Do a startup or travel around the world?


Every time I watch Discovery Travel & Living on TV or read Lonely Planet magazine, I desperately long for travelling around the world. This feeling intensifies after reading posts such as 8 Exotic Destinations You Can Afford. I get all pumped up ready to pack my bags. But then I realize: Oh wait, I have a startup.

Startup requires a lot of sacrifices from you. You have to work extremely hard (think 100+ hours per week) for several years. All this hard work is justified in hope of an eventual big pay-off which may happen in a year, five years or may not happen ever. That big-payoff has potential to make you financially independent and then you can go travel the world (or explore other exotic interests such as taking a stab at string theory). But the big question is what if that eventual pay-off never happens? It is certainly a possibility because majority of businesses will either fail or will become self-sustaining for years to come. Acquisitions, IPOs and FU money is a rarity, not a norm.

I think the dilemma of exploring your passions v/s doing a startup is interesting especially for young founders who are in 20s or early 30s. Every sage professes that this is the right age to travel (or do crazy wild things) because you don’t yet have a family to support or other responsibilities which may chain you to a particular sedentary lifestyle. But an equally strong logic goes in favor of doing a startup: you don’t yet have a family to support, so you can fully dedicate yourself to a startup and increase chances of the eventual payoff. Then you have the financial freedom (hence and more importantly freedom of time) and to travel to exotic places you have always dreamed of.

I honestly don’t have a definite answer to this but as evident by working hard on my startup, you can see which camp I belong to. May be, one fine day in future, I will start on my own epic journey of 70 countries. Or, may be not.

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26 Responses to “Do a startup or travel around the world?”

  1. Upasana
    25. December 2010 at 12:37

    One idea is that till u have the FU money dont postpone living ur life in the interim.

    When you work very hard you also need to take some breaks at least once every 2-3 months to rejuvenate, make them memorable and fun experiences without the FU money :)

    For example go for a 3-4 day trekking/backpacking trip in India. Have some fun!

  2. Obama
    25. December 2010 at 20:37

    It’s actually not that expensive to travel.

  3. Wouter
    25. December 2010 at 20:58

    Not all startups aim for the sky – there are many SAAS startups that make the founder(s) enough money, so that they can travel, while costing them only a few hours a day (or less!) of their time – no matter where you travel – you’re usually not very far from an internet connection.

    I’m sure you could run VirtualWebsiteOptimizer in a way that would allow travel – you might never get that big IPO, or become the number 1 site in A/B testing, but in return, when you’re old, you’ll have all these awesome travel adventures from when you were young! And not only those boring stories of cruises you took when you were 60 :-) .

  4. Sparsh
    26. December 2010 at 16:17

    May be, one fine day in future, WE will start on OUR own epic journey of 70 countries. Or, may be not.

  5. OneFineDay
    27. December 2010 at 15:40

    There is a possible compromise that might let you do both. Often these days all you need is a connection and you will be able to continue working from wherever you are.

    A couple of years ago I met a travelling programmer in Turkey. His life ethos was to roam around the world making money having fun. Basically he had an arrangement with a company back home in which they would feed him contract work while he was traveling. He would set up camp in a town and rent a place with an excellent internet connection and then stay in that town until the contract was done. Most of the project management was done using basecamp and trac. Communication was mainly through IM, although he said he did Skype from time to time as needed.

    Travel is also a high priority on my cards. My company has a few people in it and we have often talked about going on ‘company’ trips, in which we would all go to a cheap country and do a sprint or two together while still getting some time off in between to check out the place.

  6. zdanozdan
    27. December 2010 at 15:53

    As as probably do in the startup – start with something small – go to India, Vietnam, Russia or Poland for week or two – then iterate – fast forward couple of years and you already visit most countires. Easy, no big money involved, lots of fun.

  7. Paras Chopra
    27. December 2010 at 16:00

    @zdanozdan I am based out of India only :)

  8. djd
    27. December 2010 at 16:22

    Some thing just died inside died as i read the lines “may be not”. Coz if he cant make it may be some day even i wont.
    Then a voice silently spoke to me and told “Yes he can”

  9. Tarik Ansari
    27. December 2010 at 16:39

    Do both if you can stretch it. You will come back from your travels smarter and more open-minded with fresh ideas to apply into your startup. I had the chance to travel half of my college onto 3 continents (2 internships + 3 semesters abroad). Startup is about speed, you need to execute fast and precisely during a determined period of time with a limited number of allowed mistakes to take the box in a stable flight phase. Anything that helps prepare that will multiply your chances.

  10. vipin sahu
    27. December 2010 at 16:40

    nice thoughts :)

  11. Anthony
    27. December 2010 at 17:10

    If youre looking for a payoff in 3-5 years you’re doing it wrong. I run a startup and travel around the world. Its not an either or and its certainly not a case of sacrificing my youth. I don’t know where the notion of running a startup became intertwined with sacrifice but it’s certainly not the case. The most successful entrepreneurs and founders I know run a startup to live. They don’t live to run a startup.

    By the looks of it you’ve got a pretty good product- why are you unable to not travel while running this startup?

  12. Steven
    27. December 2010 at 18:14

    Why not travel AND develop your product? I moved abroad and am now enjoying a different lifestyle and environment outside of my comfort zone. I find it more stimulating and definitely feel like I am “killing two birds with one stone.” Pick some place cheap where you can stretch your capital much further. Maybe hire a few locals to help you.

  13. Kevin
    27. December 2010 at 18:17

    Definitely travel in your 20s. You’re too young to realize that your startup is probably going to fail, but you are the perfect age to travel the world. In your 30s, startup. You have a far greater chance of success because you understand real problems. Good post Paras.

  14. Janusz
    27. December 2010 at 18:59

    Paras,

    I think you should definitely do both. We made a decision with my wife last year to travel and work on a startup at the same time. We left UK in June 2010 and still have 8 months to go. Since we started travelling our business grew 300%. I am not kidding! Probably reason for it is that I had no choice but start employing people and make business more scalable which helped business grew at much faster rate than when I was a single employee.

    I think you should do it sooner rather than later, not sure if you have kids, if you don’t go travelling! It will always be much harder to decide than doing it now.

  15. Seeing the world between startups
    27. December 2010 at 19:07

    [...] Christmas, Paras Chopra wrote a post titled Do a startup or travel the world? I found it on Hacker News and started to leave a comment before deciding to turn it into a blog [...]

  16. Josh Fraser
    27. December 2010 at 19:13

    Great post! Definitely something I’ve struggled with as I love traveling & love startups. I started to write a longer comment and then decided to turn it a blog post of my own:

    http://www.onlineaspect.com/2010/12/27/seeing-the-world-between-startups/

  17. Josh Strike
    27. December 2010 at 20:22

    Been doing both for the last 4 years… it’s not a bad way to go. It started when I wanted to live for an extended period in South America, and a big software project came in — I’d already been freelancing for a few years for this client, and I made him a deal. The project was supposed to be in the $50k range, but I told them I’d take it down to $35k if they didn’t mind me doing it from overseas. I reasoned the cost of living in South America was about 1/3rd of the US, so it was a good deal for me. The client agreed. I’ve found decent 3-6 & 12 month rentals in Buenos Aires, Auckland, Bangkok, Saigon, the south of France… and at one point turned in a huge startup app while I was only on 3G service, living out of a camper van for about 6 months & driving all over Australia, with solar power to run the laptop. I’ve had enough freelance code work to support the constant traveling (though it’s hard to save much this way)… the biggest problem is the time difference in some places, since most of my clients are in the US. I’ve kept a toll-free number so they can call anytime. You have to work strange hours and always be available; sometimes there’s massive stress and discomfort, like changing planes in an airport somewhere with 15 minutes ’til your next flight when you find out someone’s servers went down, or there’s a 3-hour deadline on something.

    But for the last 2-1/2 years I’ve use most of my down time to work on my own project, which is finally launching next month. In the process, I’ve met people all over the world who have engaged with the startup, some of whom have become partners. In fact, I never would have gotten the idea for the startup, or what it evolved into, if I hadn’t been traveling. So all I can say is, go for it. You won’t regret it.

  18. Pete
    27. December 2010 at 20:34

    You present the choice as: follow your passion OR do a start-up. If your start-up isn’t your passion, then you will fail. You need to follow your passion in life.

  19. Doug
    27. December 2010 at 22:53

    IMHO, if your startup isn’t your passion, then why are you doing a startup? If you’re reasons are because someone else said you should, then I’d suggest that you shouldn’t.

    If traveling is your passion, then why aren’t you travelling?

    Basically, find your passion and you’ll find your most rewarding career (and you probably won’t find yourself with such difficult questions to answer?)…

  20. Tripluca
    27. December 2010 at 23:47

    I did both. As soon as my startup started making some money back in 2001, I left.
    I am talking about less than 15000 u$ for the first year but that was enough to buy me the greatest experience I could imagine.
    I never stopped travelling, and 10 years later I spent most of my time on the road and never made real money.
    But my aim was not that, so I am fully satisfied,
    I guess you could try to make money and travel, but if you just manage to travel….that’s a lot!

  21. Russell
    27. December 2010 at 23:57

    Traveling around the world is a great way to clear you head and generate ideas before doing the startup. You can also decide where you want to live when working crazy hours. Countries differ in terms of communications infrastructure, tax rates and cost of living. I’m still looking for the perfect startup location but so far no one offers fiber to the beach.

  22. Brian Shaffer
    28. December 2010 at 01:13

    Just do it.

    Watching the travel channel, reading Vegabonding, and even writing these blogs for someone on the edge won’t help. If anything, it satisfies your urge to travel. You live vicariously through this media while sitting at home.

    Go to hostelworld.com, find heavily populated areas, and get a plane ticket. Read the Lonely Planet guide as you fly there, and figure it out as you go. The entrepreneur itch in you will be quenched while traveling. You’ll have problems to overcome and decisions to make.

    Southeast Asia is cheap, start there.

  23. Fernando
    28. December 2010 at 01:38

    Hey all – I’m 36 and I just traveled around the world backpacking with my wife for a year. I came back with zero money in the bank and I’m doing my own startup. She’s supporting us both, but I feel like if I was on my own I’d just crash on a friend’s couch and eat ramen. It’s never too late – I’m stoked to be doing a startup and I wouldn’t trade the trip for anything. And I don’t know if I’ll be successful! But I love working on my idea…that’s the reason I’m doing it.

  24. Lance
    28. December 2010 at 02:08

    Like everyone else I advocate for doing both, but have a thought for doing them one at a time.
    Work hard at the start-up (or your career as I did), then exit, or hand to a CEO, sell all your things and start traveling. eventually you’ll get bored of travel and so set up shop somewhere else – live, work, create a startup or consult in another country.
    Rinse and repeat.

  25. Atul Gupta
    15. January 2011 at 17:30

    Its true that you understand a lot about the world and people if you are well travelled.
    It does help you in your business venture.

    But no matter how much you are traveled, when you start your business you will realize that you have to give in many years of your life to learn the various intricacies of your trade and give your business a considerable amount of time till it becomes self sustaining.
    And everybody fails the first 2-3 times when they start a venture.
    So my philosophy is to start as early as possible and fail, learn the tricks of the trade,dos and donts, bounce back and then come out to be a successful entrepreneur, make it big and never retire. :)

  26. Travel Or Start a Business? Why Not Both At the Same Time? « SparkleWise
    17. January 2011 at 02:51

    [...] Chopra recently wrote an article asking whether you should do a startup or travel the world. His definition of a startup is a 100+ [...]

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