“Cambodia Cash” : And How I’d Try to Create it in 12 Hours or Less

“Cambodia Cash” : And How I’d Try to Create it in 12 Hours or Less post image

Many of us are seeking to grow what we often call “a passive income” businesses– in large part thanks to Pat Flynn popularizing the term for online marketers. Internally, we’ve been using all sorts of terms in the same ballpark as “passive income”: location independent, leveraged, automated, online, recurring, scalable, residual, info-income, etc. 

The problem with all these terms is that they haven’t precisely captured the type of income I care about most. “Location independent” income can be earned by a consultant (I’d prefer not to primarily be a consultant), and passive income implies you are no longer working within your business.

It’s a great name for Pat’s site, but it can be an awkward way to describe the sort of income we are working to generate from our current online projects.

So I’m kicking around all these random terms and then one day I said something like, “what I love about this product is that it’s creating us Cambodia cash.” And I’m sure many of you can guess what I meant.

“Cambodia cash” – n. – any profits generated from a business that have all of the following attributes: 

  1. does not require synchronous customer support.
  2. 99% of customer issues can be resolved via email. 
  3. has no critical business processes that requires a high amount of internet bandwidth or stability.
  4. all products and services are ‘bits’ not ‘atoms,’ e.g. software, online support services, information, etc. 
  5. services, products, and experiences are very similar from client to client (only minor modifications to product or protocol required).
  6. highly skilled labor is not required for the weekly maintenance of the business. 
  7. has no physical location or time zone requirements.
  8. does not require phone support.

Want to spend a few weeks strolling by the river in Kampot, Cambodia eating fresh peppercorns and riding your XLR 200 through the hills? No problem. Your business won’t suffer for it. As long as you can find 4-5 hours a day to rock out emails, write, create code, and provide customer support, your business will continue to move along.

Sure… we could all go for a little more Cambodia cash. :)

Of course many of us who are obsessed this online dream can hurt our chances at growing a sustainable business. Long term travel costs time and energy, and generally hamstrings a start-up.

But ya know what? I sure as hell is easier than it’s ever been. Here’s some steps I’d take (plus a business idea to try it out on!):

1) Make sure you’ve found a real problem.

It sucks for expats in Asia to make travel arrangements. Local carrier sites are temperamental. It can take 1-2 hours to make a simple booking between searching for the best price and fudging around with their interfaces. Booking long-haul flights isn’t much better, especially when you have to coordinate your rewards programs.

I don’t want to have this problem anymore. Imagine a virtual travel agency, focused on saving you time and money, securing it’s clients the best deals in Asia and in long haul flights to the West.

2) Make sure you get a URL that isn’t confusing and that is easy to spell and easy to tell others.

I found this one in 30 seconds. Spend a few more minutes on it. Keep it simple, easy to pronounce, and focused.

A lot of people just getting started in online marketing circles will say stuff like “Dan what happens if you want to expand this to places outside of Asia?… that URL won’t work. What if your customers aren’t expats? Why don’t you get a domain like easytravel.ly??”

Having a narrow domain scope is exactly the kind of problem you want to have. If you are ballin’, by all means! Target anyone. Go broad. If you are just getting started, niche until you feel uncomfortable. If you have 350 paying customers, you can present your proof of contempt to an investor, or change your name. No biggie.

My feeling when first time entrepreneurs express worry that a market that is too focused. 

3) Solve the market problem in a unique way.

Instead of dealing with preferred suppliers like most travel agents and relying on kickbacks, you provide a concierge type experience for a monthly fee. When I sign up for your service, you take a detailed survey from me. My preferences, credit card #’s, favorite airports, and whether or not I prefer aisle or row. Make it clear that I can update my personal preferences by emailing your team anytime. I can train your team to my preferences– you add my requests to my customer profile so that every agent I work with in the future understands my tastes. Instead of signing me up for your airlines, you sign me up for the best for me. Awesome!

4) Identify the simplest workflow and technology solution possible. Use something 100% out of the box.

Software developers have long been chasing the Cambodia cash– it’s only recently that marketers had such robust tools at their disposal that require little or no developer support.

Define a workflow that can utilize 100% out of the box tools like WordPress or Ning (if you haven’t signed up for a free Ning account just to play around with it, check it out!) Say I send you an email that says “I want to go to the Philippines next Saturday. I want to go in the morning if possible.” Your team sends me itineraries until I approve something.

With the expert protocol that you develop, you can get me good deals faster than I could have gotten on my own. I’d no longer procrastinate on my travel bookings so I’m saving tons of money by getting your team involved the moment when I know I want to make a trip. When I approve something, you team purchases the tickets and emails them to me. They might even remind me that I need an outbound ticket!

5) Don’t automate your idea.

Don’t automate your ideas– automate businesses with cash flow. One of the main ways resistance manifests itself for online entrepreneurs is through premature optimization of their businesses.

Listen to this podcast and try not to blush. I loved the story of Rob taking over a business with many established customers and running the all customer service himself. That’s how it gets done. How many times has somebody fiddled around with developers and various plugins for months trying to automate a process that could be solved with a few emails and Boomerang for Gmail?

6) Sketch out a quick business plan and product articulation.

Full plane ticket concierge service (members + 1 guest per flight) for $27 a month? How many benefits do you need to offer to get that price? Is it too low? Bounce it off a few friends. How many price levels? Can you keep it less than three? What about full hotel and AirBnB booking service for $47 a month?

If your average customer value is $35 bucks a month, and your average customer is taking up 3 hours a month(<– a key figure to determine with the first small group of customers, probably with this business customers will use the service more in the first month than in the second and third, since they’ll likely purchase it when they need it if you aren’t offering out of the gate immediate benefits). At 100 members you are brining in $3500 a month. Do the economics work for you? Fire up the Google docs!

7) Sell (or figure out an articulation that does).

I’m serious when I say you could be selling something here in 12 hours. Why not give me my first 3 months on your service for free? What about a small group of charter customers that pay a reduced rate? Get some cash greesing the wheels and then see where it takes you. Could this idea get funding in a year? Sure. Could you develop custom software? An automated website? Group discounts? Travel hacking seminars? Of course. This is how it starts.

If somebody provided you with personalized concerierge travel services, would you pay them a monthly fee? I know I would.




Published on 03.19.12
  • JustinWCooke

    Interesting article, Dan.

    The funny thing is…I don’t think you’d need much automation at ALL to get started with something like this.  Literally, you could have a small site with content explaining the offer and a few purchase buttons.  Have the follow-ups in the email chain ask for your details to better understand you and then do it all MANUALLY to start.  Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass…but it would test the business idea.  someone could sign up for the DC, mention the offer there, and immediately have 20-30 signups, lol.  That would get you on your way and give you enough customers to test out the idea and see if it has merit.

    If it’s just you or you and an assistant…you could test out offering INSANE levels of service.  Zappos or CD Baby type service levels.  I think that would do quite well…

  • Steven Moody

    I’m liking the Cambodia Cash concept, its easier to visualize than lifestyle design or passive income.  

    I think you’re basically saying the opportunities are in the “last mile” of automation – customized personalized digital assistants making our lives easier.  Things that can be automated six years from now, but no one is innovating them yet because the technology isn’t there yet.  CardMunch was a great example of this, uses MTurk to OCR business cards, and sold to Linkedin. 

  • Really interesting idea here Dan. 

    The beauty of this modern-day virtual concierge idea is you can easily up-sell your client base with even further stuff… 

    After you’ve booked a flight, it’d be easy to say “Would you like me to find you the best hotel at your destination? Or something in a particular price range?” or “Would you like me to book any reservations at Restaurant X, Restaurant Y, or Restaurant Z, which are the highest-rated restaurants at your destination.” 

    The possibilities are endless, and ancillary services like this would both make the monthly fee seem even more like a bargain for new folks (sorta like Amazon Prime for travel), and a powerful retention tool going forward. 

  • JustinWCooke

    Hmmm…remember the Agoda post I put up in the DC?  They always have great rates anyway…to get proof of concept could simply collect on the affiliate links through the Agoda for the upsells…

  • I’ve been thinking of doing something like this, but for flights coming in & out of Central America. But not just only planes, but bus & shuttle services that go from one country to another. I’ve found that it’s been a bitch to research and book buses to certain locations (especially in English). As I’m traveling through several of the countries here, I may explore the option. Thanks for an inspiration. Cheers Dan!

  • mmm creating it is the easy part. Selling it on the other hand… it’s a whole different ball of wax…

  • Justin, I agree that it’s not about automation.  In fact it’s very much not about automation, because you have to deal with craptastic websites like my personal nemesis Cebu Pacific.  For those reading who haven’t had the pleasure, if you want to torture yourself, go book a flight on http://cebupacificair.com.  I’ll see you back here in two or three hours if you’re lucky.  

    The top challenge that you would need to overcome to earn my business is trust.  Two types of trust, to be specific.  

    First, show me how you will safely and securely handle my credit card data.  I’ve thought of handing this off to a VA a number of times but I just can’t bring myself to hand over control of my credit card to a freelancer who I have never met, especially if they live in a developing country.  

    Second, although it’s oh so painful, I’ve gotten very good at sorting out the best possible option.  You will need to show me that you are thoroughly knowledgeable about how to put the pieces together to get me where I want to go with the least amount of pain and expense.  

    When I plan travel from Penang to Manila (my current most frequent route) I consider 3-5 different connecting cities and 3-5 different airlines.  It usually comes down to connecting in KL or Singapore with some combination of Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, and/or Tiger Airways. 

    But I haven’t done that homework for Bali yet.  So if I ask you to book me a trip to Bali, I expect to see that you’ve checked on whether it’s best to connect in KL, Singapore, or Jakarta, and whether it’s best to stay on one airline or piece something together across multiple carriers.

    If you want to absolutely crush it, figure out how to send me a http://hipmunk.com type report of the top 3 choices given my parameters of when and where I want to travel.  Yes, it would be great if that was automated.  But given the state of the carrier’s websites and level of cooperation that would be a long road.  Given some low cost VA labor, the mechanical turk approach seems best.  I’ll bet you could figure out how to do a hipmunk style report in Excel, save it to PDF, and email it to me.  Or email me an URL and host the PDF on your website.

    Sorry I think I wrote a blog post here.  But if you seriously want to take this on, talk to me.  I’d try taking it on myself, but the last thing I need is another project.  But I’d be glad to tell somebody who is serious about doing this what does and doesn’t work for me.

  • shutterfeet

    Loved this post. I really like how you emphasized getting the idea up and running quickly. The criteria for Cambodia Cash plus the steps to try out the business plan are great. Loved the term Cambodia Cash!

  • Fin


    Great imagination. I love the idea, though I’m not sure I would be as quick to give someone my credit card details, especially if it’s a start-up and they are unknown. Could cause problems.

    What about if we could deposit money into an account through paypal etc.

    Also, I like the idea of expanding to buses/trains as someone said.

    I HATE when I’m somewhere like the Khao San Road and I go into a travel agent and spend about 30 minutes waiting for my ticket. Maybe someone could also book bus/train journeys.

    They could even set up deals with local agents where we could pick up tickets. They could pay the local agents a fee for receiving the fax and handing us the ticket.

    In regards to booking bb’s or guest houses, they could even have the best ones for each place on their website, and use an affiliate program like hostelworld. We can book through their affiliate link and they would receive extra money.

    Maybe it would mean they could reduce the monthly fee? Who knows.

    It just goes to show, with a little idea a business can be created.

  • Brandon Kong

    Thanks for the post Dan.

    I had a similar idea where you pay for a virtual concierge to do anything for you including:
    1. Giving you a wake up call with the day’s agenda and other bits and pieces you like to know about (weather, sporting events etc). The icing on the cake would be a customisable UX where the caller talks to you how you want (sexy voice using nasty language, officer reporting to general etc).
    2. Checking session times and buying movie tickets for you (because Australia’s 3G internet can be soooo slow sometimes, only to find flash doesn’t work for the cinema site you want…)

    BUT your article illustrates a good point that perhaps going niche is the best way to start.
    Would you be pay for an intelligent VA wake up call / daily briefing service?

  • Dan

    I wouldn’t, not enough value there for me. These types of services have existed, I’ve also seen a lot of gimmicky type of stuff like “call my friend and say they are great everyday” kind of stuff, but I don’t hear much about it anymore. What I like about the travel idea is that it could create a sustainable and building true value for the client… that would be great marketing…eventually I’ll start talking about the service and my friends will sign up etc.

  • Dan

    for sure great add on here! yes I agree that the payment thing would be the hurdle, but I like the idea of just using Paypal web standard payments at the beginning and you can say to your clients, if you are unhappy we’ll send you your money back AND it’s well known that people have recourse with Paypal so I think they’d feel relatively safe. If you are ballin’, the opposite approach would be to create a high end design and integrated payment services. I do believe that people would trust world class design and a few strategic media mentions right out of the gate. 

  • Dan

    haha cheers hope you start using it with friends and baffling them at dinner! :)

  • Dan

    one thing i like about Seth Godin’s ideas surrounding marketing is that if you can really articulate the value proposition well, the sales process and serving clients etc should all follow pretty naturally. if you nail the value proposition you don’t need to be a great sales person … i think :P

  • Dan

    Cheers Harrison, no question its a HUGE painpoint.

  • Dan

    absolutely! even though agoda makes it easy, i’d rather have a VA do it. lots of opportunity for this company to make legit kickbacks. 

  • Dan

    this is what I love about starting with a hyper-focused idea, expanding from there is so easy. so many people start so broad and then find it hard to proceed. If you just switch it around, you can’t help yourself but to find 100’s of ways to move forward. these are great ideas btw. :)

  • Dan

    haha i like the way you think… maybe more than last mile i’d say the “current frontier” these are the types of opportunities i see now as it lays… in particular for marketers to really take this micro-community thing to level of more legit services and not just a bunch of training like most marketers seem to get in to. 

    “sold to Linkedin” is like music to my ears– no reason a small start-up like this wouldn’t be acquired by a big dog.. .maybe just for it’s client list. 

  • Dan

    30 sales out the gate in the DC def. possibility. I love the idea of taking a queue from Zappos and taking it seriously… like constant DELIGHT… man, what a change in my experience with airline bookings that would be. Everybody seems to think that travel agents are dead, but they don’t need to be! They are just useless…

  • Dan

    haha temping Mike! These are awesome thoughts here. I love the hipmunk idea. I think the basic idea would be to try and process-ize that unique knowledge you’ve gained. SO if I were running this company I’d take the knowledge you know about Malaysia and work it in to our process and then work to improve it. Same with our knowledge of Bali flights. Next time you want to fly to Bali, we’ve already made you your membership cash back because we put you on an itinerary you weren’t aware of. I think the person who would start this business would know more about SEAsian travel than anyone I know in a few short weeks of making bookings, and that’s part of the beauty of an opportunity like this. Insta-expert! Learn from your clients.

    On the credit card thing– that’s a challenge here for sure. I think the founder would have to put their face forward and earn the trust of the marketplace. 

  • Ok first i don’t know what it is but the people who save they love a idea BUT xyz tend to weird me out. Mainly because the people who say that dont think it through, when they should of just said it not for me because. (NOTE: not saying any of the above has done that)

    The idea is simple that it would take about a week to get up and running, there are a few problems but the more personal than anything. Ok here is me thinking out loud:

    1) Is this a real problem:

    Short answer: yes

    Long answer: CouchSurfing seems to be hot right now, and with many south east Asian places become big players in the global market. People need a way to travel there without 200’000 headaches.

    2) Url easy as falling off a log easy

    I agree this is something i have tested in the past on both profit/non-profit sites

    3) solve the problem in a unique way?

    This one is a problem i have a lot how to uniquely solve there problem (hmm less hastle for a price?)

    4) With the expert protocol that you develop:

    Does that not conflict with 5 dont automate yet? Or is this simlar to the book work the system by sam Carpenter? Where you are laying the ground work for automates later if the business runs?

    5) dont automate:

    So you need to lay the ground work (in tim ferriss book automates happens in 3 to 4 weeks?) first then automate.

    6) business plan that sells:

    im not really good with this but

    Target market: Aisa Expat/couchsurfers

    Target price: 
    a) how much do i need to live? (regardless i do this )
    b) how much for the basic needs of the business
    c) how much for research into market 
    d) In case of something bad happening
    e) price of ad’s?
    Total Target price is:


    Who really is doing this? answer very few if any



    I dont like service, so a business built around that will be hard

    I know next to nothing about:
    a) the business in general (how does this different from the TSA junk we have in the usa?)
    b) I know next to nothing about the target group (What are there dreams/hopes, where they going? How much they have to spend etc)


    The survey idea would work well there so you dont need to know a lot the customer will fill in some of the blanks

    7) Sell

    I’m sure i could market to CouchSurfing

    Well that all i can think of right now, and it seems that the business has legs and IT might be compatible with me. Still the problem of not likeing service type business IS strong with me.

    Anyways that about covers it dan 

  • So dan what your saying is that a person dont have to be a expert because the customer will make him one?

    What about using paypal? Or is that not available?

  • James

    Another idea to the site: If you are already in Cambodia, check some of the AirBNB houses offered there and write on them. Create a list of your verified houses around the country. That’s alone will be worth a lot to expats, if you can vouch for some of the locations you offer. 

  • Dan, I like the way you think.

    Regarding the travel business idea, there are two sites that come to mind that you should look at:

    http://crankyconcierge.com/ is a travel concierge site by crankyflyer.com.

    http://flightfox.com/ is a crowdsourced airfare finder. Enter your flight details and anyone can try and find the best deal. The winning fare finder get a finders fee.

    More on this idea at:


  • Dan

    Tons of opportunity for people to rent and then AirBnB their own places as well. Could make a nice little lifestyle biz out of that in Bali fo sho. 

  • Dan

    Well fucking fantastic James thanks for the links! I’m gonna check them out now. 

  • Ian

    Rename this: the Tropical MBA “Git ‘R done” business strategy. Fantastic. Thanks for the podcast and this article. I turn to you guys for motivation :)

    Have you ever written about your first business success? The transition from failing to success?

  • Dan

    I don’t think yet, probably is it’s just a blob of boring work. Tough to make a compelling post about it, but I’ll try ! :) Thanks for reading Ian. 

  • I liked this post a lot, much like everyone else.

    My question still remains: how can I start to identify solutions and niches that are worth pursuing?

    Time + experience?

    Or, what? How?

  • Dan

    right-o! that post got a little long, I should be able to publish it early next week. :)

  •  Oh, ok, I thought you had abandoned that in favor of better stuff. Looking forward to it! Thanks!

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