TMBA607: The Lonely Path of the Solopreneur

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Longtime listeners know that Dan and Ian have been business partners for many years, and sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine what it would be like to run a business on our own.

So many entrepreneurs do choose this path, though, and the quest of a “Solopreneur” can be a long and arduous one.

Darren Joe is the director of Touch MBA, a service that matches prospective students with MBA programs. He is also the author of a new book called “The Fail-Safe Solopreneur”, where he offers some insights and practical exercises to help navigate the journey of the solopreneur.

Darren joins us on today’s podcast to talk about his own journey as a solopreneur, what inspired him to write this book, why he has chosen to make Ho Chi Minh his home, and much more.

See the full transcript below

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Where Darren’s entrepreneurial journey started. (2:43)
  • The unique challenges that solopreneurs face. (12:38)
  • Some of the exercises that Darren practices to help overcome his doubts as a solopreneur. (20:29)
  • Darren’s biggest regret about his journey as a solopreneur. (29:32)
  • Why Darren has chosen to make Ho Chi Minh his home. (33:58)

Mentioned in the episode:

Before the Exit – Our New Book
Partner With Us
The Dynamite Circle
Dynamite Jobs
Dynamite Deals
Tropical MBA on YouTube
Post a Remote Job
Dynamite Jobs – Remote Recruiting Sales Page
Let’s Talk High-Level Podcast Strategy for 1 Hour
Darren Joe
Touch MBA
The Fail-Safe Solopreneur by Darren C. Joe
Princeton in Asia
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Derek Sivers

Enjoyed this podcast? Check out these:

TMBA381: A Conversation with Cal Newport
TMBA527: Letting Go of Your Ego
TMBA606: Reflections on 10 Years of Running an Online Community

This week’s sponsor:

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Smash Digital.

Smash Digital is a growth agency filled to the brim with unicorn images and SEO memes.

A team of SEOs who actually know how to use SEO instead of just selling SEO to people who don’t know SEO.

An agency with so much link juice, you’ll need a mop and a bucket to clean it all up.

A group with actual skin in the game, ranking their own portfolio of profitable businesses, and offering the exact same services to clients.

If you want to have Smash Digital in your back pocket, check them out over at SmashDigital.com, and a big thanks to Smash Digital for sponsoring the show.

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.

Cheers,

Dan & Ian


 

 

 

 

Full Transcript


Dan: Happy Thursday morning, welcome back to the pod. As regular listeners know Ian, my co host, aka the Bossman and I have been in business since I think it’s 2007. I got to check the documentation. But that’s a long time. I think back then we really needed each other. And it might even be more true today. I can’t imagine doing so many of the things we’ve done without each other. I really think it would have been more difficult and certainly more lonely. But some people choose, for their own reasons, to go it alone and be solopreneurs. And on today’s show, I’m speaking with someone who’s done that and who I’m delighted to connect with again. I actually met him at our very first DCBKK event back in 2012. And just as an aside, it looks like we’ll have a few 100 listeners of this show in Mexico in October. So excited for that.

Today’s guest’s name is Darren Joe, and he’s the director of the TouchMBA, which matches MBA candidates with the most suitable business programmes for them. And we’ll get into the journey of how that business got started and how it turned into the ‘four hour workweek promise’ business. But that nowhere near describes the totality of Darren, he’s an alum of Princeton, he’s a former Singapore business school admissions director. He’s a stunning athlete, I can personally attest to that. And he’s a badass salsa dancer. And also,and importantly, has just published a new book called, ‘The Fail-Safe Solopreneur’, in which he offers some thoughts, and also practical exercises about understanding and getting the most out of that particular journey. And particularly the mindset challenges, like the loneliness, the stress that solopreneurs can face. So we’re going to cover some of that.

Also stick around to the end for insights into why Darren has chosen to make his home and one of my favourite all time cities, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. So I started out by asking Darren why, after leaving Princeton, he headed out to not like the east coast of America for a big fancy job, or even Europe but, of all places, to Asia.

Darren: I didn’t want to work for these consulting companies or investment banks, I wanted to return back to Asia, because I had studied abroad in Hong Kong as a junior. So I went to this programme called ‘Princeton in Asia’, which basically puts people in teaching and service positions all throughout Asia for like a one or two year stint. And I was teaching statistics in Singapore. And my plan was to just be in Southeast Asia as a young graduate, not have any savings, travel all around the region, and just see everything that I could. The problem is, I fell in love with the region as well. And honestly, I haven’t really looked back since. I worked one year in New York City, but otherwise, my entire career has been in Asia.

Dan: And when you mentioned consulting investment banks, like it’s a pretty clear funnel from Princeton and other elite universities directly into like these really well paying jobs in New York City, basically.

Darren: Or in the major cities around the world. And the recruiting, honestly, if that’s what you love to do, fantastic. But why did I feel, you know, as a senior in college, you know, going to one of the top universities in the US that there are basically only four career options, grad school, consulting, banking, and then my crazy path going to Asia for a year to teach. I mean, it’s so ridiculous when there’s such a variety of amazing people to work for and great companies. Now tech is probably one of those four options, working for a big tech company, but it’s just ridiculous when I think back to it.

Dan: What was it about Southeast Asia in particular that captured your imagination?

Darren: It feels somewhat familiar, as I’m an Asian American. And I was somewhat familiar with the Asian culture, but also being so foreign and so diverse. The fact that you can jump on a plane and in one hour be in a completely different environment. Go from Singapore, to Indonesia, to Vietnam to Cambodia. I mean, that variety of people and a distinct environment and food and culture was so fascinating to me. It was such a thrill. I’m so excited to just still be talking about it.

Dan: So then how did you end up with a stiff start shirt and pocket protector as an admissions director in Singapore of all places?

Darren: Well, I needed to make money. That’s the answer. And luckily, my boss I knew from a previous friendship, and she thought I’d be a great fit. And so I joined. I tried really hard to stick on the corporate path. Okay, I’m going to work two, three years at this company, even though I’m not really enjoying it, but I have to put in my three years because otherwise, my resume will look bad, right? I can’t just like jump jobs every year. I mean, that looks horrible. In the end, I had to jump in and try to do my own thing.

Dan: What did it look like?

Darren: At first, it was a thrill, I was so excited to just control my day. And find podcasts like yours, read books, read blogs, brainstorm business ideas on napkins, and look like an independent rebel to my friends who still have these cushy corporate jobs. That lasted for about six months, then I started realising, man, this is a whole different world. Putting a ‘Buy’ button up and getting someone who doesn’t know you to buy from you online, because I’d never done that before. It was a challenge. I really questioned myself because I wasn’t able to make a sale for over a year. And it’s not like, I wasn’t reading business books, and trying to do stuff and blogging and you know, building up my web presence and traffic and all these things, but I wasn’t able to break through. I was 31 at the time. And it’s like, man, this is not the right time to fall on my face. And of course, all those kinds of status and social pressures you build up in your own head – what will other people think of me that I tried to do this? And I wasn’t able to make anything work. You guys played such a pivotal role in helping me make that first sale and take that first step to becoming relatively more successful on this path.

Dan: Well you mentioned going to DCBKK in 2012.

Darren: It is the most memorable conference I’ve ever been to because here I was trying to sell MBA admissions consulting services at the time, and I wasn’t able to. I heard you guys were having the first ever conference. I’m in Saigon. It’s a short flight away. Let’s go. I’m from the corporate world. And here I was with you guys, and maybe I’m gonna get this wrong, but like a 21 year old kid is presenting about e-cigarettes, selling e-cigarettes in China. Derek Sivers is sitting to my left wearing sandals and taking notes and nodding. But overall, it’s just this feeling of, oh my god there’s people doing this, and some of them are making a really great living. I not only learned tactical stuff from that conference, but also just gaining the confidence that I could do this, that I just needed to stick with it, share my lessons and get support from other people going through the same thing. If they hadn’t held the space for me, I would have been back in the corporate world for sure.

Dan: So you started making sales. How long did it take you to get to a moment where you’re like I’m like, ‘I can really like run my own business here. And like, that can be the thing that I do’.

Darren: So unfortunately, it took me longer than your three years that you often talk about. It took me about four years to get to the point where I made more money than I had in my last job and I was working, a few days a week on the business. And so that was a lot of grinding away and experimenting and trying new things.

Dan: What were some of the pivotal moments there to get to that, because that’s a pretty special outcome? You really describe in your book, what is a quintessential ‘four hour workweek’ business? I mean, and we’ll get to it, but you seem to have some deep ambivalences about that, you know, like, you know, you’re working two days a week, you’re making a good income, you have all these amazing hobbies and health and time and things. That’s sort of a dream outcome for many people just getting off the ‘four hour work week’ mojo kinda.

Darren: It is a dream. I was able to live in Colombia for a year after I reached that point, and I was able to do stuff that we don’t even talk about. Like, when my dad had emergency heart surgery. I was able to fly home the next day and be with him for three, four months. I mean, that’s something that, you know, people like us who have that flexibility can do and it’s been amazing, but I think that a lot of it was figuring out the right business model. And that just took a lot of different tries. It took a lot of experimentation – how can I charge business schools? How can I charge MBA applicants? Where I finally stumbled into, through a lot of experiments, a subscription model for my business, where schools were willing to pay me an annual fee every year to get in front of all the people that came to our site after listening to the podcast right after reading our guides, after getting a lot of great free guidance from us.

Dan: So essentially, the schools, their customers are these candidates, and you’re cultivating the candidates. So they’re paying you a subscription to send them people who are essentially willing to pay this tuition and capable of passing the entrance requirements.

Darren: Exactly, because business schools are just like top companies. They want the best talent from around the world, they want to build a really dynamic class, not just for the educational experience, but for when those people become alumni, and then can really help the school as well. So they’re on the talent lookout.

Dan: One of the things that jumps out to me, you had a chapter in your book about this just that experimentation, and all the people around you, like ran these random experiments, like, ‘Oh, this person is super successful in this dimension, this person is super successful here’. And then in your own case, like, you know, this, this struggle with the uncertainty of, ‘I don’t know, and like, that’s kind of my job. So I’m just keeping, like, throwing spaghetti against the wall sort of thing’.

Darren: I think dealing with the uncertainty and ambiguity is such an important skill if you’re on this path, and it’s something I had to learn, because I was used to those ladders to climb – get good grades, get into a good school, you know, win the tournament, and then you get the result or join the corporate world, climb the ladder, get to the next position, get the higher salary, there’s clear finishing lines. But, for this path, I learned that there’s no real clear finishing lines. I mean, you could say money is one of them, right? Like enough money to retire. But we’re doing this because we want so much more than that. I’ve had to figure out what’s really important to me, and to stick to those guns and to pursue that life, which is not as easy as it sounds.

Dan: In some ways, this is like a conversation. So I want to frame up the book conversation this way and see if you agree or disagree. Essentially we’re both 40. There’s one thing here, which is happening, which is, let’s say you have an early retirement at 60. That means that me and you have both witnessed 50% of our output, I can feel 20 years and I know what it’s gonna feel like in the future. And so there’s a perspective that comes with that that I think is part of the theme of the book. The other bit is, you know, you’ve basically taken Tim Ferriss template, the live Colombia, the visit the family for half a year, the two hours a week, you’ve become a high level salsa dancer, you’re incredibly physically fit, you have a great deal of time and location freedom yet, you know, you’re sitting here sort of halfway through your career, asking basically the biggest questions in life, in part because you have been so independent, that there’s like, who, who’s there to guide you at this point? You know what I mean? You sort of come to this shore and look around, and then combine the fact that COVID hit and had a dramatic impact on your business. So can you tell us what happened during COVID, specifically to your business?

Darren: So unfortunately, I lost a third of my business school customers, and so I lost a third of my subscriptions. And that was a hit to the business.

Dan: How did it feel?

Darren: Honestly, it didn’t feel that bad. Clearly, I want those customers, I want that revenue, I want to provide them the service. But it wasn’t the end of the world for me. I think it’s because I’m so used to dealing with the ups and downs that, to me, it’s just another lesson. All right? How can I serve them better? What do I need to do next? Whereas before, this would have challenged my entire entrepreneurial identity. Definitely I’ve had those questions in those late nights, early mornings, like staring at the ceiling, thinking, what the hell am I doing with my life? You know, just because one customer canceled their contract. There’s a lot of those moments on this journey. And I think that we should expect those.

Dan: And so largely what the book is about then is sort of an honest exploration of what that might look like. There is this famous chapter in Tim Ferriss’ ‘Four Hour Work Week’ that’s called ‘filling the void’. Essentially this idea that you’ve sort of hacked covering the expenses for the things that you want to do in life, maybe saved for retirement. And so the question then becomes, ‘What now?” and there’s not a lot of great answers that Tim provides for that.

Darren: The irony of that chapter, is that the whole reward of the four hour workweek is, you know, existential crises, frightening moments of doubt. I mean, Tim experienced this stuff 15 years ago, but who the hell reads that chapter of the book? No one. ‘I’ll worry about the void later’. That’s the reward for building the four hour business. I think he really stumbled onto something important, which is I don’t think the path that I’ve been on for the past 10 years is natural. I don’t think we were meant to work completely alone and to be so, in a way, untethered from the rest of the world. Yes, I created this independent entity that can largely run without me, but that also means I’m not needed that much. It’s not natural, from my experience anyway, maybe some people can hack it. But I feel this slowly withering away, no matter if I’m making good money, I can work wherever I want. But if it’s just for myself, it’s kinda: what’s the point of this all?

It’s so funny because even though I had that choice to live wherever I wanted, I chose to stay in Saigon because I built a community here with my great basketball friends, with my salsa community. And I cherish that more than anything, I would rather come back, instead of exploring another country for a month, I’d rather come back after a week to be with my friends. And I realise this rootedness in community is so important. And it’s, it’s something that I believe you and Ian have really got it early on, you guys got this. There’s a real need for, especially location independent entrepreneurs, to find those tribes. Because it’s too hard and unnatural to do it without. I think there’s a duality, there’s a duality to the work-life values we cherish so much, like, being location independent. What do I crave the most: ingenuity, freedom, adventure and meaning, to sum it up, but there’s their shadow sides to those values.

Dan: What do you mean by a shadow side.

Darren: If you’re going to be a creative person, and be ingenuous, there’s a lot of failure that comes with that. It’s just part of the package. If you’re seeking adventure, instability is the shadow side of that. There’s no adventure without instability. The same if you’re pursuing meaning. Oftentimes, if you’re pursuing your own most meaningful life or path that can often run against what the rest of society expects or wants, So there can be a profound sense of loneliness there. And so if we can expect those things, those shadow sides, and deal with them, then we can make the most of this life and do our best work as well.

Dan: My background is in philosophy, okay, and it’s not useful very often. But the entire existential movement was based on the quest for meaning in a world that provides none. And in fact, it’s that tension that makes it that makes it. If you just could find it, and identify it and write it down, there would be no quest that would be that, you know, and that’s sort of the whole idea. And so I do love this concept of shadow sides. And so essentially, your thesis is, ‘Hey, a lot of these things we’re flirting with, they have these shadow sides that will leave you potentially isolated’. You talk a lot about feeling disassociated from your core family, because they had different expectations for you to fall in line and, and to like, represent you know, all the things that they’ve provided for you, like you would double down on that. And so you attempt to lay out a sort of a framework for addressing a lot of these things. And I was wondering if you could help us to run through a few of the exercises that have been useful to you.

Darren: I think probably the most useful one, in terms of dealing with the uncertainty of the day, that complete freedom to choose your day, and I know I sound so privileged to complain about that.

Dan: No, you’re in the right space, these are very live problems. So I think we should just lean right into them.

Darren: You’re living the question every day. So you need to bring more resilience, more thought, more energy to every day, because you’re making all your own choices. And so one framework that has really helped me is simply thinking through your perfect day. Imagining it, living it and scoring it every day, just this simple, simple tool. And that’s how the book started, honestly, it was called ‘the perfect day’. What I would do is at the end of every day, I would score my day from negative two being a really bad day a horrible day to to being an amazing, fulfilling, thrilling day. Zero would be neutral.

And what you do over time you score your day, you just record what you did that day and why you scored your day such. And overtime that the patterns emerge. It’s because I saw my best friend, it’s because I went to that pickup game that I scored my day one? And I asked, I’ve asked over 50 people about the perfect day because I’m totally obsessed with this concept. And I’ve learned that most people want really mundane things on their perfect day. Because I was tired of reading small business and entrepreneurship books. I was done. I got to the mountaintop somewhat. And I’m still feeling this profound sense of loneliness. So screw you guys. No, I mean I love books. But what I did was I just started asking random people in Vietnam, foreigners, local people, all classes, all genders, all ages, ‘What’s your perfect day?’

Dan: What are the patterns that lead to good days versus less good days?

Darren: So what I found was these four elements reappearing over and over again, the first was a connectedness. So being connected to friends and loved ones, the second one was autonomy, having the ability to choose the pace and space of your day. The third was progress, getting better at something that you really valued, or that’s important. And the fourth was just a clear state of mind, which is a blanket term for either being in the zone or just not being worried. These four traits kept appearing over and over and over again, it was amazing actually. So when I kind of feel crappy about my day, I actually think about those four things, as well as my own score, right, and activities. It’s like, did I connect with loved ones today? Did I do my best to do so? Did I do my best to progress at something that’s important to me, did I do my best to do activities that give me this clear mind? And that’s going to change over time. I’m not saying there’s one thing and that’s the beauty of this exercise. It evolves and you evolve with it, but it is your perfect day. It’s not anyone else’s. It’s not what society says that should be for you.

Dan: What are some other exercises in the book? I’m going to list them. One is: own your dark side. Number two is: evolve through play and experimentation. Number three is: manage yourself better than a boss. Number four is: dealing with instability and failure. Number five is: finding meaning on a pathless path. You’re starting to sound like a French philosopher. And number six: dealing with loneliness, or a previous Chinese philosophy to be fair. The Chinese were hip to this 4000 years ago.

Darren: They so were.

Dan: I remember reading in college, you quoted Lao Tzu in the book, and I remember thinking, ‘How come this memo didn’t get to all the people in Europe for 1000s of years?’ Europeans discovered science and like went off the deep end there for a little while.

Darren: Maybe one practice I can share is this idea of outsight, which has been so helpful to me. Basically, the idea of outside is, in times of transition, when you’re starting a new company, or even starting a new role working, what’s going to serve you best is experimentation and acting and play, it’s not going to be your insights about how to do that thing, because guess what, you’ve never done it before. So how would you know what to do? And this is what I wasted 18 precious months of my life, you know, all the way back in 2011, trying to read my way into becoming a better entrepreneur when really I just needed to meet people in your community, form new relationships, experiment with new ways of being, and get comfortable with that. So I truly believe, especially when you’re stuck, which is I’m sure a problem all of us have, it’s much better to experiment and play that gets you much further along than hard work. Now disagree with me if you want to. But the biggest breakthroughs in my business, and my personal life, they’ve all come through experimentation. Not hard work. Yeah, hard work will lend me you know, two extra sales and a little more traffic, but they aren’t like the game changing things that make my life rich, and that make my business rich as well. And so I really believe this message of hustle, hustle culture, it has its place, don’t get me wrong but it’s not the key, in my opinion.

Dan: It’s hard to be precise with these things, I think you’re definitely onto something. I think you’re right, the idea that if hard work is defined as like grind, head down, more of the same. But if the magic really comes when you can combine the two, if play and experimentation, you can grind that way. Those are the best people, the best entrepreneurs I’ve met are people who take a play and experimentation approach and grind it out every day basically.

Darren: A lot of that is about leaving your ego at the door, to be able to do that, to be able to grind and mess up what is working. You just try something and observe it for what it is. Oftentimes we associate the value of our business with our own self worth. It’s easy to do, but It’s actually very unhealthy. Because when you do that, not only are you putting twice as much pressure on yourself, because you’re associating your identity with your business success, but you’re also bringing so much ego into your business that you can’t see what’s really happening right in front of your face. No one’s responding to your offer. ‘I’m gonna make this thing work’, like that. That stubbornness that gives us so much power as entrepreneurs can also really hold us back and a lot of times I think that’s ego.

Dan: Let’s talk about dealing with instability and failure. Let’s talk about money a little bit. You talked about examining your money beliefs. One of the themes of your book is like, ‘Hey, I took the four hour workweek I did it for 10 years, here’s where I’m at. It’s not all … like I might have had a lot more money if I just would have stuck in Singapore and stuck it out for 10 years. And it feels like you’re really honestly wrestling with that.

Darren: It takes a lot of self awareness to know what that number is for you, and I definitely have that number, and pursue that, and not be distracted by everything we see, or feel inferior because my peers, which I do struggle with my peers who are making half a million dollars or millions of dollars a year, and I’m very far away from that point. And it’s like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with me?’ That’s my initial reaction. But I really have to tease that, that assumption, you know, what, why do what’s real about that? And what can I take action on and what is just a misplaced identity?

Dan: I think a lot of it is about benchmarking and deciding – who are you richer than? Who are you making more than? And if you’re not supplying benchmarks, then who is and other people will inject them into your life. And they’ll say things like, ‘Hey, Darren, if you just would have lived in New York City and made $200K a year, then you’d be richer now’. And then you’re really wrapped grappling with this idea. But yeah, if I’d work six days a week. So now I’m working two days a week. And so this idea of benchmarking is complicated, because not everybody shares our view on career.

Darren: I’m not a less worthwhile person because I make less money than someone else yet I have this script running in my head that that’s true. That’s completely false. But do I need to make enough money for retirement and to live comfortably? Hell yeah. And that’s really important to me, but it’s being very clear on what those goals are, and pursuing them while also releasing this isn’t the be all and end all? There’s, like you said, Dan, we’re 20 years in like, looking back, we got, you know, what, 20/30 years left to, to create amazing work and help people and that’s important, too. It’s not all about one number. But moving forward, for me, it’s more like, I don’t want to be the solo wolf anymore. I’m looking to team up to be more interdependent with my businesses and with my partners, and just be a bit more integrated with community and with people.

Dan: I feel you on that, you know, one of the notes that came through after reading your book is ‘Is this the ultimate argument for business partnerships?’ Masterminds, they get you part of the way there. One of the things that was really troubling for COVID for me was my physical space didn’t .. and this is gonna sound very weird for somebody who’s a location independent entrepreneur, but my physical space didn’t represent my work life enough. And what I mean by that is I really wanted to be with the people I was working with more. And so I would get on these like team calls and we would fantasise about when we’re gonna be back together and yeah, I think that stuff’s huge.

Darrell: I feel so envious about you and Ian. And maybe I don’t know the full story, the full picture of your marriage, but having a business partner to bounce ideas off of and build something together would be, yeah, definitely something I’ve already started to do with my new business ideas, like just trying to work, work with others and build stuff together. For sure.

Dan: I love how your book really singles out solopreneurs, the freelancers, basically the people living this ‘new economy’ life and we were really some of the first people to really have it look like this. I mean, yeah, there were people that were had foreign posts and stuff, but to kind of just pull it out of your laptop, quite literally, and sort of rewrite the rules, pretty unique. And I do think that there’s gonna be a lot of folks joining us. One of the questions is – what would you do differently? If you could like, run back the 10 years and be in a little bit of a different spot? How would you amend the Tim Ferriss model for the next gen coming through?

Darren: I don’t mean this to plug you guys, but I wish I had jumped into a community sooner, other people doing the same thing. Again, back to that concept of outsight, because that would have accelerated my learning and my journey.

Dan: So that corroborates you know, some of the conclusions you reach in the book, which is essentially practice based learning. You can’t read or listen to this podcast your way into being a great entrepreneur, you really have to kind of like monkey see monkey do sometimes be around people and like change your behaviour. And then that leads to positive things.

Darren: This is stuff where you have to probe, sense and then respond, there’s no best practice for this. You have to figure it out, you have to jump in the fire. And the quicker you’re able to do that and not take yourself so seriously, meet other people that are doing amazing stuff, learn from them, learn from your own mistakes, learn from your own perfect day, learn how to manage your, your great gifts and your great dark sides, which we all have, that’s the way to go. And I just hope the message gets through loud and clear to expect those costs, you know, because that is half the battle. You always have to remember that the bigger picture with all this, that it’s the media darlings, the successes are the ones that are going to be featured more, right. You’re not alone. Expect these things, find a community to help you work through them and get through them. Just expect the cost and it’s a wonderful life.

Dan: Why have you chosen to make Ho Chi Minh City your home?

Darren: II’s the one place that cured my wanderlust. It’s still such a great place to explore Southeast Asia. Obviously it’s very affordable. It fit with the business I was starting because I was working with a lot of Vietnamese MBA applicants. But I stayed here because I just like the pace of change here and everything that’s going on is thrilling to be a part of. I love travelling throughout the country. And I love seeing how things are developing in the startup scene and so forth. It’s amazing.

Dan: Darren, it’s worth putting down on wax, so to speak. A lot of people that I respect they didn’t move on from Ho Chi Minh city or Vietnam, they stayed and made it their home and permanent, like, five years plus permanent. And so I think it’s worth laying out who that might make sense for and how much it costs and what it might look like for people. The world’s starting to open up in the next couple years, people are putting plane flights on their schedules. And when they come through Saigon, what kind of expectations can they have of Saigon for a home base? And let’s start with costs, how much does it cost to live there?

Darren: The costs are still incredibly affordable. And it can range from $250 to get a basic studio that’s still in the centre of the city, literally in District 1, to $1,000 plus, for a really nice, you know, modern luxury, quote, unquote, serviced apartment, where you could have one room for your study, you know, one room for your bedroom, and another room to do whatever you want. The food is, I think, some of the tops in the world and some of the most affordable food. So, a bowl Pho still costs you less than $2, maybe $1.50. You can live extremely comfortably here for I would still say, $1500-$2,000 a month still. And, you know, obviously, you can go. What I love about the city is there’s so much versatility to it. So if you really want to save and live cheaply, you can but if you want to do things that are more luxurious, you can also do that as well. It’s not that expensive.

Dan: Is there a type that Ho Chi Minh attracts the people that stick around, versus the people that move through, because a lot of people go to Bali or wherever. What is the type that HCMC specifically speaks to,

Darren: I don’t know if these people are the ones who stay here, but I know it attracts makers and that’s why I love it so much. Because this place, it’s so youthful, it’s full of youthful spirit and like hustle. And the brightest kids here are trying to start their own businesses, they’re not trying to work for KPMG. And so there’s this entrepreneurial ethos that permeates and you can still feel it intensely here and I love that and I needed that, frankly, to help keep me in that space that I mentioned. So I think it attracts foreigners and obviously local people from within Vietnam who are, ‘let’s make this happen’. It’s very entrepreneurial. And one more thing Vietnamese people are so warm to foreigners and are so open to the outside right now. And I think that’s another reason why it’s such a special place for us to live

Dan: I’ll corroborate a few things that I’m on the record about. The first is I think the average Vietnamese truck driver eats better than the average upper class American.

Darren: I love that.

Dan: I think it’s true. And I was just thinking about my dinner options last night here in Austin, Texas. A street worker in Vietnam is going to eat better food. The second thing is the entrepreneurial spirit is absolutely incredible. I think you nailed it there. There’s this idea of what cities whisper you know in New York it whispers, ‘make more money’. In Austin, Texas, it whispers sort of, ‘be more accepting of what people are up to’. In Ho Chi Minh City it whispers to me, ‘make something of yourself’, this drive of go out there and make something. And that can be the downside of the city as well too. It’s a place that you can’t help but to see moving and shaking and intensity and energy everywhere.

Darrell: It’s perpetually under construction. And that’s you too. That’s the city, that’s you.

Dan: That’s a metaphor (laughs). Big shout out to today’s guest, Darren Joe, Director of Touch Mba dot com. His book mentioned in this episode is called, ‘The Fail-Safe Solopreneur’ so check that out. Always interested in your thoughts and challenges and one final thing – I just pulled together this morning our sponsorship package for DC Mexico. So if you’re a DC member or run a company that’s relevant to DC members pop me an email Dan at Tropical MBA dot com, we have sponsorships available for our event in Mexico. That’s it this week, as always be back next Thursday morning at 8am Eastern Standard Time.