hobo CEO editor note: I met Mitch at a business/internet networking event during a brief spell of living in London, he was an oasis amongst a drizzly grey background of uninspiring and old fashioned business people (plus a lot of rain). Mitch is a true hobo CEO, like myself he’s never been able to fit into the conventional mould of life, has founded various companies all without funding and has seen more airports than most people have had hot dinners. And to top it all of he’s gone from rags to riches to rags again, currently living in the Phillipines whilst remotely bootstrapping his next international business. Knowing Mitch and his rollercoaster life history, it would not surprise me if by the time you are reading this, he’s lighting cigars with 500EUR notes and driving around in a diamond encrusted submarine.
Anyway without further ado, I’ll hand over the keyboard to Mitch – here’s his hobo CEO story:
I am a free range chicken. But I started out as a battery hen.
The earliest indication that I was to embark on the life of a hobo CEO started out in years 11 and 12 at high school. Attending boarding school from ages 16 to 18 and being under the control of an institution 24 hours a day.
Boarding school was not for everyone and those it didn’t suit were weeded out within the first year or two. Starting boarding school as a young adult was a traumatic experience that I rarely think about.
From the moment I left school, I was determined never to be restricted by other people’s rules and regulations again. Most rules are designed to manage populations, they just don’t suit everyone.
You have to learn how to be free range.
My first job was as a door to door encyclopaedia salesman, travelling around Australia managing a team of people. Sure there were rules, but when you are in the middle of the outback 1000s of kilometres away from the bosses, their rules didn’t really apply. At 18 I thought I had found the key to wealth and prosperity without being tied to a cubicle or going through university. The fact that I was living out of a bag, managing ex crims and vagabonds, travelling to places where I had more teeth than everyone else was not a concern.
However fun, it was not sustainable and with the rise of the personal computer it was becoming evident there was no future in this company for me.
Life is not easy forging your own path and I started many businesses that had no prospect of working. No money, no skills combined with optimism and complete ignorance and you are bound to succeed eventually. Through my many failures I would try a stint at university to keep mum happy and did telesales to raise cash for my next stupid idea, essentially the next 3-4 years was my education. Every time I ran out of money, ideas or optimism I would be forced back into work or study. This only ever lasted a few months at a time as this taste of authority was enough to drive me out again. I passed statistics 101, contributed $800 to my superannuation and failed 5 businesses from ages 18 to 22.
Pick your paddock carefully!
After four years of failure, I had accumulated enough experience to make something work. Home delivery fruit and vegetable business was something that could be started with little cash, some common sense and hard work. At 22 I was self-employed, sustainable and making money, my life could begin. The honeymoon period lasted a few years, then I became bogged down in a business I couldn’t escape. My life was completely miserable, alarm would go off at 2am and the day would end at 10pm with a quick nap at lunch.
I physically had zero spare hours in the day and it was beginning to take its toll. I had 20 staff working in the business, I couldn’t sell it due to the makeshift nature of my accounting and poor record keeping combined with the lifestyle that it would suck from the new proprietor. I had accumulated too many debts to be able to walk away and I was stuck in a miserable existence under my own rules and regulations. At this point I would have traded it in for an education and a steady job.
At 27 I was washed up, wasted my best years stuck in the worst Groundhog Day you could imagine. I had a long-term girlfriend, a dog and a mortgage. I was forced into adulthood before I was ready and there seemed to be no turning back. Life as a lab rat would have been a nicer experience.
I had been experimenting with internet businesses in this time and the technology was ready to assist in my withdrawal from the nightmare I had created. I had stopped working in the business and was looking for an exit, as the money would run out I would go back to work and try to rebuild, then focus on another project.
Fly or die
After breaking up with my long-term girlfriend I started receiving legal letters asking for half of my business and assets. Considering I couldn’t give them away for free I couldn’t afford legal representation and I couldn’t settle by just handing everything over. I ignored the letters till one day there was a knock on the door from a surly looking guy holding a big envelope. It was a subpoena, a document that is legally binding once it’s physically placed in your possession. I told the guy that Mitchell works hard and gets back at 3am, however I would be willing to hand over the documents for him. With an outstretched hand I asked for the documents knowing life as I knew it would end if he handed them over. He didn’t.
Twenty four hours later I had left all my possessions in my house, had it rented out (furnished of course) packed whatever I could fit in a bag and was officially on the run. The office which was in my house was moved somewhere else. As long as the subpoena did not end up in my hand I was safe and not breaking any laws.
I continued to run the business this way for a year whilst not being physically present. I had mastered the art of running a business remotely and having no central headquarters, everything that was in the office was now on my laptop. I decided I should go on an overseas holiday and just as I was leaving the subpoena caught up with me.
The previous 12 months was spent getting my financial records in order as I knew that the subpoena would not just disappear. By the time it came to face the music I was in Thailand living a lifestyle so far removed from my previous life It felt I had died and gone to heaven. I had refined the art of operating remotely so much that I was able to represent myself legally while sitting on a beach in Phuket eating yellow curry crab. The matter was quickly put to rest in my favour and nobody knew I wasn’t even in the country.
Remove the fences from your paddock.
After reading Tim Ferris’s book the four hour work week I put it to task and reduced my weekly commitment to half an hour. That was it!
I had income to travel the world, snowboard, surf whatever I wanted to do and when. At any point in time I may become bored of what im looking at so I would jump on google maps and look for a new destination. Cost of accommodation, activates, flights, social life all had their own point system that would determine where I would stay until I got bored again.
Life was amazing, the first 12 months I was on a plane 30 times taking in as much of the world as I could. After moving around so much I decided to plant myself down in Bali for a year and get into some serious surfing at some of the best breaks in the world. This was the first time as an adult I didn’t have anything to think about, accommodation, activities and social life had been sorted. There were no flights to book or next destinations to go to. I just surfed in the morning, ate, slept and partied whilst squeezing in half an hour of work between Friday and Monday.
Keep an eye on the toxicity of any new paddocks.
After 9 months of this lifestyle the partying increased and the surfing decreased I found my head didn’t work the way it used to. When I was working in the fruit business I was doing hundreds of calculations a day, maybe more than a thousand. Now I couldn’t add the price of a mojito and a bloody mary together and it started to worry me. I needed to move, some place that would stimulate my mind to start thinking again, new challenges, new people and a new environment.
Always have a backup paddock in walking distance.
I moved to Romania to the seaside and tried out a different kind of lifestyle, all the time on the lookout for new business opportunities I tried out a few things but the fruit and veg business was getting shakier, the more time I spent away from it. At this point in my life I was prepared to let it go as oppose to going back and facing my old life again. After Romania I lived in London while getting another startup off the ground that had been in the making for a few years by now. A year in London was pretty depressing, I started wearing suits and doing business meetings with corporate types. I don’t mind this bit at all, but the winter in London was enough to force me out.
Don’t get back in a cage.
Life was about being where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do at any point in time. Once you experience life this way it is hard to ever consider an alternative. That first thought of dread that enters your mind as you wake on Monday morning was a distant memory. My Sunday morning is exactly the same as my Monday morning. I wake up and its 9am somewhere in the world so I’m never late.
Being uneducated, with no recognised skills or employment history I don’t need to worry about making the decision, I no longer have a choice of entering the workforce. My safety net is my mums couch and the food in her fridge.
I own next to no possessions and I don’t even remember what I had all those years ago when I walked out of my house and left everything behind. My life consists of 20kg bag plus carry-on, I only live in furnished places and buy and sell snowboards and surfboards as I need them.
What happens if your wings get clipped?
As of May 25th 2011 my fruit business ended in dramatic circumstances and my next business hadn’t yet started paying the bills. The last 8 months have been incredibly difficult and stressful as I try to recapture what I had. I’ve started and failed 6-7 businesses in 8 months and succeeded in one. My current income allows me to live like a free range chicken in Asia, however my travel and activities have been restricted. I have some serious business activities just around the corner and I will be flying again in no time. Next stop – Manhattan!
It’s ironic that people buy free range eggs then sit in a cubicle all day.