Will here coming to you live and direct from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I’ve been desperately trying to get jacked in the creepy hotel gym where I’m staying. Now that hot image is in your mind allow me to sharpen your senses and tickle your imagination further by turning TraveLinkSites over to Fred Perrotta, a guy making quite a splash in the travel world of late thanks to quite a few different endeavors.
And who better to open up the first of a new interview series about on the road entrepreneurs than the man who’s created his own backpack company while also marching onward in the fields of marketing and journalism? World meet Fred, Fred meet the world. Let’s talk entrepreneurialism on the road!
1. Hey Fred, Could you briefly introduce yourself, your projects and what you’re doing in the wide world of travel?
Hi! I’m Fred Perrotta, the co-founder of Tortuga Backpacks and a freelance marketing consultant.
Travel-wise, I recently spent a month in London then used Airbnb for the first time on a long weekend on California’s Central Coast.
2. Now you’re running a company from the road as well as doing a few other things to generate cash. How’s that going for you and what are you main aims and objectives with these projects?
The initial goal for Tortuga was to “scratch our own itch” and create the travel backpack that was missing from the marketplace. Now, we’re working to turn that product into a long-term business. The ultimate goal is to create a microbusiness that can be run by my partner and me but still finance our lives and other projects.
The consulting work is a way to pay the bills and learn new skills. I’ve worked primarily with startups to keep up with the latest in technology and marketing. Just because it pays doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
3. What are the realities of running a travel-based business? What difficulties do you face? What things come easy?
The easy part is having enthusiasm for the product and industry. I’ve been working on Tortuga for 3+ years and am still totally enthralled by it. Most people trying to create lifestyle businesses jump on the first promising idea, regardless of how much they care about it. A sustainable business takes time to grow. If you’re not 100% committed, you’ll bail before you make it anywhere.
The hard part is that travel is a huge industry. You’ll always have plenty of competitors with a longer track record and more money than you. Differentiation is key. You can’t just be another X. You have to design a product for a specific subset of the market or be at least 10x better than your competitors (see: Hipmunk).
4. In terms of marketing yourself and your business, what strategies have you found that work well? What resources should travellers, looking to market their own businesses, check-out?
Figure out where your audience spends their time, especially online. Be everywhere and make sure they see you multiple times. You can do this through guest blogging, product reviews, or giveaways. Then you can branch out to related audiences. For example, both Matador Network and Vagablogging reviewed the Tortuga, but we also made several sales from being featured in Thrillist, a daily email of stuff for guys.
Also, make sure to own your best resources. Typically, that means a high-traffic blog and customer/subscriber mailing list. If you outsource this to Facebook or another social network, you’re putting your fate in their hands.
5. How did you generate the idea for your existing business? What sources of inspiration should travelling entrepreneurs, interested in building businesses from the road, look to?
As mentioned in #3, travel is a crowded industry. You can’t expect to make it with a “me-too” product. You have to find a real pain point and solve it.
My co-founder, Jeremy, and I went backpacking in Eastern Europe in 2009. Even after extensive research, we ended up with shitty backpacks. His used JanSport broke on the first day and my GoLite bag was made for hiking, not traveling.
When we got back to the States, we realized that other frequent travelers had the same problem. The ideal travel backpack didn’t exist. So we made it.
6. You’re making a name for yourself in the community freelancing (your work at T5 for example). What advice do you have for travel bloggers looking for freelance writing opportunities?
When freelancing or guest posting, do it with a goal in mind. Who are you trying to reach? What do you want to convince them of?
For example, as a marketing consultant, I work with a lot of travel clients. I’ve started writing for Travelllll (T5) because of their audience of travel industry workers, my ideal prospects. I’ve written mostly about social media to show my expertise and attract potential clients.
If your target audience or topic is too broad, find your own niche. Figure out what you know better than anyone else and write about it from every angle. Maybe it’s a destination, maybe a type of travel. Focus really hard on that. You’ll build up a strong portfolio and will be able to charge a premium for your expertise.
7. In your opinion, where are the best places in the world, for people interested in the lifestyle of permanent travel, to work from?
For working, my two biggest considerations are the internet and exchange rates. If you’ll be staying somewhere for any length of time, you’ll want to know that you’ll have reliable, reasonably fast internet access. Then just make sure you won’t be screwed by exchange rates between the currency your business is earning and the one you’re spending. Earning pounds and spending US dollars is good. Earning rupees and spending euros is bad.
Anything else is up to your personal preferences. Hate working alone? Find a city with lots of expats or coworking spaces. Always dreamed of working from the beach? Give it a try.
8. What is the best thing about running travel based businesses? Why go down this route instead blazing a trail for yourself in a conventional job or corporation (discrediting your background at Google here)?
It’s fun. Travel is now my job. When I get a prototype for a new bag, I have to field test it. Time for a trip!
I already tried the conventional route at Google, consistently voted the #1 company to work for. While it had plenty of perks and great people, it was still a huge company. The size and inevitable bureaucracy felt stifling. My experience at Google reinforced my conviction that I was meant to be an entrepreneur.
9. In terms of travel, what have been your favourite highlights and lowlights in recent years? What travel experiences have helped define your current state of being most?
The biggest highlights have been destinations where I’ve been able to stay for more than a week or two. I spent 3+ months working in Sydney and exploring Australia which was amazing. I love staying somewhere long enough to get to know the city’s quirks and hidden gems.
India was the most transformative travel experience I’ve had. Before India, I’d only been to North America and Europe, so it was a radically different experience.
10. And lastly, what would be your top 3 tips to people interested in starting up travel-based businesses and working from the road?
1. Do it! Seriously, do anything to get started. Keep moving until you’ve done enough that you’d feel guilty quitting. Momentum is your friend.
When we came back from Europe with the idea for Tortuga, the first thing I did was buy a domain name. A tiny step, but it was something. Now, when I’m feeling discouraged, I can look back and say that I’ve done too much work to quit.
2. Get to know everyone, from competitors to travel bloggers. Most people in the travel industry are amazingly open and helpful. Take advantage of their friendliness then return the favor when someone asks something of you.
3. Have a system. When traveling, you might have a hard time buckling down and getting work done. Develop a system that works for you. Figure out where and when you work best. Set yourself up with the bare necessities of gear you need to do your work and the apps that will make your life easier. A little routine and discipline will go a long way.
Some fantastic tips there from Fred. Now are you ready to put it all in practice?
Be sure to check out Fred online and say hello on Twitter.
Have a blogsite/travel story to share? Contact us for an interview.