I'm writing this blog post from Peru, where I've spent the last week and a half. I flew to Lima, the capital, on the 13th of November 2014, and I'll be flying back on the 13th of December 2014.
Ah, what am I doing here, you ask?
Lots of things.
It started as a family vacation to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. In fact, I'm in Cusco now with some of my family. In two days we'll take a bus to the trailhead and hike some 25 or more miles over 4 days to the famous fortress in the Andes Mountains.
To get a better deal on the rewards ticket to Lima (I think my roundtrip ticket cost about 50k miles and $75 in taxes), I was going to have to stay in Peru longer than my family anyway. So, I decided to make a longer trip out of it and test a couple of personal hypotheses I have.
Hypothesis #1: I can work remotely on my Levate to-dos effectively, efficiently, and without interruption in the amount or quality of work I can do.
Hypothesis #2: I can give entrepreneurship workshops abroad and get paid to do so.
I'll talk more about each of this later. But first, I can hear you ask, I thought you were trying to save money?!? Something doesn't jive, amigo!
Yes, you are right, I recently ran a month-long experiment where I took great pains to limit my expenses. And yet, here I am in a foreign country, and the only thing that's truly expensive about it is the fact that I'm paying $459 in rent for an entire month that I'm not at home. The flight cost me $75, the tours and trip to Machu Picchu were already paid for by my very generous father (who I am lucky to have- Love ya, Dad!), I'm using couchsurfing to stay with new friends in Lima instead of paying for a hostel or hotel, and food (particularly in grocery stores) is inexpensive here. So using the same frugalness I used in October, my $1,000 a month goes much further in Peru than in the US.
With all of my moving around, I also took great pains to pack as light as possible. Everything I brought fits into a standard size backpack and a satchel. In case you're interested in my packing list, you can find it here.
So, into the hypotheses I was testing for this trip. I wanted to treat this trip, or rather the part of it where my family isn't here, like an experiment. If the experiments went well, well, the idea is to try and do the same thing on a more permanent basis. In other words, move out of my apartment and spend a few months in different places around the world, giving entrepreneurship workshops and working remotely on my startup with my business partner Ethan.
So first, let me talk about what it's been like working remotely. I needed to make sure I had reliable access to decent wifi, and a way to make phone calls to the US.
I figured the phone call part out pretty easily. With a netbook, smartphone, headset with mic, and skype subscription, I can basically call anyone I want. Skype has a plan where you pay $15 a month and you get unlimited calls from your skype account to landlines and cell phones around the world. Even cooler, the first month is free. I can reach out to anyone I ordinarily would in the US, just routed through a wifi connection and connected to their phone line.
The complicated part is that no one can call me, unless they're using my skype account. If or when I do this again, I may look into purchasing a Skype phone number. Like a regular phone number, if someone calls that number, I can answer it anywhere I'm connected to my Skype account. Pretty slick, and from what I remember it is reasonably priced. I could even have my cell phone number route to my hypothetical Skype number, I imagine.
What I'm missing out on here is the face to face interaction with my connections and especially with my team. A phone call or video call can never compare to sitting across a table from someone or shaking their hands. That's ultimately part of the price one pays for working remotely. And I do hate leaving my partner, Ethan, to take care of in-person meetings on his own.
Thankfully, there's only an hour time change between Oklahoma and Peru. I do have to be careful about keeping track of that hour time change, but I can only imagine that it would be much more complicated to coordinate meetings and such as the time difference gets bigger.
So far the wi-fi situation has been a mixed bag. In the hostel (I stayed in one for the first two nights) and homes I've been staying in, the wifi has been consistently good. That makes working from wherever I'm lodged quite convenient.
On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be consistent wi-fi access in cafes like in the USA. Some public places, such as parks or shopping centers have free public wi-fi, but the quality is spotty at best and they all seem to require you to log back in after 15 minutes of using it.
I have been visiting a couple coworking spaces in Lima, trying to set up workshops (more on that later), and one invited me to use their space while I'm in Lima. Their wi-fi was excellent. This makes me wonder if I could hop from coworking space to coworking space, giving workshops and using the spaces to work remotely for a couple weeks at a time before moving on to a new coworking space. Because of the camaraderie among startups and entrepreneurs, I imagine most spaces wouldn't mind. Especially if I'm already giving workshops there for their occupants.
So far, I've given one workshop here on the Lean Startup validation cycle, and I have a workshop on Agile methodologies lined up for when I get back from the Inca trail and Machu Picchu. I'm doing both of these free of charge. Getting paid for them would have been nice, but it seemed most important at the beginning to build experience as well as a network first. I'm trying to arrange paid workshops with two coworking spaces, Comunal and Stars Camp.
The first workshop I gave went well. You may be interested in how it came to be. Well, I knew no one in the Lima entrepreneurship community before this workshop. I spent a few days sending around a ton of cold-emails to organizations I found online. One of my emails got forwarded to the director of EmprendeAhora (Innovate Now in English). As it turns out, November is Lima's entrepreneurship month, and the Director, Romina, wanted me to do a Lean Startup workshop for some of the old graduates of the program. After setting up this workshop, I asked her if she could connect me to anyone else she thought might be interested in having me put on a workshop. She connected me with Arturo, which led to the Agile workshop I'll be putting on, as well as the connections with the two coworking spaces I mentioned.
By the way, I was very impressed with the state of the business my students had. All of them had paying customers, which is awesome! That is typically the hardest part for anyone starting their own business.
These workshops I'm giving are all in Spanish. I'm pretty confident about my Spanish skills, but there is definitely a world of difference between shooting the breeze with friends and teaching a workshop. So while my Spanish was shaky for this first workshop, I hope to continue improving on my ability to deliver the content and lead the exercises in a foreign language.
So far, the feedback has been assuringly positive from the workshop, including in the anonymous survey I sent out after the workshop ended. I did discover a lot of things I could have done better personally, which coincided with the constructive criticism I've received from the students and Romina, the organizer. For example, I did not do a good enough job explaining and framing the mock interview exercises, and several of the students were confused by it as a result.
I'm feeling very positive about my chances to get at least 1 paid workshop set up with one of the coworking spaces. By the way, some of the next posts I want to do will be about the coworking spaces I visited. They were both quite interesting places, with what seemed to be quite successful and functioning communities. As I travel more, it will be interesting to compare notes on the different coworking spaces.
What else is there to say right now, as we wait to go hiking to Machu Picchu?
Well, the food's amazing. Really fresh seafood, and a wonderful spin on food adopted from other cultures. Peruvians have incorporated their unique flavors into fusion Peruvian-Chinese (called "Chifa" in Peru) and Peruvia-Japanese food, and have even given a Peruvian spin to dishes like sandwiches and burgers.
Despite how crazy the drivers are in the crowded Lima streets, I have been quite pleased to have connected with a ton of open, fun, and amazing people while I've been here; both through the workshops I'm giving and through Couchsurfers. In fact, I went with some of my new friends to take surf lessons on the beach in a town about 45 kilometers to the North of Lima, called San Bartolo. We paid $15 each for lessons that lasted almost 2 hours in total. It was the first time I'd been surfing, and it was a blast. We finished the day eating seafood on a terrace overlooking the beach, laughing and chatting until the sun went down.
A Peruvian family I stayed with for 3 nights, and who invited me back to stay with them once I return from the Inca Trail, showed me all around the historic center, the Lima Zoo, and the Larco Archaeology Museum. I went with other new friends to a wonderful free concert series called "Patio Abierto", held on a stage behind the National Museum, where I was introduced to some fantastic new bands like Las Cantautoras, Quasar, and Colectivo Circo Band.
The past week and a half in Peru have felt formative, to say the least. Now I'm off to hike the Inca Trail.
Until next time,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much