A Ten-Year Retrospective on The 4-Hour Workweek : How Location-Independent Entrepreneurs Taught the World to Build Businesses from Anywhere

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A Ten-Year Retrospective on The 4-Hour Workweek : How Location-Independent Entrepreneurs Taught the World to Build Businesses from Anywhere post image

Ten years ago this month, I was spending a sunny Saturday morning in Barnes and Noble. In the business section, I noticed a book with a palm tree and a hammock on the cover. It boldly suggested that I could work less, earn more, and travel widely.

Four Hour Work Week Book Cover

 

Free time and travel sounded great, of course, but Tim Ferriss’ book also flirted with a far more seductive and powerful idea: that the very same technologies which were making our jobs increasingly intolerable – the constant connection, the all-time-zone hours, the all-night email-checking – might be used for our own benefit.

The implication was incendiary – what if our employers had inadvertently unlocked our prison cells? And what if leaving the traditional career path was actually the best route to financial and career success?

The 4HWW wasn’t just a guide to “hacking” life and working less; it was also a critique of the standard American lifestyle – everything from long hours and career stability to fancy cars, 30-year mortgages, and retirement savings accounts.

Essentially, Tim was helping us to see these constructs for what they were – arbitrary, confining, and unnecessary. He was also asking us to imagine what our lives might look like outside of these patterns. And, best of all, he wasn’t asking for much. Just give it a shot, he urged. What’s the worst that could happen?

When I encountered Tim’s book, I was working long hours for a small company. I was stressed all the time and I felt like I had no power over my future. In that situation, it wasn’t easy for me to imagine working four hours a week and lounging under palm trees – but it also wasn’t easy to imagine continuing with the life I was living.

By page 90, I decided that I was willing to risk what little career I had. I quit my job and founded a business within a year. I haven’t had a boss since.

***

Since founding our podcast in 2009, Ian and I have probably heard more 4HWW success stories than anybody but Tim himself. (We’ve seen the failures, too.) Essentially, we’ve run a ten-year experiment: what happens when you try to put Tim’s vision into practice? What challenges arise? What adaptations are required? And how has technology changed the opportunities available to entrepreneurs?

For the past eight years, TropicalMBA has been asking these questions and sharing the answers. Today, our podcast, blog, and community are home to thousands of hard-working entrepreneurs.

So what have we learned? In honor of the tenth anniversary of Tim’s book, here are ten observations from the TMBA laboratory.

1.

Initially, the single biggest source of confusion was Tim’s DEAL system. If this doesn’t ring any bells, here’s a quick refresher:

  • Define. Tim encourages readers to define the future they want to build. (The first step? Creating a dreamline, here’s an episode on that process). 4HWW-style thinking demands that we become the ‘dealmakers’ in our own lives; in order to create deals with reality, you have to understand what reality you’re trying to create.
  • Eliminate. Tim instructs us to delete distractions from our lives (especially media and meaningless email) in order to focus on our core goals of taking control over our time, income, and mobility.
  • Automate. We also need to remove ourselves from the trivial tasks of our business or job in order to focus on being effective (as opposed to just efficient).
  • Liberate. Finally, we release ourselves from society’s usual constraints – like working on the arbitrary schedules of jobs or clients – and focus on living the lives we’ve defined for ourselves.

In theory, it sounded great – but putting it into practice was a stumbling block for many readers.

This problem stems from a split in the book’s audience. Many of Tim’s principles are aimed at overworked business owners, or those who have lots of experience and career cachet. In other words, Tim is talking to people who have a lot of enterprising know-how (or other resources – like industry relationships – that allow them to make up for it).

But the book’s audience extended well beyond the well-heeled and gainfully employed. It also appealed to those of us who didn’t have businesses, established cash flows, or other traditional advantages.

In retrospect, it’s not hard to see that these two audiences – the well-educated California business owner, and his entry-level customer service rep – might hear Tim’s advice very differently. The book didn’t do enough to calibrate distinct strategies for each group.

This small oversight led to a lot of fear, frustration and criticism. It also inspired the most popular post on the TMBA blog – The 1,000 Day Principle, which argues that it usually takes three years of full-time effort to replace your professional salary with income from a business. For some, an “apprentice” phase is also necessary – the period of time when you put yourself in a position to launch your business and start your 1,000-day count. (During this phase, budding entrepreneurs often learn basic skills through formal apprenticeships, online courses, and experiments with platforms like Shopify, WordPress, and Amazon.)

In other words, it can take smart people the better part of a decade to apply Tim’s ideas. (The book could have been called The Ten-Year Career. That’s not as sexy as The 4-Hour Workweek, but it’s a much better message than most of us received growing up.)

Nonetheless, Tim still deserves credit, because he did two extremely important things: he got people to believe, and he got them started.

2.

If you’ve read 4HWW, you’ll remember the chapter on “filling the void.” When automated income starts pouring into your bank account and you don’t have to sit behind a desk anymore, what should you do with your time? Tim talks about getting back to hobbies, taking trips to develop new skillsets, or devoting time to projects.

When I read this section, it seemed ridiculous. (What do you do with your free time? Anything you freaking want!)

Ten years later, I’m not laughing. When you aren’t working all day long, and when you don’t have to be in one place all day every day, what will your days look like? What will matter to you? How will you live? These are wide-open questions, and our community is answering them one experiment at a time.

3.

The book suggested that readers build a cash-flow, find ways to automate it, and then help themselves to mini-retirements. What people actually did was different. They quit their jobs, began traveling, and built businesses along the way. They “baselined” in cheap locations, lowering their expenses and extending their runways. They hired remote staff in developing countries and met others who were doing the same. They leveraged business models like “productized services” so they weren’t strapped to their laptops all day. As their businesses grew, they made decisions about where to live based on time zones (and a dozen other factors that would have seemed unfathomable just a few years before).

4.

Early 4HWW adherents assumed that their remote businesses needed to serve “real” businesses, and that being abroad (and making sales calls from resorts) was something to apologize for. Serving ‘lifestyle entrepreneurs’ as your target market was seen as small-time thinking.

This has changed. The success of Jungle Scout, AMZ Tracker, Empire Flippers, and many others have shown that there is enormous opportunity in serving the community itself.

5.

2007: The book introduced a novel way of building a business and a life largely enabled by internet technologies, and coined it “lifestyle design.”

2017: Now, it simply looks like “a fun and strategic way to grow a profitable business.”

6.

2007: People critiqued the book saying “it’s for single people who want to write blogs in Thailand.”

2017: For every blogger making money in Thailand, there are 100 other entrepreneurs succeeding in businesses you’ve never thought about. They are just less visible; they have no incentive to share their stories, so they don’t. (Unfortunately, the press has also done a terrible job of finding and profiling these folks.) I often wish we did a better job. Nonetheless, these entrepreneurs are out there by the thousands. I meet them all the time; they come to our events to meet and learn from each other.

More broadly, the power of the 4HWW lifestyle is still being unlocked. Families are joining the fray. So are people from developing countries (or countries whose passports restrict their travel).

What many had, in the early days, framed up as a book of tricks to take shortcuts in life has turned into a roadmap to interesting and dignified work for those who might not otherwise have access to it.

Over the coming years, we’re going to see many more people abandoning the corporate/career track and relying on their own entrepreneurial skills and ingenuity.

7.

Service businesses and professional services (like lawyers and accountants) are starting to understand and serve the unique problems faced by ‘micro-multinationals’ – hyper-globalized <$10M businesses. It’s a massively growing marketplace that’s relatively easy to address.

8.

When we started the TMBA blog, we were two broke kids with mediocre college degrees selling random ecommerce products (thank to Tim’s validation strategies and Ian’s obsession with cats). We were also perhaps the first location-independent physical goods business sharing its story via blogging and podcasting.

This felt risky. Why? Because with most business models, sharing your secret sauce doesn’t make sense. Our situation was really no different, but we did it anyway – it was fun, and we wanted to share. And it’s worked out – especially because we’ve met all of you!

When Tim’s book was published, conventionally successful people didn’t build or buy businesses like ours. But that’s changing, too. Our seven-figure business was bought by a former Hollywood executive. Why? Because she wanted to control her earnings into retirement.

That’s not unusual. People on traditional career paths have watched what Tim’s readers have accomplished, and they’re using their savings to buy in. Their motivations are as varied as ours: to spend more time with family; to live abroad; to create unlimited growth potential; and to control their own financial destinies.

Some of us boldly proclaimed that the 4HWW was a shortcut to retirement (forget mini-retirements). For many, it’s turning out that way.

9.

Ten years on, 4HWW principles look less like a critique of the career system and more like the future of business.

10.

As I’ve written previously, Tim’s book whispered something important to me: in addition to working less and living anywhere, I could also build wealth, take care of a family and retire well.

Now established industries and entrepreneurs are taking note. The VCs are coming. The PE firms are coming.

And why shouldn’t they? As Tim says, the four-hour workweek is about “valuing effectiveness over efficiency.” It’s about throwing out all the career nonsense and doing good work.

So if you’re reading this and wondering whether the four-hour workweek is still possible – whether there’s room for you at the table – here’s my answer:

It’s getting easier every day.

Cheers,

Dan

PS, like the TMBA? You can subscribe here.

PPS, did the 4HWW influence you? Got a success or failure story? I’d love to hear about it.

Published on 04.25.17
  • Alan Perlman

    Ha, was just telling my wife about this book (again, for the umpteenth time). Was in the Johannesburg airport coming back from a trip to Namibia a couple of days ago and saw it featured on the shelf alongside other airport book staples (Paulo Cohelo, Malcom Gladwell, Anne Rice, etc.).

    Read 4HWW when it first came out ten years ago and have been trying to find my “muse” / crack the nut the whole time. Tried and failed and tried and failed at numerous side hustles / nights and weekends projects.

    Finally found success with http://dronepilotgroundschool.com and able to work remotely / travel / have that freedom I’ve always dreamed of having. Great write-up, wholeheartedly agree with the “critique of the American lifestyle” – interestingly enough that’s what I remember most and explain to people first about the book when it comes up in conversation.

    I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but it wasn’t until the examples Tim shares that I realized any Joe Schmo can think creatively and leverage technology to hit specific goals. It’s not just raising a buttload of money and finding oil, wasn’t until 4HWW that I realized it.

    ANYWAYS thanks for writing this, going to share with my brother and his fiancee who I just bought the book for :)

    Alan

  • http://www.betosanro.com Beto Sanro

    I understand that most people fall in love with the 4HWW imagery. But for me it was MJ DeMarcos’s “Millionaire Fastlane” who made me quit my “self employed” job. It’s better mathematics I believe. More actionable. My favorite book ever.

  • http://jetsetcitizen.com/ John Bardos – JetSetCitizen

    It’s already been a decade since the 4HWW? I feel old. :-)

    You call him “Tim”, I feel we should be calling him “Mr. Ferris.” :-)

    Regardless of the critiques of the book, there are two indisputable facts.

    1. The 4HWW changed tens of thousands of lives, or more. It opened up a entire new world directly through the book, or through the secondary recommendations of people that were influenced by it.
    2. Tim Ferris is a genius marketer and business person. He created a business empire from a book of unique and timely ideas. That alone is absolutely amazing, ignoring all the follow up success he has had. Think about all the ideas he brought together in one book and sold with the promise of a Four hour workweek. Genius!

    The book definitely was a big influence on my path over the last 10 years. It opened my eyes to an alternative reality that most still don’t see.

  • http://designpickle.com Russ Perry

    It’s been quite a decade! To put things in perspective, since I first read 4HWW, I spent 8.5 years trying to figure out my “muse”, another 2.5 building http://designpickle.com and two weeks ago finally left for location independence.

    A decade of work, but a decade nonetheless inspired by Tim’s work.

    Now, to bring things full circle, my 11 year-old is blogging about her location independent experience :) I couldn’t be more proud!

    Here is her very adorable Tumblr, she’s doing better than I ever have with the whole blogging thing – https://azgenie23.tumblr.com/

  • Jeremy Martin

    OH man its so good to hear you guys in the post comments share how long its taking you. It has taken me 6 years and I finally ‘know’ what I am going to stick to, freak I thought it was never going to come. I am not totally independent yet but I can see the light….

    In the spirit of chasing the light here is my fav Creedence Clearwater song to keep it moving…https://youtu.be/SFP5afPweVI

  • Melinda Hammond

    Hey Russ, just read your daughter’s Tumblr…if she ever wants to join our online novel writers community or write for our Story Slingers Magazine, we’d love to have her. xx http://writerontheroad.com/story-slingers/

  • Adrijus Guscia

    I’ll second that ‘Millionaire Fastlane’ was more influential to me. Esp. in terms of mindset and leaving the ‘script’. 4HWW was good but it didn’t resonate crazily.

    But 4HWW can be a good gift depending on where a person is at. Def. a possible gateway book.

    Here is to the next 10 years!!! Should be fun ride!

  • Will Tjernlund

    I was lucky that I was able to read the 4HWW back in 2012 when I was still in college. From then on forward I was determined to not follow the standard life script. I was very fortunate that my skills of selling on Amazon and eBay worked with the 4HWW lifestyle, if you make a few adjustments. I now spend half the year traveling and half the year with my friends and family in Minneapolis. I have found a good balance in life by the age of 26 and could not be more grateful to Tim and the 4HWW for putting me on the right path.

  • http://schoberg.net/ Jesse Schoberg

    Dan’s first bullet from Point #1 is a huge takeaway from 4HWW that is still the one I see skipped over most often.

    Define your Dreamline.

    This soooo important.
    You figured out how to make money on the internet. Good job.
    You are location independent. Good job.
    You can do literately anything you want with your time. Is that answer infinitely increase MRR?

    When you were broke did your dreamline say reach $1k MRR, then reach $5k, then $25k, then $500k then die???

    Don’t forget to dreamline again. It’s important.

  • Marcia Yudkin

    Tim Ferriss did not invent the location-independent lifestyle, nor does it require the Internet. Except for a few temporary jobs, I’ve been living that way since 1981!

  • http://www.marketingshow.com Clay Collins

    4HWW Changed my life too. So many of the ideas were outdated and not viable, but it got me to take action, drop out of high school, and start on the journey that eventually became Leadpages.net (and Drip.co , etc.) I can’t believe it referred to Overture Pay Per click (which wasn’t even really around at the time of publishing). Thanks Tim!

  • Jacki Bils

    Hi Dan,

    No doubt that 4HWW was a landmark book. It was full of great ideas and inspired LOTS of people, including me.

    I’ve always been surprised that Scott Fox’s “Internet Riches” didn’t get more of that kind of attention, too. It’s all about teaching people to build lifestyle businesses, too, it came out the same year, and has a lot more practical “how to do it” tips than 4HWW for anyone looking to start an Internet business.

    Then, unfortunately Tim moved on to new areas (Body, Chef, etc.) and mostly dropped the ball for entrepreneurs.

    But Scott Fox kept writing more books to help internet entrepreneurs. (e-Riches 2.0, Click Millionaires, etc.)

    Scott’s not as good a self-promoter as Tim, I guess, but I’d suggest anyone interested in starting their own “lifestyle business” check out the Click Millionaires book on Amazon.com. (It’s only $10 on Kindle.)

    I’ve heard it called the “sequel” to 4HWW that Tim never wrote.

    The Click Millionaires sub-title of “Work Less and Live More with an Internet Lifestyle Business You Love” definitely appeals to anyone who’s a fan of 4HWW (or TMBA).

    Have you read that one? I’ll bet you’d love it.

    Thanks for your blog and many inspiring ideas!

  • http://www.LauraRoeder.com Laura Roeder

    When I read 4HWW I had already quit my job earlier that year. To me it was kind of a follow up of Your Money or Your Life (https://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0140286780) which really got me into the idea of “lifestyle design” (using different terminology). 4HWW made me see that the internet business that I was pursuing really was a viable option, and made me feel hugely inspired. Then I got to meet Tim a few years later. :)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    Interesting I’m not sure I’ve heard of this book before. Thanks for the link! For me the closest analog in terms of mindset was “Rich Dad Poor Dad” but the business models discussed were from a different generation and had different possibilities.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    I have read it for some reasons it didn’t resonate with me much, I can’t remember exactly why.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    that to me is what continues to fascinate me about the book and perhaps sets it apart from ‘click millionaires’ listed above, it wasn’t about the strategy of the book it was about the ‘suggestion’ it made to so many of it’s readers. Like the ratio between readers and action takers must be insanely high compared to most books.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    I agree there’s a story there Marcia! :D Where can we read about it?

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    100%. I can’t believe I had never thought about what I wanted outside of the context of jobs/schools until the dreamline exercise.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    well done sir, met so many younger entrepreneurs like yourself designing lives that would be unimaginable (at least to me) when I graduated school in 2004.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    hehe persistence works :D

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    so awesome, looking forward to hanging with you guys sometime soon :D

    For others in reading the comments, here’s some further info about the Design Pickle story:

    https://blog.russperry.co/my-10-year-plan-to-become-homeless-9857a77f100e
    https://wpcurve.com/design-pickle/
    http://www.tropicalmba.com/pickle/

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    Mr. Bardos you’ve been around talking about the movement for quite a long time yourself!

    100% this book has had a real tangible influence on the world. I’d go so far to say that it’s helped change certain cities and neighborhoods, but that’s a whole other story.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    Hey Beto good call, I love Millionaire Fastlane as well, wonderful book. I think I read it when I was already “converted” but still ate it up and read it more than once. One of my favorite ‘internet’ moments was doing an AMA for MJ’s forum back in the day.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    One thing that really sticks to me is “producer vs. consumer” mindset too. He does a lot of really good career math thinking that has rubbed off on me as well (http://www.tropicalmba.com/the-cult-of-early-retirement-meets-or-strangely-doesnt-meet-the-cult-of-entrepreneurship/)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    hey Alan so good to hear from you. I was hoping some 4HWW fans would share this with their families / friends, sometimes it’s hard for others to understand the reasons for our erratic career behavior. I’m pretty sure many around me thought I was joining some kind of money scam or something. :P Congrats on the business too!

  • Adrijus Guscia

    Yeah, best mix in a book for Mindset AND Numbers. It was huge eye opener for me hehe.

  • Chris Reynolds

    Most important book of my life! Great tribute Dan!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    thanks Chris, see ya soon :)

  • Mattia Settimelli

    yes definitely. the combination of them. and let’s add “the personal MBA” too.

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