AirBnBootstrap: Moving Abroad to Stretch the Runway

Clay Smith
Apr. 9th, 2015

Akita can fairly be described as a “capital efficient” startup.

Early last year I was accepted into an early-stage accelerator in Dublin, Ireland which invested €20,000 to help get things started. On top of this we joined Amazon’s Activate program which provided $15,000 in hosting and support credits for AWS. I’d say I probably kicked in another €10,000 of my own money over the course of 2014 to keep the lights on.

That money has lasted 16 months and counting.

I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this. I could have used more cash. I would have launched sooner. I would have hired faster. We could have done more marketing. As a CEO trying to make my company succeed, I probably should have found a way to put cash in the bank.

But instead we made our money last longer by moving to Mexico.

Why Not Raise Money?

We are not averse to raising venture capital but it hasn’t been right for us (yet). Part of it is the investment environment in Ireland:

  • The investment community in Ireland is pretty small in number and total investment.
  • Irish seed investments tend to be small (€350-500K).
  • To raise a non-Valley, US-style seed round ($1-2 million) you need traction or a track record.

But a lot of it is on us. Akita is technically complicated and it’s taken us a while to build a version of the product we could demonstrate to investors:

  • We integrate with over 50 SaaS providers (and counting).
  • We have store a ton of data in several types of database (MySQL, DynamoDB, Redshift).
  • We have a web app, Chrome extension and mobile apps.

And finally, I routinely failed at selling the idea to investors. They wanted to see the product and customers. So we were forced to roll up our sleeves, make our money last, and build the thing.

Hitting the Road

Around Christmas it was clear that the money would run dry before we launched. Dublin is an expensive city. In order to make it to launch we’d need to find a way to stretch what little money we had. So we spent $75 dollars on Flightfox, $1200 in airfare, and $1200 on AirBnB and booked ourselves a Spring retreat on the island paradise of Isla Holbox, Mexico.

We flew from Dublin to Cancun on February 4th and crashed in a “budget” hotel for the night. The next morning we headed to Chiquila Mexico–a $6 dollar, 3-hour trip from Cancun on a bus that is closer to this than this. In Chiquila, we boarded a ferry which took us to our final destination on Isla Holbox.

A quick note: My girlfriend is a programmer and was happy to sign on as Akita’s first programmer and have an adventure. We are healthy, in our thirties, and do not have kids. Our Head of Sales is still in Dublin and works from his home office. Our designer lives and works in Romania. Our circumstances made this move possible but I think many people could do the same.

What’s it Like? Awesome!

We wake up and put a pot of coffee on, get to work and then stop for lunch around midday. We sit at the kitchen counter and look at the palm trees outside of our window. I have eaten more beans, rice, corn tortillas and avocado in 3-months than the last 30-years combined. After lunch, it’s back to work for a few more hours.

A few days a week we stroll into the center of the “town” and stock up on freshly made corn tortillas, pork from the butchers, and veg from the local booths. Some days we work from a cafe or beachfront bar. At five or six in the afternoon, we usually close the laptops and go for a jog or a swim in the clear Caribbean waters. Some nights we’ll work some more but we also read more and have played about 300 hands of Gin.

I chat with our Head of Sales using Google messenger throughout my morning and his afternoon. We use Join Me for conference calls or to onboard customers. If we need to chat, he’ll ring me on my Mexican cellphone or I’ll call a local teleconference number. As things pick up steam, we’ll probably give this Slack thing a go.

We’re Healthier

Our new routine has us eating better and exercising more. I’ve probably lost 15 pounds in 2 months and feel much better. I’m drinking much less. I’m sleeping better than I have in years. When you are working on a startup it is easy to forget about your health. For us, a change of venue has helped us turn a corner health-wise.

And I’ve grown a ridiculous beard.

But Not Perfect

We are not as productive as we would be working in an office but we don’t really want to be.

People work too hard in Ireland. In the US, they work twice as hard. In Silicon Valley… well, I don’t think it’s healthy. We aim to get in 5-7 hours of good work a day and then enjoy our surroundings.

We would love to have real desks, bigger monitors, and nicer chairs. Our current desk is a plastic table and chairs with sofa cushions wedged in to provide a bit of needed height. It’s getting the job done but if you have carpal tunnel you might want to do a bit more.

The Internet connection is awful. The connection in our apartment which was not listed on the AirBnB advertisement but promised by the landlord is a spotty 4G mifi unit that works about half of the time. I bought my own Telcel sim card and have been spending another $100/mo to fill in the gaps. Last week was Spring break in Mexico so the Island’s cell network (and our Internet connection) slowed to a trickle. But you make do.

It’s hot here. In the last month, it has gotten too warm to work from the kitchen/living room–especially when there is a pot of beans cooking. We have recently moved the yard furniture office into the bedroom so we can use the air conditioning.

And The Business?

The last two months have been great for Akita.

We made it into private beta and the initial feedback has been great. We have users which is a great feeling after nearly a year and a half of planning, prototyping, meeting, programming and pinching pennies. We are in the process of building our billing infrastructure and should start putting some hard-earned and desperately needed money in the bank.

Do It

If you like to travel, are working on a startup, need to stretch your money, and the circumstances are right you should do as we did. Come to Mexico. Go to Thailand. Purpose built hacker homes are popping up all over the globe. Find one or rent one like we did. Make sure it has good internet. Build a desk of the right height and find a good chair.

Get to work. Enjoy yourself.

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