Think it's hard to start a business in the US?

And you thought the DMV was bad!
The permits are expensive! Taxes are ridiculous! I have to offer all my employees budget-busting healthcare plans! It takes two weeks for the inspector to make an appearance! Government just gets in the way! We've been wrestling with the FDA for months! Heard any of these complaints lately?

If you think the US is bad, try almost every other country on Earth. In Brazil it takes 119 days to start a new business (i.e. to file the paperwork). In Colombia you can start a business but it can take years to close one (declaring bankruptcy is nearly impossible). In Zanzibar you literally have to bribe policemen just to drive your delivery truck up the road. In Nepal labor strikes paralyze the country almost monthly and electricity goes out multiple times a day. In Ethiopia you're lucky if your employees actually show up for work (extended, unannounced vacations are common). In Sri Lanka government officials expect large handouts even for aid projects.

Erik Wallin has been exploring the international startup process in a round-the-world entrepreneurship tour. He documents the journey on his blog and recently created the "Time to Start a Business" map on the left from World Bank data (you can check out the raw data here). New Zealand leads the pack with only a single procedure that takes a single day.

Moral of the story? The US-of-A is a fantastic place to be an entrepreneur so stop griping and go create some value!

Book Review: The Lean Entrepreneur

Grow your business through experimentation
Is uncertainty overwhelming your business's next big bet? Trying to stay ahead of the curve? Getting ready to launch a disruptive product in your new startup? You might want to build-measure-learn.

Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits have gone above and beyond the call of duty to put together the next must read book for entrepreneurs of all colors. Brant also happens to be a good friend, thought leader of lean startups in general and true linchpin in the San Diego entrepreneurial community.

Eric Ries popularized the new wave of entrepreneurship thinking with his book The Lean Startup. In The Lean Entrepreneur Brant and Patrick have developed the core ideas behind lean thinking and customer development into a holistic approach to your entire company's value chain.

One of the fundamental obstacles new products/companies face is that the founders live in their own heads. Time, effort and resources are devoted to planning, internal discussion and focused execution. But focused execution of something that's only been concocted in the safety of your own mind usually has a hard time finding market success (unless you're damn lucky)!

The fact is that business building, like evolution, is essentially an extroverted process. Opposable thumbs weren't a good idea a priori. They turned out to be a good idea once our thumbed ancestors beat out their thumbless competitors to survive and reproduce. Nobody knows what will be the next blockbuster before it's actually released. The market determines the blockbuster, not the executive producer. Only viewers have the power to decide.

The Lean Entrepreneur applies relentless experimentation to every element of product development and business modeling. If managed correctly, these tools help provide founders with continuous, actionable feedback to inform their decision-making. The authors apply this rigorous methodology not only to product development but also to customer acquisition, sales, marketing, etc. The case studies along the way range from a variety of tech examples to my personal favorite: the founding of San Diego's own Berkeley Pizza (best deep-dish in SoCal, bar none).

Check out the book and get your startup in gear. I will be recommending The Lean Entrepreneur to all founders trying to find success in a new venture. As always, let me know in the comments how you're building, measuring and learning in your own business.

Your next (ad)venture

Trying to figure out your new business idea? Struggling to find the right market for your next startup? It might be time to go on vacation.
Cross a pass in Nepal

We started a six-month sabbatical in March that has been entirely focused on adventure travel. So far we’ve trekked the Himalayas, rafted the Karnali river in Nepal, climbed the Simien Mountains in the Ethiopian Highlands, relaxed on beaches in Zanzibar and explored post-war Northern Sri Lanka. It’s been life-changing and I always find myself thinking about the vast potential for improving the experience of adventure travel.

The outbound travel market from North America and Europe alone is in the tens of billions of dollars. Many trips are organized through domestic agencies at home and implemented by local operators abroad.

You might book a safari with a tour company based in Los Angeles but they simply hire a local operator to actually run the trip. The agencies are essentially lead generators for the local operators but are able to take a large cut of the profits because the local operators have such trouble generating their own leads. This is a problem in itself. Agencies have essentially two value adds. The most important is trust. By booking with an agency in your hometown they provide a level of service that makes you feel comfortable. Trying to call a local safari guide in Nairobi over Skype might make you feel a little nervous about how your trip is going to play out. Second, the agency processes your payment. This is actually pretty important because depending on where you go, some operators are unable to process credit cards and sometimes only take cash (do you want to be walking around Nairobi with thousands of dollars in your pockets?).

The vast majority of agencies and operators have less than one million dollars in revenue annually. Combine this extreme fragmentation with the massive market size and you’ve got an industry ripe for disruption.

Snorkel in Zanzibar
I recently stumbled across two startups doing very interesting things in the adventure market. Zozi is building a platform that allows you to discover and book your next local or international adventure with ease. They have a strong front end for discovery and a network of trusted operators to book through. What’s particularly intriguing is their Guru program. Essentially they line up cool adventures with outdoor celebrities: go on a run with Dean Karnazes or learn survival skills with Bear Grylls. This should help bump their visibility and drive a lot of traffic and referrals to their platform. Indie BootsnAll has built an easy-to-use system for booking long-term, multi-leg flights with local airlines all over the world, something that typical flight booking sites simply suck at. Nulu is developing a suite of kickass language-learning tools so you can chat up locals on your next sojourn. Know of anyone else doing crazy cool things in the adventure market? Let me know in the comments section below!

But these are just the beginning. A fragmented market this big needs dozens of new entrants turning the status quo upside down. There’s room to play for everyone. In five years we’ll see a very different market for adventure, one that will still be evolving at an extraordinarily rapid pace. So pack your bags and find a good problem to solve. Who doesn’t want to summit Everest and make a buck at the same time?

The definition of civilization

Indoor hot shower + Western style sit-down toilet + free WiFi = Civilization

What's your definition?

I have a problem

Why isn't there more fiction about startups?
Pounding out a chapter in Narita airport

There are countless non-fiction books that explore different aspects of the venture world. They profile amazing and not so amazing companies, articulate best practices and share insights and advice. But there is so little good entrepreneurial fiction. There’s something about a really good page turner that makes the reader truly identify with the characters and the trials and tribulations the they survive. It sucks you in so effectively you don’t even realize the intellectual and emotional grip it has on you. 

The high-velocity drama inherent in the startup world is screaming for a thought-provoking adventure series. A story that inspires people to become entrepreneurs, exposes the mysterious inner machinations of venture, and takes the reader on a visceral ride through the emotional roller coaster of of founding a company.

I really want to read a book like that but I haven't been able to find any. So instead, I decided to write one.

I've been working on it since last October. There was a big break in productivity while we were trekking through the Himalayas with no electricity. Luckily that was a huge recharge for the creative batteries so now that we are on a beach in Zanzibar I've been able to dive back into writing. 

You can keep track of my progress with the word counter tracker on the right side of the page and you can check out the dust-jacket teaser in the books section. I'll be posting regular updates here on the blog.

I can't wait to get it finished and in front of readers. I'm very much looking forward to all of your feedback. In the meantime, please let me know if you can recommend any good venture fiction for me to read

10 days and 180KM of whitewater rafting on the Karnali River in Nepal

Going from mountain goats to 'leave it to beavers'!

Rafting down the spectacular and remote Karnali river in western Nepal 

Our 33-day trek was amazing and after a week-long rest in Pokhara, we were ready for more adventure. This time, however, we wanted to give our legs a break so we opted for a 10 day, 180km whitewater rafting trip (3 days of travel plus 7 days of rafting). Getting set up to go whitewater rafting is super easy in Nepal. Operators provide everything: food, transport, tents, etc. All we had to do was sign up and hop on a bus!

Although we didn't choose this company, we really recommend Paddle Nepal based in Pokhara, they're a little more pricey than the other ones but they're VERY good at what they do.

The awesome but smelly rafting bus!
A two-day bus ride traversing most of western Nepal brought us to the amazing Karnali River. Like many adventures, ours was off to an interesting start! The guides picked us up in a tiny shit-hole of a town and as we were leaving the bus broke down. We had to push the bus to start it and after a short two hours, we were on our way.

The bus was not the most comfortable thing on Earth and, with no air conditioning or fans, it got blisteringly hot in there. Once the meat cooler started leaking, the meat juice started smelling really nice so we plugged in our earbuds and listened to "The Heist" album by Ryan Lewis and Macklemore. After finally arriving at 9PM we ate a late dinner, showered and passed out in our 'cosy' room.

Basic accommodation but with a shower!
We woke up at 4AM the next morning to continue the rest of our trip to the put-in point. The roads were actually not that bad for the most part; what made the journey extra-long was the dozens and dozens of military check-points along the entire length of the road. Commercial operators have to obtain a permit in order to be allowed on the road. The last few kilometers were killer, it was one of the worst unpaved roads we had ever been on and the bus couldn't go any faster than 5 KPH.

We finally got to the put-in point and brought all the gear to the shore. The town was intense: the locals just sat there eating peanuts watching us do our thing and the kids wanted to help us really badly in exchange for a few rupees (i.e. steal things from your bags when you're not looking). Our philosophy is: we never give out money to anyone, no matter what.

The encounters went something like this:

"Sister, hello?"


 "Banana?" as she motions to help carry it...

"Yes, this is a banana" [I was holding one]

"Sister! Sister! Banana? Madam?"

[keep walking, ignore, ignore, ignore...]

Sorry, but no thanks, we'd rather just do it ourselves -- if we really wanted help, trust me, we'd ask. Plus, we'd really prefer not to have our valuables snatched. Anyway, we finally got everything on the rafts and went down the river for just a few minutes and landed on our first beach as big dark clouds rolled in.

The staff had warm drinks and snacks ready for us and we wanted to set up our tent before it got too dark. We were told that we'd be given a tent but the staff had "forgotten it on the bus." Sweet. No tent for 7 days and a crazy storm was about to hit... we weren't too happy about this.

Gimme Shelter!
Fortunately, Gerry the super amazing kayaker/film director/Everest veteran came to our rescue and let us use his tent. As soon as we were able to set it up, an intense hail storm hit and we sat between the raft that we had propped up with paddles and a flimsy tarp we had managed to tie to another set of paddles. The storm didn't stop so we stayed there to eat our spaghetti dinner and played our first round of one of the most addicting and entertaining card games ever: Dirty Clubs (we will have an exclusive post on this game soon).

The rest of the trip was smooth sa-.... rafting! Every day we'd paddle for 4 to 6 hours and land at pristine river beaches, making camping logistics extremely easy. We headed to bed early after the the nightly campfire and woke up for the sunrise. The group of rafters and kayakers was wonderful and we all had a lot of fun together. Both of us even got an introductory course to river kayaking and it is a lot harder than it seems -- we have a lot of respect for those who run Class IV and V rapids on kayaks!

Most of the rapids we hit were class III and IV and it was a blast: the rush of adrenaline when the raft guide yells "paddlepaddlepaddlefasterforwardrightbackleftforwardfasterfaster!" as we are about to head into a wall of rushing water was just amazing! One of the best parts was called Jail House: we stopped to scout the Class IV rapids and then hit them straight down the middle.

Sleep tight
We often just jumped in the river and float down for a while. This was extremely relaxing and Andrea even got to kayak down some of the calmer portions of the river (Eliot was too tall to fit in the available kayaks). We were extremely impressed with the cleanliness of the river. It was almost impossible to spot trash floating down and the water was very clean. This was probably due to the fact that the Karnali River is in such a remote area, the biggest village we saw only had a couple dozen houses in it (no road or grid access for miles).

It was so refreshing to be in such a remote, clean and beautiful place, we really hope to find some more great rafting throughout our trip.

More pictures of our 10-day Karnali rafting adventure:

Beautiful fields en route to the river (Western Nepal)

Put-in point

Day 1 of rafting, getting all the gear together while being watched by the curious and intense locals

Our cook, our meal
A typical post-rafting afternoon on the beach

Tea time after a day's rafting!

Another typical beach set-up

The fantastic rafting and kayaking crew - all top notch people!

Nice views of the river on our way back to Kathmandu after the trip

Some crocs chillin on the river

10 days of no shower turned Andrea's incredibly straight hair all wavy!

The Himalayan weight loss plan

Rhododendron madness
After a two-week journey through the ancient Kingdom of Lo, we returned to the relative civilization ( showers and non-instant coffee) of Kagbeni, a small town in the Lower Mustang region. Although civilized, we practically evacuated out of our room that night because there a kerosene leak that had been going on for hours and we were getting dizzy, headaches and our throats burned. Apparently, the guesthouse owner couldn't even tell that there was something wrong (!!!!!).

We spent the next few days hiking through dramatic river valleys circumnavigating the west side Annapurna mountain range. The scenery looked a lot like Switzerland: burbling brooks, alpine vistas, temperate pine forests, moss covered rocks, etc. Idyllic villages dotted the landscape, famous for their locally brewed apple cider. Afternoon thunderstorms chased us to our daily destinations and, aside from a horrific bout of food poisoning  (the salad was so tempting!), we made it through relatively unscathed. Finally we arrived at the final stop of the Annapurna Circuit, a town called Tatopani famous for its natural hot springs.

Purest water on Earth
Ironically many trekkers now skip this last leg of the Annapurna Circuit route because a new road was recently built to short-circuit the journey. Although there are numerous alternate trekking routes, most tourists opt to take a Jeep and skip the last section. This is a damn shame. We found the west side of the Annapurnas more beautiful and dramatic than the traditional east side of the Circuit and we highly recommend anyone considering the trek to walk the whole way.

We had finished both Upper Mustang and the Annapurna Circuit sections of our 33-day trek and the finale was almost in view: Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).

I thought I knew what stairs were. Seriously, there are stairs in San Diego, hills even. But nothing compares to the stairs leading up to Annapurna Base Camp, aka ABC. If you ever want to train for the Stairmaster World Championships this is the place to do it. The trail consists of thousands upon thousands of vertical meters of rocky stairs that go up as well as down, eventually leading up into the sanctuary in the middle of the Annapurna range.

View of Fishtail peak from ABC
When you stop for air the scenery is absolutely spectacular. The humidity is much higher on this side of the range and everything was green. Bamboo groves danced in the mountain breeze and blooming rhododendron trees turned entire hillsides bright pink. Farmers urged on their water buffalo to turn over tiny rice patties alongside the path. At higher altitudes monkeys swung from tree to tree and vultures soared through the sky. Glacier-fed waterfalls showered the valley that leads up into the mountains. For most of the journey the humidity kept it relatively warm but on the second to last day we were rudely ambushed by a heavy hailstorm. Eliot bravely made it through the 2-hour storm wearing just a t-shirt while Andrea quickly put on her windbreaker, gloves and hat for protection.

We finally reached ABC after a long slog of a climb. The camp itself is surrounded by Annapurna's most scenic peaks. We sipped hot cocoa, crunched our way through the snow and watched the sunset turn the mountains rosy. Although a few of our fellow climbers fell victim to altitude sickness we had no problems, probably because we were already fully acclimated and the altitude was a mere 4,100 meters. The next morning we got up before dawn and watched the sunrise. It was gloriously clear and we had dazzling views of the different peaks.

The final few days of the trek were surprisingly challenging. We trudged our way through the hilly regional homeland of the famous Gurkha warriors to make it to the nearest road. At the end of our 33rd day we hopped into the first motorized vehicle we'd used in over a month and headed off to the lake town of Pokhara. No scales were available to test the effectiveness of the Himalayan weight loss plan but you can look at our pictures below and decide for yourselves.

Our tour of the Annapurnas was complete and our feet were ready for a well-earned rest...


Damn pretty
Valley the path follows

Rural village

Keep that energy level up!

River valley


Almost there


Sunrise on Annapurna I

Annapurna South (I think)

Cool, right?

Local buckwheat