Launch a startup while travelling the world? Why not?

As I write this, we are in Peru. Our office, a Land Rover Defender we affectionately call “La Oficina Ponderosa” is parked outside. Vin is sleeping, Dom is doing a knowledge base redesign for a corporate US customer, and I’m enjoying the quiet sound of diesel buses grumbling by.

We’ve already travelled 12,000 km across Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and now Peru. If all goes according to plan, we have another 3 months of this. Business is doing really well; we’ve not only grown our international client roster but have picked up big clients along the way in local markets.

So what are we doing?

New tools and technologies have enabled more and more people to work independent of time, place and corporate organisations. This allows people to take work into their own hands and craft an alternative lifestyle. All of us at Helpando, are fascinated by the shifting nature of work. We wanted to explore this further, and so set out to challenge our own working lives.

We are a Nomad Company.

The fundamental difference between a company nomad and the freelancing nomad is a company’s collective focus on achieving goals for the company as an entity. It is not unheard of, but the nomad generally has a short­ term vision, is less career ­oriented, and more focussed on personal enrichment. F or Helpando our goals go well beyond the short term and the travel alone. We are looking to keep up with the growing demand for our cloud-based services, while constantly being on the move and prove that this way of running a company is possible.

But what really makes the company nomad unique from the freelancing nomad is the travelling ‘office’. Like any location dependant office, we have an office manager (though Vin is hardly the typical office manager), we have a business development department (myself, Fabian) and an accounts manager and project manager (Dominic ­- he’s the serious one). We have meetings every time we drive anywhere, and team building exercises are a part of the ride.

What are the limitations and advantages?

Naturally, there are quite a few limitations that present themselves with this way of working.

  • Meeting clients has to be via whatever technology is available. Most conversations are being done via Skype, Hangouts and by telephone when the wifi network is unavailable.
  • Reliability of technology and space is probably our biggest challenge. At least once a week, if not more, there’s a scramble to find a decent wifi connection to meet a deadline. As well as the pain of working in a hostel (we can’t afford hotels every night) and the inconvenience of drunk travellers turning their music up loud until the wee hours of the morning. It makes scheduling client calls even more difficult.
  • Living with your coworkers also makes for quite a bit of tension.

Whilst we regularly experience these mild irritations, travelling in beautiful places makes them short-lived, and we always find the fun. ­It’s hard not to when you are waking up parked by the ocean or going to sleep after a late night of Choripán and Quilmes in the hot summer heat of Buenos Aires.

Alongside fun, the business advantages are numerous:

  • Being constantly faced with unique challenges on a regular basis has developed a culture of perseverance and determination.
  • Being constantly surrounded by a diverse range of people and tradition leads us to internalise perspectives that are both empathetic and very open minded, which extends well beyond our customer relationships.
  • Between wifi challenges, batteries dying, and limited reception, we are learning to work in a really smart way – we need to be incredibly efficient. When you don’t know how much time you have before the wifi goes down, prioritising becomes very instinctive. 
  • We’ve also been able to add local clients in some of the cities we’ve passed through. Unexpected, but a great way to justify the travelling (as if we needed to!).
  • And of course- the most important factor- travelling inspires the best in all of us.

We chose South America for several reasons:

  • There’s a great startup scene in most major South American cities, with world-class programmes in Chile, Argentina, Peru and Brazil. We quite often work in their co-working spaces for their wifi, friendly work environments and vibrant communities. It also means that we are constantly encountering inspiring startup ideas that motivate us to continue building our own company.
  • Wifi is widely available in cities of a decent size. Southern Argentina was a bit of a challenge, but otherwise, it’s never too far away. Getting SIM cards and cheap data plans are also becoming a part of our ritual upon entering a new country.
  • It is cheap for the most part, gas included, which is very important when your office is your car and you’re driving thousands of kilometres every week. 
  • While it may not be a primary objective, proximity to new markets and customers is a bonus.
  • And travelling in South America is unreal. The sights range from the incredible volcanoes, lakes and forests in Patagonia to the lush vineyards and agriculture of the central valley, as well as the Inca ruins, salt flats, canyons, 6 900 meter peaks, the amazon jungle, and beautiful beaches. The food is amazing too; Ceviche, Parillas, Choripan, Sopapillas, Tortas, Empanadas, all the delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. And we love the indigenous culture, the music, tango, Gauchos, wine, pisco, fernet, artisanal beer…You get the picture. The diversity of things to see, do and taste in South America is absolutely awesome.

There are days where the car engine burns out in middle of the desert. Or we have to race against time to make it somewhere to find cellular reception. Or we are sitting in a gas station trying to get as close as possible to a router to get every last fraction of a bar. But all in all, the challenges are always worth it.

Is a Nomad Company for you?

The nomad company is not appropriate for everyone. For those who are looking for routine and familiarity the nomad life is not advisable. In particular, the nomad company requires strong relationships with your partners. In any partnership, there are always disagreements and frustrations, but when travelling, living and working together (and all at once), understanding how you can bring out the best in one another is essential.

At the end of the day, it’s about choice, and about taking work into your own hands. Our team are completely stoked with the one we have made, and we believe that by shifting the nature of work, it is changing the world for the better.

When we think of the future of our own startup, we are excited with the short to medium term outlook. Growth is an interesting challenge;­ La Oficina doesn’t really have space for any more nomads. Sitting and sleeping three as it is can be challenging (maybe we will need to upgrade to a small yellow school bus?). In the meantime, we will continue to take advantage of a connected global workplace by adding really talented contractors to work for us from around the world.

Technology has been the only way we have been able to be a nomad company, and we are very excited by how this will develop in the future.

We are feeling muchas suerte to be playing at the cusp of the new workplace, and with the success, we’ve had to date, we are in no way considering ending this adventure. It’s thrilling knowing that we are building a company that can operate location independent.

Let’s just hope the La Oficina’s motor doesn’t blow up anytime soon…

startup while travelling

Fabian Dittrich (far right) is the founder of Helpando. Fabian is documenting his Nomad Company experience and is collecting stories from others who also use technology to work independently. You can follow his journey on Startup Diaries, here.

This article was written in collaboration with Joey Tanny. Joey is working with Startup Diaries as the nomadic marketing/media consultant.

If you’d like to learn more about sustaining your escapee lifestyle, check out some of our workshops here.

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