don't trust to goodwill where money is at stake.
Went to China to look for opportunities, settled in Taiwan, and started teaching English to secure a visa. Took over as manager of an unprofitable language school, tried unsuccessfully to turn it around.
  Understand your market thoroughly.
Developed a niche as a freelancer offering "learning by doing" courses. Started arranging my own seminars and workshops. Used a virtual personal assistant, regularly employed other teachers for big jobs. Customers were high schools, universities, mature students, corporations. Income per hour reached a plateau early on, and I couldn't replicate myself, so never wanted to develop this more. I never worked more than 20 hours a week, which provided cashflow and free time to explore other things for the rest of my time in Taiwan:   Find something scaleable.

Outsource or profit-share wherever possible.
Negotiated a reseller agreement with Taiwan Mobile, which enabled me to provide mobile phone services to foreigners who couldn't get a local account easily. Earned a percentage of the monthly bill from each customer. Technical/systems issues prevented automation and scaling, and regulatory changes made us less competitive, so eventually we stopped accepting new customers and slowly wound it down.
  Figuring out "this isn't worth doing more with" is not failure. We made a profit, after all.
Bought a sailing boat in Japan, with the intention of bringing it to Taiwan and starting a charter/training business. Hit a reef one dark night, sank the boat with four people on board, and was prosecuted for environmental damage. Uninsured!
  You can't hide from failure, sometimes you just have to face the consequences and then move on.
Won a grant from the Ministry of Education to develop an online learning platform, which ultimately failed because nobody really wanted it.
  Customer development before technical development!
Organised three TEDx events in Taipei, under license from TED.com, to network and raise my profile locally. It's a lot of work, and the license precludes making a profit, so not worth doing more than a few.
  The importance of networking and having a strong brand.
Became involved with administration, tech development, and monetisation of http://forumosa.com - the main online resource for the foreign community in Taiwan. Through this, I organised an Entrepreneur's Club which met every month for a working lunch and presentations.
  Monetisation is hard.

Most 'entrepreneurs' are just wannabes.
Partnered with http://enspyre.com to organise various entrepreneur-related events and activities, and developed their intern program. We eventually published a book, which started out as an intern project, titled How To Start A Business In Taiwan.

  A good business relationship and friendship is the most important thing.
Relocated back to Europe a couple of years ago to work on my new project - Ujilayo. Attracted tech talent in Bulgaria and built MVP. Raised funds from the RSA in London for field trials and concept validation in Indonesia. Discovered that some market assumptions were incorrect, realities on the ground were different from the info available online. Concluded recently, after two years, that comprehensive discovery/validation and new MVP will cost more than we can raise without more traction. I love this project, but it's time to put it to sleep.   Never trust publicly available data or anecdotes originating from organisations that have a vested interest. Do your own research.

Know when to quit.
During this period, I also worked as a paid consultant to a US-based startup, for cashflow purposes. They had the germ of a great idea, but were not listening to feedback from the market and I wasted a lot of time trying to help them.

  Opportunity cost is a killer.

Now in Europe, looking for the next project.