Last year I had the pleasure of spending 3 weeks in Thailand. Nowhere near long enough for such a beautiful country. However, I did have time to set up a business whilst there, which I believe still runs to this day.
At the time it was an act of desperation as I had less than $50 and needed to return home to Sydney. In hindsight however it has become a great example of a truly rapid and lean business establishment.
The idea struck when I was wondering around Khao San Road, the backpackers district in Bangkok where anything and everything was flogged to tourists. I couldn’t help but study all these business models and try spotting a gap.
You could buy everything from fake id’s to jumbo novelty lighters. Amusing but not much real value. Of course there were also countless little clothes shops and street food stalls. What they didn’t offer though was a way for a tourist to truly make the most of their brief stay. No one was offering to teach the language in a way that catered to tourists.
Whenever I visit another country, like most people, I will try and get a grasp of the ultimate basics of the language. You get a lot more out of the experience if you can order a beer or ask for directions in the language of the locals. Thus I figured offering a 1 hr ‘Thai for Tourists’ course might succeed. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain I thought I’d have a crack at setting it up.
First up, I needed some local expertise so I asked a thai teenager who my age and who hung around the hostel if he wanted to go 50/50 in my idea. He was pretty eager to try it out so it was game on, I had a teacher! Now we needed a course.
I spent $2 at a local Internet cafe and googled my way to the top 100 phrases and words that a tourist needs when traveling. After formatting it in a simple manner using Word I emailed it to my new business partner to add in translations. We printed out 1 copy and photocopied some copies. We had a product! Now we needed a place to teach the course in.
This next idea was genius, and it came from my partner. We couldn’t exactly afford to rent out a space so he suggested we go ask a nearby thai temple if we could use one of their rooms to teach the course in. It was a long shot but we went and asked. To my surprise they agreed, as long as we donated a portion of our proceeds to the temple, which we readily agreed to.
The last ingredient required for this idea? Customers. We put together a simple flyer using Word once more and photocopied 100 copies. Our flyer said to meet us outside the easy to find Burger King at 11am the next day.
Total investment so far: less than $20.
Feeling anxious that it might not work we hit the backpacking quarter and for half an hour kept handing out the flyers to anyone remotely touristy until we had none left. That was probably the most uncomfortable bit of the whole thing as I’ve never enjoyed annoying people on the street, but sometimes hustlers gotta hustle!
We’d done everything we could now and waited till the next day with both excitement and fear pumping. 11am the next day came up and I was relieved to see 11 assorted backpackers had shown up for our course, WOO!
We took them to the temple which made the perfect authentic teaching environment and my partner did his thing, passing on the essentials that one needs to get through Thailand. At the end we passed around a hat for donations (we had no idea how to price the course) and bid our new friends good-luck on their journeys.
All in all we made somewhere around $80 (which is a lot in Thailand) for a couple of hours work. With a little tweaking the business could become much better. I then left Thailand to come home to Sydney and left the business to my partner, I believe he still runs it today.
The lesson learnt here is that when your hungry and desperate enough you’ll make it work no matter the circumstances. So, get hungry, get desperate and start thinking rapid business development style!