Book Review: The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Review by Vago Damitio

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Let me get this out of the way. I like Chris Guillebeau. I haven’t met him in person, but I’ve been connected with him on social media for quite a while now, I subscribe to his email newsletter and I think he’s one smart dude. I admire what he has done and continues to do.

I feel like it’s important to share that before I begin this review because I’m going to be brutally honest about a few things both positive and negative in this review. Things about Chris, about the book, about the vast majority of people out there, and about myself. So, if you’re willing to accept that, please read on.

Look, here’s the brutal truth – most people don’t have the guts to risk everything by pursuing their dreams. Most people need a lifeline to hold on to while they try to figure out how to make their way towards what they want. That’s the reason why so many people work 20,30, or 40 years with a goal of earning their freedom. Because freedom is some scary shit. Ultimately, that’s what this book is about. If you’re willing to risk everything you have to get everything you want but you don’t know where to start – this book is for you.

Me? I’ve already done that so many times that it’s started to feel normal, but the truth is, I wish this book would have been around when I was doing it the first, the second, or the third time. It’s a road map to help you get to where you want to be – or in some cases, to help you figure out that you can’t get there or just don’t want to.

My big problem with this book, is that Chris operates along the lines of ‘anyone can do this’ and then he shows a bunch of ‘normal’ people who succeeded. That’s the problem. It’s bullshit. It’s just not true. The truth is that most people can’t do this. They’re either too stupid, too lazy, or have too many responsibilities already tied around them like chains around a drowning man. It sells more books to say, look, here’s a shortcut to your freedom and a $100 way to achieve your dreams, but it’s simply not true.

The road map laid down in The $100 Startup is solid. The foundations are good. The advice is good. The examples are inspiring – though, I believe that the title is more of a euphemism for following your dreams than a literal description of the businesses in the book since a coffee shop or a rental space is going to cost you more than $100 just about anywhere in the world.

The description says that the 50 Case Studies had no special skills, but that, is bullshit as well. These people have moxy, they have drive, they have ambition, and not one of them is an idiot. In fact, I would bet that each of them are usually one of the smartest people in any room they are in. The fact is, it takes more than $100 to buy a truckload of mattresses or to make a couple hundred maps. It takes more than $100 to build a great website (unless you don’t count the time you put into learning how and then doing it yourself).

My problem with this, with the work of Tim Ferris (another guy I admire, by the way) and with all the super excited generation of ‘travel bloggers’ who say to you – “I quit my job and traveled the world and then built this amazing six-figure income from nothing” is that most of them are completely full of crap. You have three things in this life that can help you get what you want – your physical stuff (including money), your abilities, and your access (to people, to equipment, to places, etc.) – that is what you have to build on and if you are from the Hamptons, have a bunch of Silicon Valley buddies, and dropped out of an Ivy League School – then you have a better chance at getting whatever it is you are looking for than some guy who grew up in a Charlotte ghetto, has a bunch of gang banger buddies, and joined the army but got kicked out for smoking dope or being gay. That’s just the way it is.

That’s why ‘travel blogger’ hype pisses me off.  Most of those people had successful careers, an inheritance, or a serious leg up before they dropped out and traveled the world to create a new business model. Not all of them, but the top ones, the hyped ones, the one’s that are shouting ‘I did it and so can you’ the loudest. It’s bullshit.

And it’s all connected. Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferris, and all those braggy bloggers are all speaking at the same conferences and they’re all selling the same opium. “I did it, so you can do it too.” No. Simply not true – at least for most people.

Here’s the thing – most people who read this book won’t do anything different with their lives. Most of them won’t change a thing. In fact, I would bet that most of the people who buy this book, won’t even read the whole thing…but…

If even one extraordinary person with the right combination of talent, gumption, and resources reads this – it could make the difference. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this book is going to be responsible for at least a thousand people changing their lives and maybe even changing the world.

I loved this book, honestly. I enjoyed reading it. I liked the simple break down of ideas. I thought the concept of turning the ‘teach a man to fish’ idea on it’s head was nothing short of genius.

Look, I’m living the dream. I travel all over the world, I have created my own business, and I support my wife, my daughter, and myself with it. I stay in 5-star hotels, eat meals cooked personally for me by Michelin starred chefs, and have a great, great life (not without it’s problems, but trust me, my life is better than most people’s vacations.) The thing is, I know for a fact that not everyone can do this. Sorry, that’s the truth.

Still, maybe you can. Not live my dream, but figure out how to live your own. That’s one of the things that I liked best about this book – it’s a roadmap to finding your own dreams and figuring out how to live them – but trust me, it’s going to cost you waaaaaay more than $100.

All there is to it, is to do it. That’s what my Caribbean drummer friend on the island of Kauai told me when it was time for me to get my ass in gear. Chris is now telling you the same thing. I hope his message kicks your ass into gear if it isn’t already. If it is – you will probably dig this book, just like I did and get some great takeaways from it.

All of that being said – The $100 Startup might just be the best $12 you ever spend. I recommend you buy it and I sincerely hope that you get it.