Stories from Chi-Town to Chilecon Valley: How Traveling the World Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

by Guest Author on December 5, 2012

Chicago, Illinois. It was a cold winter day in January of 2011. My business partner and I were walking up the stairs to our North Clark Street office when he told me he was done building our company. Shocking and heartbreaking though the conversation was, it marked a wakeup call.

Boy, did it wake me up: the fact was that during three years of struggling to make payroll (despite working 12-hour days), my partner and I weren’t really doing something we were passionate about. We were only doing something we were comfortable with. It made me a better entrepreneur that day to realize that, while comfort may be included in the trappings of success, passion is the key ingredient to running and growing a business.

Omaha, Nebraska. The ways people described Silicon Prairie News’ Big Omaha 2011 typically leaned towards the superlative. “Big.” “The most ambitious.” “The most interconnected.” “Unlike any other.” It was a conference that gathered over 500 entrepreneurs and a dozen nationally recognized speakers. A photo booth had a picture of the moon and the stars in the background, not-too-subtly pushing attendees to reach for either or both.

The ironic thing is: Big Omaha also happened to be where a small seed was planted—a small, humble seed, but a seed that I could clearly see growing. Big Omaha was where I decided to turn one of my business ideas into a new startup—and to devote myself full-time to turning this startup into successful business venture. What I learned was that—more than any talk or presentation, more than fancy slides or inspirational photo booths—it is the act of surrounding yourself with people committed to innovation that can really push you. What a powerful thing it is, too. It reminds you that you can’t wait around for someone to do something someday. That someone is you and that something is today.

Montreal, Canada. To get to this year’s International Startup Festival, I had to ride a bus from New York City all the way to Montreal. It was no ordinary bus ride: my startup, an online review monitoring platform called Review Trackers, was selected as one of the fifteen that were selected to Twilio’s DOer Express, a (literally) moving venue for entrepreneurs to practice pitches, exchange ideas, receive great technical advice, and connect with other entrepreneurs, technologists, and innovators.

I look at this as one of the perfect examples of how the journey is just as important as—if not more important than—the destination. There is always so much to see and hear and learn along the way; this is especially true for entrepreneurs. And if, at some point, you get lost or make a wrong turn, don’t let it stop you from working, moving, and trying.

Medellín, Colombia. One of the reasons why my previous startup failed, why my business partner and I weren’t great at keeping an eye on cash flow. It’s dangerous to assume that having tens of thousands of dollars in receivables will solve your company’s problems, because it won’t—not if you’re also tallying tens of thousands of dollars in burn rate.

Right after learning this lesson (which I certainly learned the hard way), I moved to Medellín, up in Colombia’s beautiful Aburrá Valley, in an apartment with a daily view of the sun setting over the Andes. There I became an instant fan of making dollars and spending pesos. In trying to find a way to reduce my operating costs, I also discovered a better, more affordable place to live.

Mendoza, Argentina. The double-decker bus that I recently took to Mendoza, Argentina was awesome. It passed through Anconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas at close to 22,900 feet. But the trip was worth it: I mean, if I had to make a seven-hour, high-altitude pilgrimage to taste Argentina’s signature wine—the hearty, purple-red malbec—in one of the world’s five best wine destinations (at least according to TripAdvisor), then so be it.

Same applies to business. Don’t hesitate to go the extra mile to find out where your best options are. If you need to source fabric from China, source fabric from China. As for me, I recently hired a lead designer in Florida, a developer from Russia, an engineering team in Hyberabad, and a writer in Manila. Outsourcing has allowed me to be resource-efficient; more importantly, it has enabled me to see the world as my office, and to find great talent wherever it can be found.

Santiago, Chile. In the past 18 months I have visited over 30 cities. Right now I am living in Santiago, where Review Trackers gained entry to the Start-Up Chile program. I’ve gained a ton of memorable experiences here, in what the Economist recently described as “Chilecon Valley“: from learning a new language and meeting smart, globally-minded entrepreneurs on a daily basis to having Sunday barbecue (asado) with new friends and enriching my knowledge of Chile’s history through museum visits.

As an entrepreneur, I see a common thread that ties together all these diverse personal and professional experiences. It doesn’t matter whether I’m speaking to a French computer programmer, a Peruvian shoeshine guy, a Russian millionaire, a vagabond Colombian, or a Chilean winemaker: we’re all trying to solve problems. Everyone, in one way or another, is hoping to make today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today.

In this light, it’s clearer to me that business is not just a way of making money and becoming rich; it is first and foremost a social institution, at the foundation of which is the passion to solve problems and make things better, either for one’s self or for others. It thus comes to no surprise that all this traveling, scratching around, adjusting, planning, failing, and improvising has allowed me to develop my entrepreneurial instincts. As Steve Jobs once said, “I just want to put a ding in the universe.” So do I, and to be honest I don’t care which part of the universe I end up putting it.

About the author
Chris Campbell is currently living in Santiago, Chile, where he’s working on his online review monitoring startup, Review Trackers.

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