Six-Figure Businesses Built for Less Than $100: 17 Lessons Learned

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Photo: 401K.

The following article is a guest post by Chris Guillibeau, who’s traveled to 150+ countries and studied more micro-businesses than anyone I know. I hope you love this piece as much as I did. Enjoy!

Enter Chris

Over the past several years, I’ve been on a quest to study micro-businesses—small operations (typically one person) that make $50,000 a year or more (often a lot more). The quest took me all over the world, at first to a large group of 1,500 “unexpected entrepreneurs” who volunteered to share their stories in detail.

I wanted to hear from all kinds of businesses–both offline and online–to decipher what made them so successful. How did they get started? What helped them grow into significant, reliable sources of income? How can you increase odds of success?

After much effort, a small team and I narrowed down the case studies to a subset of 70 that I focused on for final analysis. All 70 people had created freedom for themselves: new income and a completely new way of life. There are formulas.

Here is a highly-condensed list of 17 lessons learned…

The 17 Lessons of $100 Start-ups

Note: Links show the businesses in action.

A gap in the marketplace reveals a business opportunity.
Gary Leff used his Frequent Flyer Miles to travel all over the world in First Class, and his friends kept asking for advice. Almost on a whim, he decided to launch a basic website offering the service of booking travel awards for a fee.

His service is something that people could do on their own for free—but plenty of people don’t know how it works or just don’t want the hassle of dealing with airline call centers. This “side business” now brings in more than $100,000 a year.

Lesson: Provide results (photos, testimonials, details of your own experiences) and offer to do something for people that they don’t know how to do or don’t want to worry about.

Latch on to a popular service, then simplify it for others.
Self-described “professional nerd” Brett Kelly wrote Evernote Essentials, the first English-language manual for the popular Evernote software. Brett was hoping for a $10,000 payday over the course of a few months—enough to pay off some bills. Instead, he received $10,000 in two days… and then the sales kept coming.

Originally conceived as a hobby that Brett worked on during nights and weekends, Evernote Essentials now earns more than $160,000 a year in net income. Here’s what Brett says about the results: “The unreal success of this project has not only freed our family from a decade of debt and financial instability, but has also given us the freedom to pursue the kind of life we want.”

Lesson: Simplify things and cash in. Brett developed a comprehensive resource with lots of screenshots and detailed, highly actionable tips. More than 10,000 customers later, it’s still going strong.

Don’t beg your friends for money!
You probably don’t need any outside investment to begin. The vast majority of respondents in the study started their business for less than $1,000, and nearly half for $100 or less. In Vancouver, Canada, Nicolas Luff started with only $56.33, the cost of a business license. Others started only with a domain name and a free WordPress account.

It wasn’t just online businesses that started on the cheap. Michael Hanna started an unconventional mattress store after being laid off from his job in media sales. A friend of his who owned a furniture store offered him an unwanted truckload of mattresses, figuring that Michael could sell them one at a time on Craigslist. Instead of Craigslist, though, Michael found a car dealership that had recently gone out of business. He was able to rent the space at a huge discount, and he opened his first store while learning on the job.

Even though Michael originally knew nothing about the mattress business, three years later Mattress Lot produces more than $1 million in revenue.

The chart below illustrates the average startup cost from the businesses we examined.


Image Credit: Mike Rohde.

Note: I sometimes hear from people who say that not all businesses can be started on the cheap. This is true. If you want to open a factory, you might need more than $100. If you want to found a VC-backed tech start-up, you might need to woo investors. But the point remains: you can start many different kinds of businesses without going into debt. All things are equal, why not take that route if the costs are low?

Lesson: Whenever possible, start quickly and start cheap. (And most of the time, it is possible.)

If you do need money, you can find a way.
Emma Reynolds had an idea for a consultancy that would work with big companies to improve their staffing and resourcing. She calculated that she would need at least $17,000 to start the new firm. There was just one problem: Emma was 23 and unlikely to get a business loan.

Emma and her business partner Bruce realized that despite this, they could probably get a car loan. Bruce proceeded to do just that, borrowing $17,000 for a car and then investing the funds in the business with Emma instead. They paid back the car loan within ten months, and the bank never found out that there was no actual car. Now the profitable firm employs twenty people and has multiple offices in four countries.

Another example: Shannon Oakey was turned down for a small bank loan despite excellent financials and a strong business plan. Shannon took her business elsewhere: to Kickstarter, where her project was fully funded. Shannon printed out a copy of the final results and mailed it to the loan officer who had rejected her—with a lollipop inside the printout.

Lesson: If you really need a loan, don’t take “no” as the final answer. Consider alternatives. Bootstrap. Hustle. Figure it out. (Note: Borrowing money for a non-existent car is at your own risk!)

Get to the first sale as quickly as possible.
Nick Gatens put up a portfolio site for his photographs and sold a $50 print for the first time. What’s the big deal? When you’ve never sold something before–i.e. never had a stranger comes to your website and hands over their credit card–the first time is flooring. Here’s what Nick said:

“It took me a long time to add the order button on my site. For a while I kept blaming it on technical issues—a WordPress glitch, the need for design improvement, and so on. Finally I realized I was waiting for no good reason. I put the offer out there and made a sale. It felt great!”

Lesson: Does your site have a PayPal button on it? If not, add one today!

A trend or controversial idea can also reveal a business opportunity.
Jason Glaspey was a follower of Paleo, the controversial diet that is both loved and ridiculed. Jason noticed a common problem among fellow devotees: because of the requirement for regular shopping and planning, Paleo was hard to follow on a regular basis.

Jason created Paleo Plan, a membership site that offers shopping lists and ongoing guidance. The goal of Paleo Plan is to keep its customers on track, with detailed shopping lists and ongoing recommendations. The project now brings in more than $5,000 a month.

Lesson: When large groups of people love and hate something, it’s a good sign there’s a business model hiding in plain sight. Get paid by making things easy for the people who love it.

You can be one person… or maybe two.
Nathalie Lussier had lost weight and discovered a new way of life by following a raw foods diet. She then set up a successful business teaching people how they could do the same thing, using webinars, courses, and personal coaching. One of the tipping points came when Nathalie discovered that the initial name she had chosen, Raw Foods Switch, could also be rendered Raw Foods Witch. Nathalie jumped into character, dressing up with a broom and pointed black hat.

Within a year, the business grew to more than $60,000 a year in net income. What’s not to love? Just one thing: Nathalie liked raw foods, but that wasn’t all she liked. She was also a programmer who had set up the entire database and backend operation for Raw Foods Witch. She wanted to put those skills to greater use, and she felt like she could help aspirational entrepreneurs build their business.

Instead of shutting down the raw foods business, however, Nathalie put it on auto-pilot, using auto-responders and repeating webinars to essentially market the business on its own. Then she switched over to a new site, NathalieLussier.com, where she offers specific consulting services based on business-building and technology.

Nathalie now earns a good living from both businesses, with RawFoodsWitch.com essentially running on its own as she focuses her efforts on the new site.

Lesson: Clone yourself for fun and profit. It’s not necessarily about doing more, it’s about being smart.

Notice what frustrates you, then figure out a way to correct it. [TIM: This is my business model for almost everything]
In Portland, Oregon I met Sarah Young, who opened a yarn store at the height of the recession despite no business background. When I asked Sarah, “What made you think you would succeed?” her answer was astute.

“I wasn’t an entrepreneur,” Sarah said, “But I was a shopper. Other yarn stores were cramped and unfriendly. There wasn’t really a space you could go to hang out. I knew I wasn’t the only knitter who felt this way, so I decided to create an alternative.”

Sarah followed up, renting retail space and decorating for the grand opening of Happy Knits, a welcoming space for knitters and their families. The last part was important: most (though not all) knitters are women, so Sarah set up a play area for kids and a WiFi area for non-knitting partners. Customers are welcome to stay as long as they like.

You can see Sarah and hear more about Happy Knits in this video trailer.

[Note: in the trailer, Sarah tells the story of her first $1,000 day. We filmed this a few months ago, and when I recently caught up with her, she told me about the store’s first $10,000 day. Business is great and Happy Knits now has six employees.]

Lesson: See something missing? Maybe you’re not the only one. Pay attention to inefficiencies, which may be opportunities to provide something better.

To make an extra $35,000 a year, be open to change.
One of the most insightful stories came from a source who preferred to be anonymous, a gent who tweaked a single variable in his sales page. Everything else was constant:

On one sales page I had $49, and on another $89. Nothing was different at all—same copywriting, same order process, same fulfillment. To be honest, I thought that $49 was a better price, but I had set that price somewhat arbitrarily. Guess what? Conversion went down [for $89]… slightly. But overall income actually increased! …

I then decided to test it at $99. Why not, right? But from $89 to $99 I saw a bit more of a drop-off, and I got worried. I’m now back at $89, and even with the lower conversion factored in, I worked out that I’ve given myself a $24 raise on every product that sells.

These days we are selling at least four copies a day. If everything else remains consistent, I’ll make $35,040 more this year . . . all from one test.

This single, unexpected tweak resulted in more than $35,000 a year in net income. His last words to me were: “I’ve decided to try some more tests.”

Lesson: Test everything. If you’re not good at testing, however, at least test pricing. [TIM: Here’s one helpful tool you might get obsessed with: Unbounce.com]

Give them an offer they can’t refuse.
What separates a decent offer from a compelling offer that you simply must purchase? I learned this lesson in Anchorage, Alaska, when I talked with Scott McMurren, co-founder of Alaska TourSaver, the leading coupon guide for visitors coming to Alaska.

Scott explained how it worked. Every year, more than a million visitors head to the frontier state, and many of them travel independently. Alaska is a beautiful place, but it’s also expensive. To keep costs down, Scott worked with hotels, restaurants, and tour providers all across the state. He put pressure on them to provide real savings instead of the usual minor discounts that other coupons offered. (In the TourSaver guide, most deals are Buy-1-Get-1-Free or 50% off.)

Then Scott make an important decision: instead of pricing his coupon book for twenty bucks or so, like some competitors did, Alaska TourSaver would sell on an annual basis for just under $100. Because the deals are so valuable, it’s a no-brainer for most travelers to pick up the package. Scott’s pitch is: “Get this coupon book, use it once, and it will pay for itself. Then you’ll have hundreds of additional coupons to use as well.”

Lesson: Make your offer so compelling that buyers have no reason to say no. Give them an offer they can’t refuse. (Bonus tip: every compelling offer includes an element of urgency, the reason why buyers should take action right now. “Supplies are limited! Don’t wait!”)

Give people what they want (not just what they say they want).
Kyle Hepp is a wedding photographer who travels the world from her home base in Santiago, Chile. Kyle’s clients tend to be young and hip, and they’re drawn to her work because it is non-traditional. Sometimes they even say they don’t want any traditional wedding shots. “We’re not into old-school,” was how one couple put it.

Kyle agrees with them and spends her time at the wedding getting fun, candid shots that she knows the couple will like. But that’s not all. Having done this for a while, Kyle knows that what her clients want and what they say they want may be different—and she also knows that the families of the bride and groom may have preferences of their own. Here’s how she handles these competing desires:

On the day of the wedding, I’ll grab them and say, “Let’s get your family and just do a couple of traditional shots.” I’ll make it quick and painless. I make sure everyone is laughing and having a good time and it’s not those awful, everybody-stare-at-the-camera-and-look-miserable kinds of shots. And then after the wedding, when I deliver those photos, either the bride and groom’s parents will be thrilled to have those pictures (which in turn makes the couple happy), or the bride and groom themselves will end up saying they’re so happy that we did those shots.

Kyle goes above and beyond by giving her photography clients what they really want… even if they hadn’t realized it themselves.

Lesson: Dig deeper to uncover real needs. Give people what they really want.

Put happiness in a box and sell it.
What do people really, really want? They want something positive added to their lives or something negative removed. The best microbusinesses do this in different ways—making it easier to travel the world, for example, or making customers feel special. But when you talk with business owners, many focus on the descriptions of their business instead of how their product or service will actually help people.

Consider these different approaches in explaining the mission of the V6 Ranch, an unconventional vacation destination in Parkfield, California:

Descriptive (Boring): Our business enables visitors to ride horses and sit around the campfire.

Benefits (Inspirational): Our business helps visitors be someone else for a day. The message we try to send is “Come stay with us and be a cowboy.”

Isn’t the second option so much better? Sell happiness (benefit) instead of merely describing your business (features).

Lesson: As much as possible, focus your business messaging on adding something positive or removing something negative from customers’ daily routines.

Forget traditional demographics. Focus on psychographics instead.
In Arcata, California, Charlie Jordan and Mark Ritz teamed up to start the Kinetic Koffee Kompany. They had great coffee, but that wasn’t enough—these days, there are plenty of small businesses making great coffee.

What set the Kinetic Koffee Kompany apart was their target market: they focused specifically on the outdoors community, pitching bike shops and “gear retailers” on carrying their stock. They showed up at races and made a name for themselves among groups interested in active hobbies. Instead of competing with Starbucks, Charlie and Mark made their own market.

Lesson: Figure out who “your people” are and serve them. Don’t group them according to traditional demographics unless you have a good reason to.

Offer a “no pain, all gain” refund option to build confidence.
Nev Lapwood was a snowboarding instructor who created a set of instructional DVDs that sold around the world. Nev had a good business model almost from the beginning, but he decided to kick it up a notch, offering to refund his customers 110% of their purchase price if they didn’t like the product. Sales increased, and Nev applied the same approach with foreign translations of his DVDs.

I asked Nev if this had become a problem with people requesting habitual refunds. His response: nope, not at all. The business now produces more than $240,000 a year in net income.

Lesson: Build trust by making it easy to trust you. Offer a strong guarantee, and don’t make people jump through hoops to get a refund.

[TIM: 110% sound familiar? Check out the below. Congrats again, Nev!]

“Marketing is like sex (only losers pay for it).”
This quote, originally from a 2010 Fast Company article, aptly describes how the roles of marketing and paid advertising have changed. The vast majority of business owners I surveyed had built their customer base without any paid advertising at all. Instead, they did so largely through word of mouth.

I tested this hypothesis through my [Chris] own $10,000, Ten-Hour “Marketing and Sex” experiment—placing a series of paid ads for a travel service I operate and comparing them to the efforts of “hustling,” or connecting with friends and readers in a free, organic manner. The results were clear: I made far more money through the hustling efforts than through the paid advertising methods.

Lesson: If paid advertising proves to work for your business, by all means, don’t quit. But before you go down that road, consider “hustling” instead—the gentle art of self-promotion, and making something interesting that others will be eager to share for free.

Plan your product launch long in advance, and make people line up to purchase.
Like a Hollywood movie, you want to build anticipation before launching anything. Use the “dark and stormy night” approach to tell stories and lead people into a great experience—not just a sale.

Adam Baker and Karol Gajda’s Only72.com project illustrates this concept well. Twice a year, they line up affiliates and partners to push through a megasale of discounted online products… for only 72 hours. Each sale produces a six-figure payday for Adam, Karol, and the affiliates—because they’ve learned to build anticipation.

Free bonus: wondering how to launch your first product? Here’s a 37-Step Product Launch checklist. Pay it forward by making a great product or service and launching well.

Lesson: Get people excited! Then give them what they want.

Turn disaster into recovery—then sell recovery.
Ridlon “Sharkman” Kiphard was on an island in Fiji, operating his first big tour for Live Adventurously, an alternative tour operator for those who like to play hard. The first half of the trip had been great, but then the call came: the chief of the neighboring island, which they were scheduled to visit the next day, had died. His death called for a mandatory 100 days (!) of mourning. Suddenly, Sharkman had nine high-paying guests… and nowhere to go.

In Sharkman’s words, here’s how the story unfolded:

“This was when doing our research earlier, and really knowing the area, paid off. We managed to extend our stay where we were by one night and spent the time feverishly cobbling together plans. We chartered an aircraft; contacted numerous hotels, resorts, and dive operators; got recommendations; did some more research; and booked the group into a newly opened property on a remote island. The transition went smoothly, the entire rest of the trip came off without a hitch, and it was as if it had been planned that way the entire time.”

Over and over, I heard stories like these—of how an impending disaster turned into a moment of strength. In Sharkman’s case, his guests were highly impressed with how the team managed the problem. Some of them offered to pay extra to cover the additional costs incurred with the change, and all went on to provide strong referrals for Live Adventurously.

Lesson: Stick it out! (Bonus: The value of failure is overrated. Everyone always wants to know about failure because of some convoluted theory that you must fail more often than you succeed. “You learn more from your mistakes…” etc. Why not succeed from the beginning? Some people do. [TIM: In other words, learn from other people’s mistakes instead, when possible.)

***

Wrap-up: Your Turn

The constant themes in our study were freedom and value: freedom is what we all want, and value is the way to achieve it. Over and over, I found business owners who had created their own freedom (and a great income) by making something useful and desirable for their customers.

It’s easy to think that these are isolated examples, or that you can’t achieve the same results, but the micro-business phenomenon is happening all over the world in different ways.

Follow the path of these stories and make actionable plans. Pick one thing, get it on the calendar, and do it in the next week. Just do something.

Lesson: Don’t kill the dream! Live the dream!

###

Odds and Ends:

- If you have enjoyed the muse example series in the past, you will love Chris’ new book, The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.

- If you’re interested in product launches, check out this oddly named (cough, cough, scratch head, scratch head) piece in Forbes: The Tim Ferriss Effect.

- Are you a writer, or an aspiring writer? Read this: “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.”

Posted on: May 24, 2012.

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209 comments on “Six-Figure Businesses Built for Less Than $100: 17 Lessons Learned

  1. This post is a great example that counteracts the idea of “it takes money to make money”. You don’t need a lot of money to start with – most of the time it’s a matter of starting and taking it from there.

    Like

    • I completely agree with Thanh Pham’s comments. People who say “it takes money to make money” are all too often using their lack of funds as an excuse not to get started on anything at all.

      Like

      • I agree: I bought a book on amazon.com called how to make apps yourself, for $3.99 which is a beginners guide to making apps, then I got some software for $49 and I’ve already made 2 apps. Its proof you don’t need lots of money to get started.
        Hope this helps someone else learn to make apps also.
        DD

        Like

    • Agreed! This “you get what you pay for attitude,” is such a complete lie. I’m an indie filmmaker and have seen conversation after conversation in forums about how much it takes to make a movie. Later, I hear people are spending 20K to make a movie that will never make them any money.

      Like

      • Very true about start-ups not requiring a lot of money for the first sale. I think it is one of the human flaws to believe that paying for marketing has to be more effective than organic growth from search page rankings or social media popularity.

        Like

  2. It definitely doesn’t take money to make money. I think hard word, bootstrapped endurance, and the drive to succeed is really all you need. The key is really asking yourself “How bad do you want it?”

    Like

  3. I read the $100 Startup as soon as I heard about it. Really inspiring stories, and great examples about how you can create and sustain a small business without a lot of startup cash. I started my own software company as a side job a while back for the cost of the domain and a business license. Five years later it’s still a side business, mostly because we need the health insurance that my job provides me. I did have to go it alone in 2011 after leaving my job in december of 2010. It worked great for a while, but with a second child joining the crew, we needed more income than the business could provide on it’s own. I’m still doing side projects, so the dream is not dead. It’s just delayed a little while.

    Like

  4. Perfect timing, was feeling a bit de-motivated by my first entrepreneurial attempts and was thinking of grander and grander schemes as the only way to success.

    Will get back to basics and try smarter

    Like

    • Hi A. Domenchini,

      Like you, I’ve been through a few entrepreneurial failures in the last 2 years. I often want to give up but something keeps nagging at me to keep going. I hope you will too!

      Nubiå

      Like

      • I have read somewhere that it usually takes more than a dozen different venture of failure and learning before the entrepreneur gets it right. I know for me personally, I tried dozens of ventures and 100s of ideas before I found my muse. I realize now what I did different with the successful muse was burn the bridge behind me.
        By quitting my job a week before, I forced myself to do whatever I needed to do, in order to make it a success. If failure isn’t an option, success is more likely. Just my experience, Hope this helps.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Chris, “A trend or controversial idea can also reveal a business opportunity. ” is the truth. The guy who made the Osama Bin Laden shirts right after it was reported made over 100K that same weekend. He literally bought a domain name ($15) put up a few shirts, made a 100K before he checked his paypal, simply genius.

    Like

  6. Using leverage and having “some” experience can really make a difference! I turned $600 into 7 figures. However, I also had several years in that particular industry and was able to spot an opportunity. My advice would be to get “in process” so that preparation has a chance to meet opportunity.

    Like

    • It almost sounds negative (and hilarious) when you put it like that. I admire their move, I think it demonstrated lateral thinking skills and tenacity.

      Like

    • Speaking as a former regulator, it is good for Emma that the bank never found out. First they could have called the balance due at any time once they found out. Second, loan fraud is a federal crime.

      Of course the bank shouldn’t have funded the loan without verifying that the collateral existed through sale documents or an actual inspection so there is plenty of blame to go around.

      Like

  7. This post immediately reminds of Ramit Sethi’s persuasive rants to create your own side hustle. Finding idea isn’t hard, it’s overcoming fearing and executing that is difficult.

    Thanks, Chris

    Like

  8. Love the actionable lessons! Favorite scheme is Bruce & Emma’s “car-loan” for startup funding. Instantly thought about the story of Chris Sacca using his law-school tuition for online investing. Super excited to dive into the book & can’t wait for WDS!! Thank you Tim & Chris for continuing to supply plenty quality “get off your ass!” content :) Cheers -George

    Like

  9. This book is PURE content, get it! It’s very inspiring and a great weekend read. Chris was motivational in helping us get our business off the ground a couple years ago!

    Must read for the serious entrepreneur!

    Like

  10. This is a great post. The car-loan really caught my attention…it was kinda of creative, but risky. Sometimes you don’t need a lot of money to have a successful business…of course, it depends on the business. Great post of Chris Guillibeau!

    Like

  11. Thanks for another great and motivational post. These muse posts have kept me pushing forward with my own micro businesses, and now I’m about to launch a new product at the end of this month! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Like

  12. I just bought your book Chris, and love how you use real-life examples and non-technical lingo to educate. I’m inspired to pick up my “side project” once again, and actually go for it this time!

    Like

  13. It’s a great book! I was lucky enough to attend Chris’s World Domination Summit last year and am attending again this year. Chris does a great job bringing people together who inspire, share and motivate the hell out of you! Earlier posters are right…shining example that you can build your muse by filling a need and then drivin’ that thing like you stole it!

    Like

  14. F***in’ great article! I’m myself starting the adventure of being a self employed man, starting out on a freelance contract, with a great pay, and the possibility to get started on my projects… I’m resigning tomorrow! Great tips in here…

    Like

  15. I actually did this a couple weeks ago! I’m a leather smith, and hurt my hand so I couldn’t work for a month. Instead of sitting doing nothing, I took the time to design a key hook I’d wanted to have made in metal- had prototypes made, and it just got funded over 2,500% on an 18 day Kickstarter!

    4HWW was my business bible, but it’s so nice to see a book about physical businesses as well (not just online)- mine was started on $40, you’ve just got to love what you do and actually do it.

    Like

    • Eric, that’s super-inspiring! Congrats! I’ve been lurking on Kickstarter and am amazed at the wonderful projects that are getting funded. My fav so far? Specialty gaming dice that garnered 5-figures in funding – the original goal was in the hundreds.

      Like

      • Thanks guys, and good luck!

        Daniel- with Kickstarter, simplicity is key. Besides getting my product funded, I wanted to test market interest for the future. I didn’t dilute this information by offering tshirts, posters, etc. that weren’t my product- you either got a bottle hook (or multiple), or you got nothing. Offer clear, simple rewards so you can make use of the data you’ll receive.

        It’s honestly a great way to actually get paid for advertising your product or company, so it’s beneficial to wait for your launch until you have somewhere to direct all the traffic if your campaign raises lots of interest. Because its a social network thing, these funders will want to follow along. I know I personally had 350 new twitter followers, my website traffic doubled, and sales were way up the whole two and a half weeks of the campaign. I also got 10 new stores stocking my other products because they saw the Kickstarter.

        Lastly, Kickstarter may be new and tech-y, but at it’s core it’s extremely primal…only the strong survive and thrive. Do your research to make sure you have the best product you can have. That should help you!

        Like

  16. This was an amazingly motivating, helpful and timely post for me. Thanks for all that went into putting this information out there. This just hit #1 on my resource list. I hope I’ll have some successes to share of my own soon. Cheers! Jess

    Like

  17. This is a great article and as further proof that this can work I offer my own business. Red Head Rehabs was renovating homes and our friends kept asking us how they could redo their kitchen, bathroom, or some other room in their house like we did? They were scared of contractors and wanted us to handle it for them. Well needless to say, we didn’t have time, however what we learned was that most of these people simply had no knowledge or information on the process. So I spent an entire weekend, locked myself in my apartment, and created the renovation domination system which helps home owners learn how to renovate their homes, manage contractors, and save money! We then hooked up with Angie’s list through their Big Deal promotion and sold over 200 in the first month, all with no cost to us except some web hosting! You can make it work if you put your mind to it, and take action, remember DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT, GET IT DONE!

    Like

  18. Thanks for the article, it’s very inspiring and yes launching a company with less than 100$ is possible. For my online business I start with less than 60$ but with Google have tools that company use to pay millions for.
    Did we just miss the only 72 sales? It was looking very interesting.

    Like

  19. Excellent post and I think it highlights what will be the brightest spot in America’s future, our ability to perceive how things can be done better (whether a service or product) and implementation of that particular strategy. Thanks!

    Like

  20. good post.

    have an idea, will draw up a rough sketch for the product and fingers crossed get it up on unbounce tonight/tomorrow morning.

    Run a few ppc ads to it… will publish results after collected enough yays/nays.

    Like

  21. Great post, Chris. Have been following Chris’ blog for quite a while now and this book is an excellent example of how we all can create a business from what we know and what we are good at. I’ve just completed ‘$100 Start-ups’ book past weekend and this is really different than what I’ve been reading lately in VC based start-up. This book lays out all the details you’d need to start a business without much investment and I cannot wait to use it for hundreds of ideas I’ve been playing up lately.

    Thanks Tim.

    Like

  22. Great posts & the book, just finished reading it today. Highly recommended for those who are still unsure about starting a business.

    What I find the most interesting is the fact that all these case studies are ordinary people and it proves that to be successful it’s much more about the mental strength to take a risk, which sometimes is pretty tiny after going through Tim’s “What’s the worse case scenario…” exercise.

    Like

  23. I just love the quote: :marketing is like sex: only losers pay for it”. I started my business with $0 and focussed on press releases and word of mouth. A few years later I sold my $0 business for six figures. Now we have social media (socmed), you can do press releases and entire campaigns for $0. Rinse & Repeat! :-)

    Like

  24. Great post, these examples show the real effects of the “just do it” rule of business!

    Now how about a UK kindle edition of the book please!?

    Like

  25. I’ll be running two projects on Indiegogo over the coming summer months. The 39 step launch check list will come in handy. It made me think that perhaps keeping the campaign under a month and extending the preparations to launch is something to consider. Both products are physical. One is my spine candles that I want to build up and the other is a bit of bling for your motorcycle ( I ride too )

    Like

  26. Yeah, I just started my blog a few weeks ago, and I’ve been looking for ways to monetize it. Right now, I’m looking for products to affiliate market. But I’m slowly starting to realize I need my own products

    Like

  27. I’ll bet Brett Kelly (and the others) had a good day today. I’ve tried to get into evernote, but I had no idea where to start. Had no idea his guide existed, just bought one.

    Like

  28. I hate these kind of thing. It does take money to make money. I also don’t agree that ANYONE built any business with less than $100. You may have made money selling something, but you didn’t build a business. It costs more than that just to be able to sell your product from your house. Also, finding people that are skilled enough to help you make your business happen costs. I have been trying and trying to figure out ways to build my business and it ALWAYS comes down to needing more money. The only thing I can find is people who will do the work for money. It would be awesome to find a developer who needs no money and would love to take on a 6 month web dev build for free, but those people don’t come around very often. While I agree you can “test” a business idea for less than a $100 the business doesn’t even start for way after that. just my 2 cents.

    Like

    • There is a lot of truth to what you say. There is certain NewAge naivety to the idea that all you need is strong intention and a good idea for success to be inevitable. It stems from the narcissistic idea that “I am the center of the Universe” and “it’s all about me!” There is much more complexity to the real world than that

      Like

      • Tim, Thank you. I get censored every time I try to point things out like you did. It seems there is some kind of blacklisting going on. (stuck is moderation all the time, then nothing) Even with the disclaimer, Emma Reynolds’s case should of been thrown out as it is fraud to get a loan for a car that does not exist. “She succeed by commiting fraud, but you shouldn’t do that, yet I’m using her case study because people will eat it up.” How is that a good example? How is that inspiring? There is a tendency to hero worship bad content on this blog. I don’t know why that is.

        Like

      • I know I shouldn’t bother, but I want to know:

        Why do people repeatedly visit websites they don’t like, only to leave whiny complaints and “philosophical” criticisms? Is it altruism? wisdom? practicality? And why not instead spend the time finding resources and websites that you can relate to and use?

        [That said, I personally appreciated the comment from the bank auditor. Productive and specific criticism can be very helpful. ]

        Like

    • Maybe you could barter for what you need….I found lots of help by asking what people needed…sometimes others are starting out and need to build a diverse portfolio or sometimes they remember how it was starting out and will help. I have a good product so I traded for what I needed and did profit sharing to get off the ground. Be creative money is great but if you find what people would spend the money on anyways cut out the middleman….it’s better than paying retail!

      Like

    • You might want to consult college students majoring in whatever you are lacking and allow them to reference the work they did in their portfolio, as well as write a letter of reference.

      Like

  29. Hi all,

    Thanks so much for Tim for hosting me today, and thanks to all of you for reading. I’ve just arrived in London for the UK book launch (Friday night at 7pm – it’s currently 12:30am local), and I’ll check in again here tomorrow.

    @Thanor – yes, the most recent Only72 sale happened last month. They’ll do another one later in the year.

    Like

    • HI Chris. I only saw that you’re coming last night and registered. I’m hoping it’s OK if I just show up as it’s free according to your website, but if you get a chance to look through your registrations during the day I’d appreciate it. I’ll be riding my bike into London straight after work.

      Like

  30. Telling a bank you need money for one thing (a car), while intending to use it for something else (your business), is fraudulent and a felony. DO NOT do this.

    Like

    • Thank you! No one bothered to respond to your comment but you are absolutely right. And I do think that even though it was “clever” and most believe the big banks are “evil”, I do think that starting your business on the basis of dishonesty and fraud is not a very healthy way to go about it on many levels and for many reasons.

      Like

      • Yes use a student loan it’s much easier and I don’t think it ill eagle either, but don’t trust my legal advice I’m using a computer in jail…lol

        Like

    • I agree. I am not even sure I believe the story. Every car loan I have ever had required a VIN number and a good amount of paperwork from the car dealer. Are they saying they forged all of this?

      Like

  31. Awesome article Tim – and another one showed up in my ereader today as well. Loving this Friday!

    I started an online business selling something that I never expected to do that well. It has taken off, and I think the biggest thing I could share with people about how that came about is…

    Find a niche where the sites that are top – are not put together well. They’re not user friendly. They are a chore to figure out. They are no fun to use. Build a site that is focused on making something very easy to the visitor… whether it is finding information, accomplishing something, or buying something.

    This formula has helped me build a number of small businesses online over the years which worked out very well… most I have sold.

    Thanks for the great articles Tim!

    fyi – nev said 120% guarantee – not 110.

    Like

  32. This was a great article.

    I resonate with a lot of these. After reading your book Tim I worked on my own muse. 6 weeks ago I left work to go full time on it… Cost to start the business was hosting and the domain, monthly costs to run the business is less than 800 and profits are averaging 15k a month. It really is possible!

    I ‘latched’ on to a current piece of software and provide support where the real company can’t… What’s better is that company has been in touch recently to develope a better relationship and we will be working on some things in the next few weeks. I am also an individual and simply outsource nearly everything except the customer service and day to day management of things.

    The whole experience has been extremely liberating. I would never have thought I old have achieved this with just an iPad/laptop and spotting a gap in the market.

    I celebrated my leaving work with something I always wanted to do… 2 weeks muay Thai training in Thailand.

    I’m more than happy o answer any questions if anyone wants to know anything :)

    Like

      • Hi Nehal- best to leave any questions as a reply to my original post.

        I don’t want to put my email (personal or business) in fear of flooding my inbox or giving away my niche/business :)

        Hope that is ok!

        Like

      • Good stuff James. I did massage and cooking in Thailand and loved it! I am contemplating a muse now and ‘latching’ and ‘tweaking’ a popular software product to better meet the needs of social entrepreneurs is in the mental stage. Congrats on your success.

        Like

  33. Great article! Favorite quote “Marketing is like Sex, only Losers Pay for it.” Most valuable piece of info for me “put happiness in a box and sell it”

    The “Tim Ferris Effect” article was pretty good too…

    Like

  34. I love it, pure gold. 20 years ago, I bought a stepladder and some brushes, ($50) and started painting houses. Within a couple of years, working solo, I was nearing six figures.

    Like

  35. Excellent post, I feel really inspired to actually hustle and get my business growing… I kind of have an app creation business which has so far made me about $10 + a Playbook and a Blackberry Torch…

    It was started with no investment (except sweat equity), and I really think it could grow into something big if I invest more than the minimum of effort I have put into it so far.

    Like

  36. @Daniel – yep, everyone’s welcome. It’s first-come, first-served for seating.

    After London tonight, I’ll be back in the U.S. for West Coast dates next week — free tickets and info at 100startup.com/#tour.

    @Vern – you’re right, that should be 120%, not 100%. My fault.

    @Bob – we’re talking about net income, i.e. actual income. :)

    Like

    • HI Chris,

      thank you for an entertaining evening. I did as you suggested and met up with a few people. I wasn’t hustling I promise ;) but had a very good time.
      I did fail to get phone numbers from a few people that I chatted with, so if you’re making a post re the even I’d be looking out for it.

      nice to have met you, hope it’s not the last time ;)

      regards

      Daniel (the two indiegogo projects guy who fired off the first question of the night:)

      Like

    • Long time follower here Chris, and surprised you didn’t catch the wrong spelling in your name in Tims intro. Rock on mate, all the best.

      Like

  37. They laughed at me for selling micro stock and making 25 cents a picture. Then they offed video, I ran to the store and bought a little HD camera and started shooting everything I could. Three years later my job was cut in the medical field. But I had a business already going. Now make more than my medical job as a Cat Scan Technologist and I am loving life! More freedom, I get to watch my kids grow up and love being my own boss! You can do it too.

    Like

  38. Tim,
    Thanks for writing the FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK. It has been an inspiration to me. This past March we opened Wunderland Candy & Crafts Factory in Grayton Beach, Fl. By applying the tools in the book and some similar approachs from the above blog post, we have started to see a strong following and success. My wife and I have out sourced the majority of the day to day which has allowed us to focus on the direction of the business. Were not to 4 hours a week yet, BUT we are well on our way. Thanks for the direction and the different point of view on life vs work. – Trent GRINKMEYER Wunderland Candy & Crafts Factory.

    Like

  39. Tim,

    This is great stuff. I really appreciate that you’re always putting out such great content with with these excellent guests posts. I’m working to implement some of these techniques with my own product inspired by 4HWW and 4HB.

    http://www.fiberonthego.com/

    Just launched. Lots of work to do still, but it’s a start. Thanks for all the great guidance you’ve given over the years!

    Like

  40. It really is possible to start a business without a huge pile of cash! I started an eCommerce drop shipping business with only $1,500 (not quite the $100 he talks about, but still not much) to build a business that does over $1 million in annual revenue. The best part is that it only requires a 1.5 person team (other than myself) to manage!

    I 100% agree with Vern’s tip above, where he advises to pick a niche that is full of confusion and poorly organized sites. Stated differently, pick a niche where you can add value by removing confusing, explaining a product and helping solve a solution. These are the best niches to get into.

    I just finished up a free 55-page eBook that covers how to identify proiftable niche opportunities online, and especially for eCommerce drop shipping.

    Like

  41. It really is possible to start a business without a huge pile of cash! I started an eCommerce drop shipping business with only $1,500 (not quite the $100 he talks about, but still not much) to build a business that does over $1 million in annual revenue. The best part is that it only requires a 1.5 person team (other than myself) to manage!

    I 100% agree with Vern’s tip above, where he advises to pick a niche that is full of confusion and poorly organized sites. Stated differently, pick a niche where you can add value by explaining a complex product and/or helping solve a problem. These are the best niches to get into.

    If you’re struggling to find a niche yourself, I wrote a free 55-page eBook that discusses how to identify profitable eCommerce drop shipping niches. It also includes a 24-point worksheet for “grading” niche opportunities. If you’re interested, you can get a copy below:

    http://www.ecommercefuel.com/profitable-ecommerce-ebook/

    Best of luck with your book, Chris! Plan on picking up a copy shortly! And great work with the promotional side. You’ve been everywhere the last week. ;-)

    Like

  42. I don’t like hitching my wagon to someone’s star. But man…..its hard to kick the Tim Ferriss habit! Another great post Tim on micro-businesses today…..and book recommendations. Imagine what would happen to most publishers if they only posted stuff when they had some neat, relevant or interesting to say. Good stuff man.

    Like

  43. Great article – starting my own “on the cheap” biz and this kind of info is greatly appreciated and very useful. The comments are great also.

    Keep up the great work!

    Like

  44. Excellent post here Chris. I’m definitely going to use the resources you’ve provided to test my sales pages for testing prices as well as use the steps for a successful launch on an up and coming launch I’m working on.

    Thanks!

    Like

  45. Chris is a genius. I love this idea of bootstrapping and starting a business on the cheap. Now I need the kick in the butt to do it!

    Like

  46. Was great seeing Chris speak at SxSWi earlier this year and have given his book to many friends and family.
    On another note, can someone please explain to me how Evernote became so popular in spite of how difficult it is to figure out? Is it mostly programmers who use the productivity software? It seems so masculine and unfriendly. I am really trying to like it, but am having a hard time with it. I will be checking out the Evernote Essentials. Thanks for the tip.

    Like

  47. ok reporting back on idea i said i’d work on from last night.

    here it is: http://unbouncepages.com/use-my-laptop-or-ipad-in-bed/

    had that unbounce-page up for testing, put up a rough sketch picture of the product and the main benefits of the product to users.

    Shared the link on my twitter and facebook pages, 2 posts each (damn! forgot LinkedIn)…

    …results? In last 23hours approx.: 26 visits to the page and one conversion (a conversion being someone clicking on the Call To Action button to buy the product for $99). It’s still a test so clicking that CTA button only leads back to google.com.

    Will setup facebook ads and possibly google ads to increase size of test data for accuracy tomorrow.

    Then will call in all possible favors for a CAD-version of the product.

    So excited. Cant wait to see what this becomes :)

    Like

  48. I’ve been reading from The $100 Startup and am learning quite a bit. I will be in attendance at the San Francisco signing, Chris and look forward to seeing you in person.

    Thank you Tim for posting this – and for continually providing excellent content with an engaging and passionate voice.

    Like

  49. A friend sent me the link to this article knowing it would be right up my alley. Of course I already have the $100 Startup on its way from Amazon :) Can’t wait to read it!

    Like

  50. I devoured this book in a few hours. Like almost everything Chris writes, it’s funny, well written, and full of loads of examples. Loved it, and it gave me heaps of new ideas to implement in my course/business. Thanks for the great post.

    Like

  51. There are some really good tips here and I think they have me hooked: I’m going to buy the book. We’ve just started out with our cooking website and we have so much to learn.

    Like

  52. I can attest that hustling is way more efficient than paid advertising. Paid advertising can generate a lot of traffic, but hustling will give you the dedicated loyal customers that are willing to spend money and keep coming back.

    Like

  53. Ah, thank you for this Tim. It’s good to be reminded that it’s possible to find some peace and success with just a little brain power and motivation and movement. The movement part is key. A little big goes a long way.

    Like

  54. Amazing good read! Well done!
    Here is my tip:
    In order to succeed in ANY business you need to be in a high energy state,
    So your body is the 1st tool you need to treat before doing any business.

    Good luck to you all!

    Like

  55. Has anyone heard of this mastermind group with Joe Polish? New to all of this wondering if anyone has any comments?

    thank you!

    Like

  56. All through the small business course I dd they kept going on about where to get funding, but I decided I didn’t want to start off in someone else’s pocket so i started with no money at all. I built my own website and build all the courses for my training school (simple pdfs and webcam vids) and in just 2 months I am starting to hit £4k a month – and its only early days!

    I am now looking to outsource all my admin and pay for a decent CMS so my website is more automated.

    It’s true – you don’t need to ‘sepeculate to accumulate’

    Like

  57. It’s an inspiring book and kudos to the author for the gargantuan task of collecting all the stories and putting it all together in a coherent, compelling narrative.

    In today’s age where you can outsource work you can’t do (i.e. programming, design, even copywriting) and set up a business online quickly and efficiently — $100 startup costs doesn’t seem like a stretch at all.

    The trick is how to keep that startup business going.

    It’s easy to start a business, but the real challenge is keeping it going and maintaining a level of income that you can live off of. Lots of businesses explode on to the scene but sputter out and die in a few years. It’s the reality of the market and wannabe entrepreneurs shouldn’t be under the illusion that it’s easy, just because it’s easy to start.

    I started my company (my first ever after working for companies and organizations all my life) in 2010 with roughly that amount of money – the magical $100 dollars. But soon the honeymoon period and irrational exuberance wore off, and the cold reality set in. ‘WOW – it’s going to take A LOT more than just a hundred bucks to keep this thing afloat.’ You can’t make money without spending it (either cold hard cash or sweat equity).

    So yeah, I guess I’d like to see a book that addresses those hardships. Success stories are great, but because they only show the best case scenarios, it sort of distorts the realities of running a business for the average person. How about a book about the failures of business — a WHAT NOT to do, WHAT challenges to expect, and so on. Or even better, profiles of businesses getting by — they aren’t runaway success stories but they provide their owners personal and financial fulfillment. Seems that would be just as useful and more realistic…

    Entrepreneurship isn’t all glamor — but it’s a hellava ride. Enjoy it and keep learning, folks.

    Like

  58. About building relationships with customers – great note. “Sex and marketing – only losers pay for it”. Thank you!

    Like

  59. I’m an angel investor.

    I’d much rather invest in these companies or someone like Eric Simons – who lived on $30 a month while hacking away in Silicon Valley (Google “Eric Simons CNET”).

    Why?

    Simple. They are not going to run out of runway, waste my money, overpay themselves, overspend, etc.

    What people don’t get is that, because technology has now lowered the cost of starting a business down to basically zero, anyone anywhere who wants to start a software company or small business can do it on the cheap.

    And yes, that’s exactly why banks lend money to people who don’t need it.

    Guess what? Its our money. We want a return on it. And we want our original investment back. FYI. :)

    Like

  60. I was engrossed in yet another one of your blog posts and I had a suggestion I wanted to throw out.

    Have you ever thought of holding a one day symposium? While I’m regular captivated in reading your blog posts and watching the video interviews, I believe a one day educational course open to 200+ people and broadcast over the internet (for a fee of course) could prove to be invaluable. One of the most thought provoking topics you have covered on your blog has been about the power of influence and word of mouth marketing. As a marketing professional myself, I’ve adopted the theory that you support that there is far more value in one targeted post by a blogger directly related to your product/service you are promoting versus 50 feature articles and or broadcast interviews in the top media outlets across the world.

    Perhaps a one day course about “Media Fragmentation and The Power of Influence” would be worth your time? Your atypical approach to marketing has been astounding and as Michael Ellsberg outlined in his article “The Tim Ferriss Effect” on Forbes, I think an influential audience of entrepreneurs would eat up a chance to hear you speak about it and ask questions. Personally, a chance to sit in a room with you and hear you speak on the topic and then ask questions that would be directly related to my business would be priceless. I’ve had mediocre success in the marketing field, but have decided to devote my creative energy to a new home design product after the lessons I’ve learned from your muse series. As a side note, I am not asking for any promotion of my product (which is still in the testing phase) as it is obviously not a fit for your readers. I just wanted to throw out the idea of the symposium and offer my experience in marketing to help coordinate it with you for no fee.

    I think there should be a fee to see you in action and I think offering the video version to your email list would certainly be worth paying for. You may be asking yourself what’s worth to you. Maybe turning this idea into an educational series could be worth some big bucks for you with little effort on your part. It could be a conglomerate of your “lessons” from your blog which would automate the business and require only your time to attend and speak.

    Just wanted to throw the idea out there. I’ll continue to be an avid fan even if you pass on this idea. Thanks for all that you do. The information you’ve shared has been life changing for me!

    Like

  61. Not all businesses can be started with no money up front. If you have no money up front, look for one that can be started with no money up front. There are plenty.

    Like

  62. Tim and Chris:

    Very inspiring post, perhaps my VA in Bangladesh will read the book and tell me all about it :0)

    I’m sure that $100 start ups are rather rare –what with all the bullshit licenses, trademarks, legal fees and other crap that idiotic government pencil-pushers saddle us with– but the point Chris makes is very valid, these muse businesses can be started with a lot less than it takes for a traditional business. My story (it’s short) is illustrative of this:

    Before reading 4HWW I was working on opening an inovative type of video game store in my hometown (video games can be more profitable than crack). Even starting small it was going to take upwards of 50K for build-out, advertising, and especially inventory. Than I read the book –sound of brakes squealing– and was awestruck. The muse business I’m now creating is a type of information product –a DVD set and self-published book– that Tim uses as an example in 4HWW. It will cost FAR less than the store would, and the profit margins are higher!

    Tim, just on the off chance that you actually read some of these comments let me quickly thank you for the book. I especially like your easy writing style and sense of humor, keep up the good work! The main thing that impressed me however is that you have not set up some kind of monthly subscription service that other business self-help authors do, and provided very specific and actionable information as well as this free website! I’m sure you’ve seen that kind of stuff: “This investment information is so revolutionary that I wanted to share it with the world. Now just sign up to my expensive monthly newsletter…” You are a truly altruistic human being and that’s very refreshing!

    Now, about that haircut…

    Like

  63. Great post! I’m 10 months into a around the world travel video adventure. The only book I carried when I started the journey was the 4HWW. I’m still doing too much work for too little, but my leap of faith has worked and I do see my dream of filming the whole world becoming a reality. The best thing about taking the first step is now I know exactly what being a digital nomad entails, and what steps I need to take to continue. I have changed my filming style to cut back editing time, and have found income streams I’d never even thought of before embarking on this trip. In the video below I assess where I am at, 10 mths in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNh41R3Hcnk

    Like

  64. Really enjoyed this article, lot of good points but regardless of whether you have success already or just starting out it really is important that you learn how to do the business.

    Like

  65. I very much enjoyed this article. It’s an inspiring read for a young entrepreneur like myself.

    For years, I’ve been working at an agency watching them make lackluster videos. In January, I launched Explainify (http://explainify.com), a new animation and video studio specializing in the creation of short, to-the-point stories. Now I can put a lot of love into awesome videos exclusively for apps, products and startups.

    Finally living the dream & doing what I love!

    Like

  66. Just a reminder that the word “hustle” also includes the meaning of “to earn one’s living by illicit or unethical means”. Some people do cross this line, both entrepreneurs or innovators, and justify it because they are making money they haven’t before. So lets not forget about common sense and critical thinking.
    Someone mentioned blacklisting and censoring on this blog. It does seem to be true. my comment was also “stuck in moderation” then deleted many times.

    Like

  67. I realize The $100 Startup is just a kitschy title much like the 4 Hour Workweek, not be taken literally, but just registering an LLC in NYC is over $1,000 (w/ the publishing requirements). Hell registering a “doing-business as” name for a sole proprietorships is over $100 in the city….

    Like

  68. These are all pretty big multiples.

    A couple years after I worked for a guy, I started the same business as his old one in a different geography. I knew what to do just from having been an employee. It cost me $3000 to set up the business and I would earn a couple hundred a week.

    I think that’s something most people can do: apply a known formula plus elbow grease to turn up-front few thousand bucks into a low, steady payment stream.

    Like