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

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,, where she offers specific consulting services based on business-building and technology.

Nathalie now earns a good living from both businesses, with 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:]

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 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.”

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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230 Replies to “Six-Figure Businesses Built for Less Than $100: 17 Lessons Learned”

  1. This is really inspiring. My husband and I started on a shoestring budget, we are sole proprietors and we sold over 3/4 of a million dollars this year. Over $100K of that was our net income. It can absolutely be done, it requires a lot of patience, homework, trial and error, and a supportive spouse/family!

  2. Done that! My business cost me nothing but time to start. I approached my first client, offered to do a bit of tech work for him for $50 because, I explained to him, he was going to be my guinea pig, as I’d never done it before. I got a software book at the library on how to do the work, sat at home for two months reading and practicing, and then presented my finished work. He loved it so much he gave me $75. I spent $50 of that on a business license and $25 on business cards, and the rest is history, I just got $3K in contracts last month. I jumped off the cliff and built my wings on the way down.

    And since my work is digital, I have no logistics overhead. No office space, no employees, no materials or shipping. I love it.

  3. Man…I have a lot to learn about blogging. I have read some excellent stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I’m surprise how so many attempt to post…but you seem to make it look easy. I’ll keep coming back to be schooled!

  4. I don’t know if this post will make the cut but here goes.

    I’m writing for my wife. I’m a big Tim Ferriss fan and like most of you here, have had a life change through Tim’s work.

    At the end of this post there’s mention of how to be a better writer.

    My wife is a self published author who has been trying to make a name for herself and break through the barrier so she too can be a successful author.

    She has 2 self published urban fantasy novels.

    She has been nominated as an author of the month for May 2012 at this book review site and in less than 2 hours, a voting that has been going on for the last two days will close and they will crown a winner for author of the month.

    We started out at 6th place and through our social networking, calling, begging friends and family, we have made it to first place!

    We are trying to be a TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED author who is right now in second place. This other author has several books out, presumably an agent, national distribution, etc.

    My wife is the TOTAL UNDERDOG…and we’re winning!

    Which is why I’m reaching out to the Ferriss community.

    You don’t know me or my wife and have no reason to support us, but I can at least ask.

    It takes 5 seconds to vote.

    1. Go to this site:

    2. Scroll down to where you see Tonya Macalino.

    3. Click the checkbox and then the VOTE button.

    I’m not selling anything to any of you and I’m doing this for my wife so hope you can help. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit hard at work!

    Thank you all.

    Raymond Macalino

    1. WE WON WE WON WE WON!!!! Thank you all who helped if you did! Love the Ferriss Army!

      Raymond Macalino

  5. Fantastic post Chris! I especially think the idea of doing little test (ala the Lean Start-up model) is an amazing strategy that has worked wonders!

  6. Hi Tim,

    I’ve been doing the diet for 8 weeks. I started with 60.8 kilogramms and I’ve lost 3.3 kilogramms so far. I am very strict and therefore my weight loss was incredible in the first 4 weeks but since then my weight is stagnating. What can I do? I am desperate at the moment. I don’t know what to do because I follow the rules exactly…

    Thanks very much for your response and help which I do really appreciate.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  7. This is so helpful! It takes something such as the biz world thats about as foreign as speaking in tongues to most people and makes it relevant, and shows practical applications to launch into your dream career!

    Chris’s art and money program helped me kick start my art biz! (

  8. What a huge blow to Tim’s cred!!!!

    Go to Chad’s schlockey sales site. He offers multiple vid links to hawk his book, etc. All vids are FLASH!!

    So we are to believe a guy who “makes his living in 4 hours a week, mostly from his iPhone”, would construct his sales site so it makes it impossible to view/buy FROM AN iPHONE!

    I don’t believe Chad has one drop of app/tech chops.

    Lazy, Tim. Didn’t do the due diligence. 1 aw sh*t = 1000 atta boy.

    1. Steve, I checked and was able to play all of the videos just fine on my iPhone. That was an unnecessarily rude comment. Perhaps you were just having a bad day, but c’mon, man.



  9. Excellent post! Dollars always follow value in the long run. Using unique abilities to provide maximum value will generate the life you want everytime. Thanks again.

  10. I think this article is extremely valuable for anyone! It is ESPECIALLY valuable to those who find it hard to get conventional jobs due to having a felony conviction on their record. This information is a godsend for those who are trying to re-enter society and do the right thing, but employers simply wont give them the chance. Thanks for sharing this info! I want to start using it myself (smile).

  11. All great point. They all point to defining your unique value proposition up front. It’s all to easy to put up a website and mistake it for a business.

    Instead , all of these tips show it’s all about finding a need and filling it.

  12. Thanks for the book recommendation. I have a feeling that this book will be a big hit with me since I started up my own business for under a $100.

    Back in high school, I thought you had to have a huge overhead to start a business, but now that I’ve realized you don’t need it.

    Very powerful stuff.

  13. Tim, the 4HWW helped me start a successful commercial energy consultancy business (for less than £30) with a semi – passive income that steadily increases and a Life I really enjoy.

    I concentrate on over – delivering value to my existing niche industry clients and forging strong partnerships with great suppliers ( I was fortunate to be recently approached by the UK arm of UGI, the largest supplier of Liquid Propane Gas in North America ) to work with them in a new joint venture.

    I outsource 90% of my admin leaving me to focus on key relationships.

    Chris, I’m currently enjoying The $100 Startup, accessible to all and very inspiring; I hope to use the case studies to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in my hometown.

    Sincere thanks to you both.

      1. Hi Tim, thank you for taking the time to reply and the kind words, I appreciate you’re very busy.

        I’ll continue to contribute here in my small way.

        All the best,


  14. Finally Tim, been waiting for a blog post that inspires real business though. Been waiting a while, hope you will ad more soon.

    Whens 4HWW2 coming out? Lots of things have changed, Google, Adwords. The games harder. You should update it IMO.

  15. I’m really glad I stumbled onto this post. Since I read it last week, I bought the “$100 Startup” and have had a lot of fun reading it so far. Thanks for this informative post, Tim and Chris!

  16. I always studying and working on building online business, blogging and so on, as the start up cost is low, so long that I’m hardworking and creating great contents, results will come as return.

    Thanks for the sharing.

  17. Great post. I too started my business on a shoe-string and now selling tickets nationwide and operate the site myself with a lot of automation. I read your articles on your blog and have read the Four Hour Workweek and do use some of the suggestions and principles even though many I was using already. It is a great resource book with info all together in one place with lots of value and resources to keep me focused.

    Thank you Tim


  18. Read Chris’s book while we were in Peru. Great inspiration. Guess what we’re doing when we get back… 🙂

  19. Thanks Brian for this post!

    We offer many services and most of this cost very little to start. The idea is to push way outside the “box”. So far in fact that you are in a new universe…LOL!

    There are many business ideas that work in the under $100 to start. But be careful of how you obtain those funds. Eventually you can end up with a bad reputation if you keep bragging about how you got those funds.

    The best thing is to find something that truly helps others and that you enjoy what you do. But, please, don’t think that you will become an instant millionaire or it will be disappointing.

  20. Great links here– I’m definitely going to check out that Evernote Essentials since I just downloaded that program.

  21. Am I the only one who stopped reading after the part about applying for a loan for one reason (a car), and then using it for something else? Sorry that is dishonest, if not outright fraudulent. It does not matter if the loan was repaid in 10 months or a successful business was built on this lie. It speaks to values and character. I am surprised how many readers here seemed to gloss over this. It seems like many people in business choose to dance on the line of what is ethical in order to get ahead. Just look at what happened to Rajat Gupta a few days ago – convicted for insider trading and conspiracy for trading in information that he did not directly profit from and now he is facing a multi year prison sentence. When your reputation lies in tatters no amount of money can repair that. Perhaps Tim should use some of these blog posts to focus on ethics, character and values. Those traits can go a long way to creating happiness more so than a fat bank account – though it is nice to have both.

    1. I agree with Trey in part….but only with regards to a loan agreement or contract, not ethics. If a car served as collateral for a loan its the bank or lender’s responsibility to “secure” or identify the collateral.

      But this is not an ethical issue. Banking in many ways is unethical. Mortgage loans are created out of thin air. There is no money in a bank to “cover” said loan, it’s a mirage. The so-called “loan” originates when someone signs on the dotted line.

      However, when it comes to unsecured loans, sale of stock, and other forms of raising capitol to start or expand a business….I say go for it.

      If I waited to play by the rules someone else set I would have NEVER started a business. We need to stop worrying about the rules, regulations, red tape, business cards, stationary, and start the damn business.

      1. Marc, if the business venture had failed and the person in question was unable to make the loan payments the bank would come looking to seize the non existent collateral and I guarantee you that someone would be facing fraud charges. To say that it is ok for persons to use deceit to get ahead because corporations do it too does not make it morally justifiable. And something to think about for anyone considering acting shady in a quest to get ahead. While corporations are more likely to get away with unscrupulous activity and not be brought to book for it individual citizens are not nearly so lucky. It isn’t fair but it is the way the world works.

  22. Hi Trey:

    Did you read my response and comment? I wasn’t promoting and/or justifying fraud, deceit or anything like that. I was focused on contracts, agreements and the law….not morals, feelings or ethics. There is a big difference. I’ve already agreed with you…in part….which is how I opened my post. If an entrepreneur knowingly defrauded a lender by breaking the terms of a contract or agreement, there should be consequences. I was merely pointing out a bank’s responsibility with regards to fact checking and collateral verification. However, do you think a bank would raise your issues if they received interest payments, and a loan is paid in full before the due date? The answer is no. What’s more, how funds are used in an unsecured loan agreement is an entirely different matter. I will side with resourceful entrepreneurs who do not break the law, contracts or agreements every time.

  23. What an awesome read. Talk about getting motivated. I’ll probably read this every day for the next month! Thanks.

  24. I read the 4HWW late last year on the recommendation from a friend and even downloaded the audio book. My job was going away and I didn’t want to go through the whole job search ordeal. I wanted a business that would cost ZERO to start and make money the first week. I had a ton of ideas come flooding through after reading/listening to the book and visiting this site. After a few months I found what I was looking for. I started selling online services (websites, fb, g+, mobile sites, etc.) to offline (brick & mortar) businesses. Up front startup cost, zero. Tools necessary, yellow pages & telephone. First week $1500 after 100 calls. I just want to say thank you Mr. Ferriss and all those who have contributed ideas to this site. I haven’t decided yet if I wish to scale up or not. 5 to 6 hours per week working on this is nothing. But if I do, I know how to outsource the ENTIRE business thanks to the 4HWW. Thanks again!

  25. I’m just starting out on the road to entrepreneurship, and this was the first post I read after reading the brilliantly inspiring 4HWW. I found this article really insightful, with lots of advise I can’t wait to put into practice. I’m sure I will find myself coming back to re-read this the future, and check how I’m doing.

  26. I love this article and I can vouch for it. In 1986, i started 2 microbusinesses for AU$76 each. This money was used to register a business name. Both businesses were targetted at Australians going into Asia to do business. We are still in business and loving it. Thank you for a brilliant article so simply written.

  27. I started an online business for free in 1997 using a free “Homepage” offered by my internet provider, it came with their basic internet package for $9.95 per month. If you are selling information services you create yourself can do it for far less than $100.00. The real beauty of it is once it’s running and has a good listing on Google, you can have an idea for a new product at breakfast, upload the page at noon and made sales by dinner time.

  28. I was directed by a friend to this site and I now understand why. Great advice from the article down to the comments section.

    I’m one of the “you don’t need money to make money” team!

  29. I’m a college student interested in starting up a website online. Do I only need a business license and the website? Are there any other forms aside from filing for a business license? What if I want to employ other students in the future either through part-time employment/contractual basis? I appreciate the help!

  30. Mahindra, I’m there with you to! I didn’t have any financial backing when I started my online business. It lead to the start of multiple businesses, and I’m loving it!

    It really doesn’t take money to make money 🙂

  31. I’m an importer and I’ve been teaching small business int’l trade as an adjunct for 25 years. This column nails it! There is so much opportunity out there, if you look at what is in this column, that it is fair to say all unemployment is voluntary.

    1. Would like to know more on how to import and export .

      Would you please teach and advice me ?

      Thanks for your story and inspir ation .

  32. Love hearing the success stories like these, especially with the low start-up costs. I’m trying to make it happen so it gives nothing but inspiration and ideas.

  33. Tim Ferris,

    The biggest difference between you and every other writer is that you get straight to the point of what you want, with absolutely no excess. At least that’s how I have learned to think, thanks to your books. I am now using the ‘minimum effective dose’ everywhere in my life, and I am no longer working just for the sake of work, to make myself feel busy.

    So thanks a lot.

  34. I like to remind myself of a quote by MJ DeMarco, “I shall not engage my business like checkers but chess.”

    Another good one by him, “I shall not play for Team Consumer but switch to Team Producer.”

    In reality, doing things your own way takes skill. Going from a corporate job to doing on my own has been VERY hard. Almost like learning how to surf at an older age. However, my technique may not be perfect but my mental muscles for business are getting stronger. In fact, with my son being born in a month, it’s a great motivator. I also plan to teach my son EARLY how to be his own boss so he doesn’t have to struggle to build his business muscles later in life.

  35. Timo: $100 Start-Up was fluff at best. I was really looking forward to this book after this post, but now I’ve got it and it is a great deal of intangibles with a lot of wordiness to simple processes. Most of it is stuff you clearly and succinctly lay out in the 4HWW. Why are you pushing this book? It doesn’t hold a light to some of the resources out there. I’ll give it a few stars for motivation and encouragement factor, but it rarely (if ever) gets down to the nitty gritty practical of moving from a wantraprenuer to having something up and running. This post was great, this book – not so much. Keep kicking ass with the 4HC my brudda and let me know if you’re ever in Jarabacoa, DR and we’ll grab some rum.


  36. I have been your silent reader from so long. Now I thought i must say I really like you. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these articles with us, Tim.

  37. This was a great article! I want to start my own business but for me it seems the know-how is what’s eluding me. i don’t know how to start a website or many things that were listed. I’m researching now and hopefully I can figure it out! =)

  38. What a great read. It’s things like this that help push down those self-doubting thoughts that love to pop up from out of nowhere, especially when trying to make something out of nothing.

  39. Hi I’m Kevin I’ve been highly inspired by all your books especially 4 hour work week, I’m interested in beginning to find my own muse and living part of the new rich and having mini vacations. I’m African American which is rare I see on your site and have little start up money I have a few questions?

    1. I decided dropshipping and a EBOOK is my best alternative to start in dropshipping is it best to sell one product or many products 1-15?

    2. What the best thing or most likely most profitable thing to write about for EBOOK success.

    3. My goals are modest I just want the ability to quit my job and take a few vacations is it best to set modest goals for mine: $25,000 to 30,000 a year or real big goals?

    4. I’ve heard that most people fail entering drop-shipping business what the best way to ensure a probability of success?

    5. I read how you contacted others on questions should I do that with some of your successes of four hour work week especially the one’s I can find in the drop shipping or EBOOK business.

    Thanks again, you and all your readers give me inspiration to try to find a better more fulfilled life and work. Your work has inspired me to try cooking, buy or build some Kettle bells, have better sex, and just look at life and happiness a different way, I hope to be a success story for your blog in the next year.


    Kevin E. Neal

    “Birth of another New Rich 2013”

  40. I just finished reading Chris’s book, ” $100 Start Ups” and then saw this post. The idea of grassroots entrepreneurism depicted in this excellent book appealed to me as I am involved with job creations and livelyhood development in third world countries like Haiti. I see funding given in the millions of dollars for vocational training for youth that do not result in jobs because there are no job markets to in these countries. Even when the lucky ones do get a job, the average monthly wage is $400. Yet these young men and women are intelligent and eager and they have access Internet. All they ask for is a

    chance to work hard to provide for their family. Micro entrepreneurism is the applicable solution to livelyhood development in undeveloped countries. Another great read is “the International Bank of Bob” by Bob Harris, which shows how $25-100 loans can help micro businesses worldwide. He personally made the loans through and then visited the recipients to learn more from them. Learning about these hard working micro businesses and the people behind them will inspire entrepreneurs in the US and other first world countries to seize the day. I know that working in Haiti has provided me with inspirations for a lifetime.

    1. In 2007 I picked up a book called the “4 hour Workweek at my local Barnes and Nobles, in Texas. I loved it so much that in 2009 I picked up the revised and updated version as soon as it came out. This time, I did put some of Tim’s advice into action. As a consultant, I started to put my business in the clouds, and outsourcing services. This enabled me to go on a sabattical in Haiti to help after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Being able to be untethered geographically to the US increased my income when my colleagues where struggling at home. I have travelled so much and met so many interesting people like CNN hero Boby Duval, Sean Penn, President Clinton, and been fortunate enough to be of service in the aftermath of the earthquake. Now, we are building the first Sport Stadium in a red zone in Haiti, to create livelyhood and sport access. This stadium will be a game changer for thousands of youth. My friends ask me how I can give so much pro bono time and still increase make money. That’s my opening to tell them about the 4-hour work week, which allowed me to earn a good living anywhere in the world, in half of the time. Now my life is filled with so much travel that I am on the last page of my passport, my friends and contacts are multi lingual and I sit at the table with head of states. Thanks Tim! I gave away so many copies of the 4 hour work week that I should buy in bulk. It’s not a just a book, it is a game changer for me.

      1. 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.

  41. Does anyone now how to find manufatures that drop-ship? All I can find is overpriced garbage on sites like alibaba that have crap for higher than you could get it on eBay.

    1. 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.

  42. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m in the process of opening a business and facing the typical pitfalls and now I get the feeling that my investor has gone south two weeks before opening. Reading this has given me the resolve to keep on trucking regardless of what happens. I’ve got less than a thousand dollars in the bank and just a few days left at my real job, but no matter what I’m going for it. Thanks again!


  43. Thanks for writing this, I’m supposed to be opening my business soon and I get the feeling my investors got cold feet. This has given me the courage to keep going no matter what. Exactly what I needed to hear!

  44. “A gap in the marketplace reveals a business opportunity”

    That’s pure gold. My entrepreneur hero (other than you of course), my grandfather, used to repeat over and over: “The problem contains the solution son”.

    People have problems–and they are willing to pay for solutions.

    Entrpreneurs = professional problem solvers.

  45. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all people you actually recognise what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally discuss with my site =). We can have a link exchange agreement among us!

  46. Excellent website you have here but I was curious if you knew of any message boards that cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get advice from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Cheers!

    1. Noah Kagan is awesome also and through his app sumo course on building a business they have a FB group and a community within the community at appsume- not just pluggn them, i use their stuff

  47. I’ve read both Tim’s and Chris’ books. Both are excellent and thought provoking. I thought my niche would be executive recruiting for CPA’s only. I thought this was a unique market that is underserved and could use the niche treatment. I sent out an email to 1,700 CPA’s this week, got 650 to open it and have gotten zero responses. I suppose it’s back to the drawing board. I guess in this economy you have to be really creative and like Chris says, help people enjoy their hobbies and interests. Plus I kind of think the B2B world has pretty much stopped dead in its tracks. Best Wishes.

  48. Money is the thing from the side. They don’t relate to people self-realization and serving anothers at all. So why they must be involved? Maybe better to begin getting it off from the Earth? As unnecessary, harmful and not natural thing

  49. A very interesting topic I must say. I own a cooking website and am contemplating on writing an ebook but I had a few questions,

    How do I market it on a large basis? my website gets a meager 70-100 hits a day and I am not so sure if it would work out. I mean marketing on Facebook would be great but at the same time the pricing matters. What kind of pricing should I go for to make it easier for people to buy without being too skeptical?

  50. I’m really impressive to read your post, very great info. I used to calculate before too that if I set up a blog, I would not spend over $100 and now there is a post about $100 start-up business too.

    Thank you,

  51. Great post – I think your point about being open to change is so key, and fortunately, I think college-aged kids now are starting to become more and more open to the idea of veering from the normal path of college>job. I really think, though, that universities need to focus more on innovation and entrepreneurship.

  52. Some of these stories above are really inspiring.

    I pleased to say Im one those business owners who had created their own freedom (and a great income) by making something useful and desirable for my customers and left the studios in LA to start my own video animation company. [Moderator: Link removed]

    I now make explainer videos for all types of companies both in the valley and worldwide from mobile apps videos, product videos for startups thru corporates, I can travel and work worlwide with my business and am really excited about the possibility of online video and its value on world markets!

  53. So I wonder how Nev Lapwood’s site is getting 40K unique visits per month? How did he / they do it? Like it’s easy to make MANY sales with that much organic traffic (and no adwords), but how do people start from ZERO… yea, I know – lot’s of hard work … but still.

    I have a product that I’m trying to sell, and I have practically no Organic traffic there, and PPC just does not work (I limit my bids to about $0.50) – of course I can pay $3 per click and get tons of traffic, but then I’ll be losing money 🙂

    PPC is so bad (for me) that I can’t even do proper A/B testing, because 15-20 click per day is nothing. Maybe I do PPC wrong, but I think I target my intended keywords and all.

    I’m not complaining – just want to figure this e-commerce 4HWW style out.

    PS – Tim, so I have my site set up, and my store is on Shopify, so people have to leave site and go to shopify to make a purchase, and this brings MANY testing and integration issues. Would you suggest I do it another way?

    PSS – i checked on semrush and it shows SE traffic in Jan 2015 to be 8400 (which is about the same score as one of my sites gets) and that in my estimation is around 40000 uniques

  54. Whatever resources you have, use what you can. I believe the ones who have been raised up unfortunate (from a poor or conservative background) have the most drive to become successful. They will use whatever they can to make the business succeed.

    And I do think it is possible to spend less than $100 to form a successful business that makes a 6 figure bracket, but that probably only goes for .1% of all businesses.

    What I’m curious to know, is what type of business can make it big with just less than $100? (going to guess it’s all through online)

  55. Great amount of information as usual. Thanks for this article, it was another great example that people don’t need to be a millionaire to start a business. Most people who want to start the business have it right under their nose.

  56. Wow, it’s amazing. It is not always that you have to “Think out of box” sometimes you have to think within the box. Loved the post, righty said think of doing something for people which they don’t know how to do, awesome

  57. Well, for now I managed to produce less than $10 with my blog so I don’t know if my strategy works, maybe not.

    These ideas are pretty new to me, but I will try a few to see if they work, thanks for these tips.

  58. I have been a huge fan for years! I owned my first game store at the age of 21 (many moons ago). We specialized in TCG’s and traveled the country to vend and judge at Magic the Gathering events. We ran the store successfully for about four years before we sold it and I moved across the country.

    Now we want to open a new gaming business but we envision it a little bit differently. The best way we have come up with to describe it is a ‘YMCA’ of gaming. Sort of a community center that can help our youth find gaming related channels to challenge them.

    The business plan is being written currently, in the interim we have built a website and started getting involved in thins like Extra Life and Table Top Day, we also host a monthly ‘Epic Game Night’ which involves a lot of people playing tabletop games and eating pizza all day.

    A wrench was thrown in our plans for the business as my mother was diagnosed with Lupus last year and she is now living with this. This has stretched our time and expenses and put everything on hold. After some deliberation, my fiance and I have decided to start moving forward again and to just take the business building one goal at a time. Since we already have our website built [Moderator: link removed], our first goal is to incorporate the business. This will cost us a couple hundred dollars so we have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds [Moderator: link removed], it features my original dragon art.

    I am considering writing a blog about the step by step building of our business.

  59. Love it! I started my company nearly 5 years ago now. It took 2 weeks and $100. I bought a WordPress template, a logo on eLance, and some low cost AdWords. We surpassed 6 figures in the first year and have been growing every since. [Moderator: link removed]

  60. This sounds A LOT like the book, $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau…same examples in some cases. Perhaps you should give a shoutout to Chris, Tim.

  61. I really enjoyed reading the article. Money definitely isn’t everything. There were some really great things to think about for our own site.


    [Moderator: Link removed]

  62. i love this article. I’m one of the “you don’t need money to make money” team! [Moderator: links removed]

  63. Things that a person can learn from less than 100 is building relationships with customers as $100 startups are rather rare. It really is important that you learn how business is done.

    [Moderator: link removed.]

  64. Thanks for sharing these valuable lessons, Tim! My husband and I were inspired to start our own explainer video company, [Moderator: website link removed.] ,and it’s been thriving ever since. Your advice on outsourcing and automating tasks has been especially helpful in allowing us to focus on growing our business. Keep up the great work!