One brave writer travels the world on a tiny budget to meet, spend time with, and interview influential entrepreneurs, investors, and billionaires who are changing the world—and her.
||13 publishers interested
Founders and the Underdog is a literary experiment – what happens when a young woman, originally from a poor country called Bulgaria, decides to go on a journey around the world on a budget to meet and travel with influential millionaires, investors, billionaires, individuals changing the world, or the next big role-models. She gets these entrepreneurs to tell her their most honest, and in some cases even untold, stories, revealing their personalities and keys to their success, while traveling with them. Her experiences are raw, engaging the characters in deep conversations and allowing the reader to observe a learning curve that changes a person.
Founders and the Underdog is more than stories and interviews of successful people. It shares a human-to-human connection, a journey that changes the author, allowing the reader to be a part of it.
Length of manuscript: Eleven chapters, 70,000 words.
Illustrations: Two to three photographs with the entrepreneurs I have met for each chapter.
Delivery of final manuscript: Six to eight months after signing the contract. The manuscript is halfway complete.
Target length of the published book: About 260 final pages with illustrations and closing credits to thank the people who have preordered and supported the book.
The potential readers of Founders and the Underdog are most likely to:
- Go to conferences and events to expand their network
- Be interested in self-development books and online courses
- Be interested in freelancing or starting a business of their own/already freelancing or running a successful business
- Already belong to some sort of a club, organization, or mastermind group that helps them grow as a person or as a professional
- Be open to new ideas and positive personal change
- Love traveling and adventures
- Speak great English (not necessarily natives or living in an English-speaking country)
To give some idea of the market size based on the above target audience interests, the author has used the complex features of the Facebook ads audience tool.
The search was narrowed down to 25 to 60-year-olds who are interested in Entrepreneurship AND Personal Development AND Travel.
Age: 25 to 60
South Africa: 350,000
Anna Pelova is a co-author of two national bestselling guidebooks published by a Bulgarian top traditional publisher, Ciela. She is also the author of one novel that won a top 10 place in a national novel competition, among more than 400 manuscripts. Anna has spent the past nine years traveling around the world, mostly alone and mostly on a budget. She has been to more than twenty-seven countries and has lived in five of them. Having remote clients from across North America and Asia allows her to work from anywhere, something she has been doing since she was 16 years old.
Anna spent two years of her life co-chairing a political party (The Greens) in Bulgaria, which made her the youngest leader of a political party in the country. During this time, she learned how hard it is to manage and bond with hundreds of people while maintaining a public image, running two election campaigns, and participating in TV and radio debates.
Currently, she is the founder of Great Nomad, a platform where she shares her digital nomad travel stories and online courses. Anna is an author of a travel writing course where she shares how to write compelling stories, arrange press trips, and get published. She has contributed to various online and print publications such as Matador Network, Magazine Eight, and Resource Magazine. Anna is also the founder of Underdog Network, a platform created to help individuals who have a high drive to succeed but never had a head start in life.
Anna holds a BA degree in Creative Advertising Strategy from University of The Arts London. In her free time, she loves to read nonfiction books, reread Kerouac, dance, meditate, and ride her bicycle. She has a passion for acting and has been featured in a reality TV show for writers called The Manuscript and in a Bulgarian family drama series on national television as a lead actress in one episode.
Co-author of Villages in Bulgaria: Pathways for Tourism and Culture, published by Ciela in 2015. Top four best-selling book in the country for a period of six months. ISBN: 978-954-28-1665-2
Co-author of Villages and Tourism: Pathways for Journeys around Bulgaria, published by Ciela in 2016. ISBN: 978-954-28-2100-7
Mail copies of the book to a list of 10-20 famous role-models, such as Richard Branson (who is a second-degree connection to the author), Elon Musk (second-degree connection), Bill Gates (second-degree connection), Gary Vee, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss. Anna will include a personal letter that tells them how they have influenced her and asks them for an opinion on the book. To execute this step, the author will also ask the entrepreneurs featured in the book to email copies of the book to their most influential connections.
Empower the People Who Have Pre-Ordered the Book
The roughly 200 people who have pre-ordered the book can be the core ambassadors. Anna will reach out to them via email after they receive their advance copy of the book and ask them to share insights or quotes from the book with their friends.
Underdog Network Platform - Special Bonuses for Buying the Book
Anna will create free courses (how to network, how to work from anywhere, how to build a business with little financial resources, etc.) for underdogs to build a larger email list. She will sell the book from the platform with special bonuses such as a free mini lesson summary version of the book in a video format.
Record Videos with Founders and Exclusively Release Them to People Who Buy the Book
The author has already recorded videos with most of the entrepreneurs she meets. Not all of them are high quality, but if put together in one large video (documentary style), the attention will be put on the content and what they say, rather than if the videos are taken with a phone or a professional camera.
A Provocative Book Trailer
Invest time and money to produce a catchy 2.30’’ book trailer (Hollywood-style teaser).
Current book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vJFjCwI4vc
The author has already arranged two national television interviews, one radio interview for a station in San Francisco, and one podcast interview. Ever since she was seventeen, she has been involved with social and political campaigns and has been interviewed for television, radio, and the press hundreds of times. As a former co-chair of a political party in Bulgaria, Anna has been through some of the toughest training on how to work with the media.
Anna’s plan is to compile a list of television and radio shows she wants to be on, find the key journalists, and approach them in a way that catches attention.
The author can travel and spend time in New York and San Francisco, or other cities where the publicist can arrange television interviews for the book.
Anna will approach leading online publications in the field of entrepreneurship and aim for at least 10 guest posts in these.
Anna will post regularly on Underdog Network and engage with people on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. She has already created a Facebook group for the core fans of the book who have been following its crowd-publishing campaign progress.
Bulk Book Orders from Conferences Where Anna Speaks
Anna will make a list of fifty conferences and actively approach them to arrange speaking gigs. She will ask them to bulk order a certain number of books as part of the author’s honorarium to speak at their event. This way, every attendee will get a free copy of the book. It is a win-win situation in terms of sales and PR.
Although there are quite a few business books where the author interviews millionaires and billionaires, Founders and the Underdog is unique because it blends techniques from travel writing and fiction writing to tell stories that reveal what happens to the author after she learns from the experiences of some of the most powerful entrepreneurs. Most comparable and competing titles use a quantitative approach: interview hundreds or thousands of millionaires and summarize the key takeaways. Founders and the Underdog uses a qualitative approach and focuses on building lasting relationships and friendships with these high-profile individuals. The author turns them into mentors and spends days with them, lets them talk for hours, and even travels with them.
Another difference is that the author features entrepreneurs from every continent (except Antarctica...) and aims to prove that anyone can succeed, regardless of his or her gender, head start in life, status, origin, native language, or money in the bank.
This narrative nonfiction book provokes the imagination with strong storytelling that lets the reader feel and experience with the author, who serves as the link to the super successful. Founders and the Underdog is about deep and meaningful conversations and connections with highly successful people who have untold stories.
When doing this research, the author’s primary aim was to find whether there is a comparable book that has done badly in terms of sales or execution. Only one such title was found and while it was hard to find the number of copies sold, the execution seemed poor and the book lacked literary value.
There were quite a few people the author approached to pre-order the book who said that they have had a similar concept in mind but failed because they found no millionaires to interview. This research confirmed two key conclusions:
1. The execution of a similar project (whether it is a book, video series, or podcast) is extremely hard. The hardest part of producing this book is getting to the millionaires, billionaires, investors, successful entrepreneurs, or discovering the six-figure future millionaires. To do this, the author has used a set of very specific skills that help her crash parties and conferences and impress these successful entrepreneurs within seven seconds of their first meeting. These communication skills have helped her build strong connections that oftentimes turn into friendships.
2. All comparable titles found are bestsellers and are published by major publishing houses. Overall, the competition is extremely strong, but the fact that Founders and the Underdog has pre-sold nearly 200 copies with one month of active work from the author alone proves that there is still hunger for such products, if executed well.
Examples of Great Executions of Similar Concepts
Think and Grow Rich (The Ralston Society, 1937) has sold more than 15,000,000 copies worldwide. Napoleon Hill spent twenty-five years interviewing more than 500 self-made millionaires in America (all men!). Napoleon’s book is a timeless and valuable book for the benefit of humanity, where he shares universal truths and success principles. His emphasis is on these principles, rather than on the stories of the people he has interviewed. Founders and the Underdog focuses on the personalities, the stories, and the connections with successful entrepreneurs from different parts of the world.
The Millionaire Mind (Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2010), a #2 New York Times bestseller written by Thomas Stanley has sold more than 500,000 copies. To produce this book, the author interviewed and surveyed more than 1,300 American millionaires and summarized the key characteristics that explain how these self-made millionaires have become wealthy. He also examined their purchasing habits, talking about “the millionaire mind." Much like Napoleon Hill, the author is taking a quantitative approach to studying the habits and mindset of millionaires. He has been interviewing millionaires since 1983. The book is an admirable and valuable business book, written in a serious but easy to read language. However, again, this book does not tell stories of individuals, and it is hard for the reader to relate to the researched group of people.
Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) by Timothy Ferriss. In this book, Ferriss, using witty language, reviews curious facts and habits of some of the most successful and admirable individuals. Tim Ferriss is a best-selling author and draws the content for his book from his show, where he interviews these titans for two to three hours. It focuses on providing useful and actionable lifestyle tips, but there is not much storytelling and the reader does not get to know the book subjects on a deeper level.
The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy (Rodale, 2015) by Lewis Howes was a #2 New York Times Bestseller for an entire month. He has a great story of how he was broke and decided to start reaching out to mentors to interview for his podcast. He then builds a successful multi-million dollar business thanks to the lessons he has learned. He writes about dreams and going through adversity and shares lessons and habits he learned while interviewing great guests for his podcasts. He has a strong platform and millions of downloads of his podcast episodes. Founders and the Underdog is not based on interviews and conclusions; the author spends days with her mentors and engages them in deep conversations. She then tells deeply personal internal stories that allow the reader to take his or her own lessons.
The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won't Learn in College About How to Be Successful (Portfolio, 2011) by Michael Ellsberg is a brilliant book that features the stories of self-made millionaires without a university degree. The author’s main point is to prove that investing time and money in learning practical skills is much more important to be a successful entrepreneur than investing time and money in a university degree. It challenges the status quo of education from a different and sharp point of view. He has interviewed millionaires, seven billionaires, and a few “future millionaires,” most of which are not famous. In a way, this is very similar to Founders and the Underdog's core concept, except for its focus on education.
Michael Ellsberg also writes about how these lessons have changed him, and this is how he relates to the reader. His aim is to teach the seven most important skills for success that are not taught in college, in a format similar to that of a textbook. Founders and the Underdog is different as it focuses on the mindset and on telling the stories of fewer successful people, met in their natural environment, regardless if they have a university degree or not.
Getting There: A Book of Mentors (Abrams Image, 2015) by Gillian Zoe Segal. The stories that the author shares are similar to mini-biographies of successful men and women. It is great how she has shared all of their names on the cover of the book, as well as their picture within each chapter. Gillian Zoe Segal does not interject and lets her subjects talk about their stories and key learnings in first person.
Secrets of Six-Figure Women: Surprising Strategies to Up Your Earnings and Change Your Life (HarperCollins, 2009) by Barbara Stanny. Stanny has a very interesting story of how these interviews with over 150 six-figure women helped her become a six-figure woman herself. Her book is an important work for the female reader who aims for that kind of success. Her main focus is on wealth and finance.
Chapter 1: Naveen Jain — The Billionaire Believing Impossible Things
“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” –
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
It doesn’t matter if you have money or not. You only need an audacious goal. You then attract money, the right people, and the right opportunities. It becomes the magnet.
I write faster and faster as Naveen Jain speaks. He then turns to the two other guys who are a part of the conversation.
– I met Anna in Lisbon. She was a digital nomad and she was working for someone else, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She had this book idea and she interviewed me.
– I was hitchhiking at that time…
– She was hitchhiking! Now she has sold a hundred and…
– ...166 copies of her book already.
– It’s thanks to you. And the book is not even written yet!
– I told her to do what she is passionate about and not to let others tell her it’s impossible. And then she quit her job and did it.
We drink tea and sparkling water in the hotel lobby. The two other guys leave. Few months ago, I met Naveen in Lisbon, at a VIP lounge I crashed at a tech conference. Now he is in my country, in my city, sitting right next to me, giving me the greatest gift a rich person can give to a poor person – his time and advice.
– What is the most common mistake people make when they approach you?
– They talk about themselves and don’t ask for advice. You know what the chances of me investing in their company is?
He makes a zero sign with his hand.
– I don’t know them. Why would I invest in what they are doing? Okay, let’s go have some food now!
Two days before this conversation, I meet him at the conference in Sofia where he was speaking at. I watch how others talk to him, analyzing the scene from a distance. I notice a pattern. Everyone who approaches him interrupts the previous person and jumps straight into whatever his or her thing is.
Hi Naveen, my name is… that was a very inspiring talk! I have a startup/ app/ business/ NGO that does… Here is my business card.
A few ask him a question. Naveen answers. They listen and then they carry on talking about themselves and their views and ideas on the topic.
Here there is, a billionaire who is open to give them a piece of his “mind gold” and all they do is talk and talk and talk.
– I never carry business cards when I go to conferences. I don’t like when people give me business cards. I leave them in the room. If you go to a conference and after that you say you have made more than three connections, you have made zero connections.
– What is your best advice on networking?
– Be interested in the other person. Ask for advice.
We continue the conversation as I take him to an Indian restaurant.
– It all makes sense now. When I network, I am interested in the other person. I mean, I have to be for the book. The conversation is never about me, it’s about them.
– I would argue you are press… Journalists have to do this. It’s their job. They have to ask questions.
– No, no… I am interested in the person. I would never write about someone who doesn’t inspire me. And I stopped doing interviews a long time ago. I have conversations for hours to write a story. And I have noticed that this is what makes people want to spend more time with me. It is so simple! Why is no one doing it?
– Because no one has taught them how to do it. It’s not about what you tell people when you meet. It’s about how you make them feel. People won’t remember what you told them. But they will remember how you made them feel.
Eight months ago, I had a brief encounter with Naveen that lasted no more than half an hour. But that was enough to inspire me to have the courage to dream of the one big thing I wanted to do the most that seemed impossible at the time – travel around the world, meet some of the most brilliant entrepreneurs, and write a book about it.
This encounter made me change the entire course of my life and career and follow that one big dream I had. This is how he made me feel.
I draw a smiley face next to ‘Valencia’ and imagine all the stories I will create while hitchhiking. I only have $200 left, a loan from the moneylenders, three outstanding invoices that I don’t know when will get paid to me, a $12-per-hour remote job, one month in Spain and Portugal, and the dying dream of me making it as a writer.
What are you doing? You shouldn’t do this, you might get raped. You are nobody. You are nothing. You are a failure.
It is too late now, I can’t go back. My flight returns from Madrid after one month, I don’t even have enough money to get there and take a plane sooner.
I look at my brunette roots in the mirror. I will fix this. I will fix everything. I boil four eggs and put two in my bag for the hitchhike. The other two I will eat tomorrow when I get up early in the morning. I know I have to go to the conference in Lisbon, I know it is the right thing, even when all circumstances around it are wrong. Maybe I am like Kerouac’s character from On The Road who hitchhikes and travels across North America to meet his mad-to-live friend, Dean Moriarty. Am I like Dean Moriarty? Am I like the writer who follows him? Or am I just wrecking my life?
– You can always take extra days and stay here if you need to… If this thing doesn’t work out.
– Thank you. I’ll be fine.
– Nice sign.
– Yeah. I don’t want drivers to get the wrong message, especially when I don’t speak Spanish.
The world is a kind place for as long as there are strangers willing to offer their temporary friendship and a couch to crash. Pablo is one of them. For a brief moment in our lives, we meet to shoot silly lipsync videos, cook for each other, dance salsa, and go to the beach with his motorbike. Thank you for the kindness! Be happy, follow your passion, and travel more! – I pin a note on his board, next to the notes written by all his other stranger-friends who have couchsurfed at his home. I close the door and don’t look back.
– One ticket to Castell… Castellbal…
I show a piece of paper.
The dirt road by the train station is ahead of me, the fear is behind. ‘Are you nervous or are you excited?,’ my friend asked me when I was boarding the plane to Barcelona and when I texted her that I was scared. ‘I’m excited.’
It is easy to confuse excitement with anxiety. Excitement attack. The herbal scent in the air reminds me of the spring holidays I used to spend at my grandmother’s house. I pull the sign from the bag. I really am doing this. Valencia, smiley face. I want to jump, run, roll, slide, shout, write stories, keep walking. I see the gas station through the fence. How long will it take me to wait here? Minutes? Hours? Will I be able to get a ride before dawn? Will I have to spend the night somewhere near? I don’t know. I walk through a small back door by the parking area. There are only few people around filling tanks, resting, cleaning their cars.
Go talk to one of them. What? Are you crazy? No! I can’t do that. Come on, this is how the locals do it. But I don’t speak Spanish… You have the phrase written in your notebook. No. I will just hang over there, by the exit. I will just stand there with my sign and smile. You might have to wait a long time with this strategy. It doesn’t matter. At least people won’t think I am crazy. But you are.
I pull and raise my sign, smiling at the first driver who comes close. Look him in the eyes, this is how you will gain his trust. He smiles back and passes me by. One, two, three. The fourth car stops and takes me to Valencia.
– So… what brings you here?
– I am traveling the world to meet brilliant entrepreneurs for my book.
I say it, even when I don’t have enough money to pay for my transportation and food, even when I don’t know if I can meet enough entrepreneurs to write this book at all or not.
– Oh! You should interview my husband! He is going to the Moon!
– Oh wow… who is your husband?
– Naveen Jain.
She then puts his phone number in my phone.
Anu Jain then tells me how she is launching a million dollar prize and about her mission.
– Safety is a woman’s right, it’s not a privilege. I am very passionate about empowering girls and women and so I am launching a safety prize. It’s a one million dollar prize to anybody who can come up with a solution for a sensor that you can place on your body. Any woman can have this sensor that’s hidden and if they are being attacked then they trigger the sensor and it sends a signal. Not only to the police but also to a community of responders so you know help is on the way. At the same time, it needs to be recorded both on audio and video because there is so much corruption in so many countries and nobody will believe your story. Without basic safety, it is very difficult for women to advance anywhere. I really believe that we need to start empowering girls at a young age because that gives them leadership skills and gives them a voice. I was visiting the remotest villages in India and there I was the impact. These girls will be left behind unless we do something about it. Basic education has to be there and these parents weren’t sending their kids to school because of safety issues. Once all these girls are educated… imagine the minds we haven’t tapped into yet. Half the population.
– Sometimes it’s all about seeing something different…
– Or hearing something… The more you can open your mind… It’s all about creating the love of learning. The reason kids fail to graduate is because they don’t have that support at home. If you can inspire kids, you know, it opens up their world to think big. My husband is thinking of landing on the Moon and who would have thought of that…
A man comes and distracts her from our conversation.
– Naveen, you should meet Anna. She is traveling the world to interview brilliant entrepreneurs.
I arrange to meet with Naveen later. Later, I find him in the lounge and approach them from the back as he is having a conversation with someone else. Naveen then turns.
– Anna, I will be with you in a minute!
Most people don’t even notice a person standing in front of them. But Naveen saw me even when I was behind him.
– No worries, take your time.
I drank too much juice. I am about to interview a billionaire and all I can focus on right now is how desperately I need to pee. But if I go out, the security won’t let me back in. I don’t belong here, I shouldn’t be in this VIP lounge. But I am.
– Anna, I need to go to the gentlemen’s room. Can you wait for me for a little bit?
– I also need to go but I won’t be able to come back. Can we meet near the security so that you can help me get back in?
– Of course.
I should probably be more formal, considering who am I talking to. But we are all just humans after all. The security guard is about to stop me when Naveen taps my shoulder.
– She is with me.
– Thank you for helping me get back in.
We pull two chairs and sit opposite each other. I turn my recorder on and ask the first question.
Absolutely nothing is impossible. Because the minute you believe something is impossible, it becomes impossible for you and not someone else. It’s better to let them think you are crazy.
I don’t just hear and record Naveen’s words. I experience them with my pain, my aspirations, my dreams. Maybe he has said these words to thousands of others, hundreds of times. But now he is telling them to me. As if absolutely nothing is impossible for me, the person who has forgotten how it feels to believe in herself.
Naveen is not only dreaming of going to the Moon, he and his team from Moon Express are about to achieve more than what took three superpowers (America, Russia, and China) to achieve in the past.
After the interview, I need to sit down and be silent for a moment. I need to quit. Now. I cry as I type my message to M.. I care about him and his dream. For a moment, it became my dream too. But my mission is different and maybe all the problems we have came to show me this. I deserve to be appreciated. But do I appreciate myself enough?
‘I am having a hard time keeping up… not only with the work but also with my finances and meeting my basic needs… and when it happens, it affects my productivity, motivation, I start having breakdowns and can’t find the space to create and tap into my full potential. It’s massive stress and it makes me put myself in dangerous situations. I am doing something wrong for myself… and maybe I should take the time and space to figure things for myself… what am I doing wrong that I can’t match the lifestyle I want… and I don’t want my personal issues to keep damaging the company and our relationship because I believe in this and I can see it going somewhere and I am sure it will get there. I don’t want to hold you back from achieving great things.’
There is a gap between us, the still struggling underdogs, the hustlers, the ones counting their last dollar before the next paycheck, and the millionaires, the affluent, the ones who have everything available to them. And that gap has little to do with the gold that is in the bank account, it is the gold that is in the mind.
“The biggest problems for the world are the best opportunities for an entrepreneur. Every time you see a problem, don’t complain about why can’t someone do something about it. The question you need to ask yourself is “What can I do about it?” Every problem is actually solvable today.
One of the things that stops entrepreneurs from doing something is that they say “I know nothing about it. How can I go out and start a healthcare company? I know nothing about healthcare. The interesting thing is that the less you know, the better the chances are you are going to disrupt that industry. If you are an expert in an industry, you can only improve it incrementally. You are never going to be able to change it ten times or a hundred times, unless you are a non-expert. I started seven companies and never built two companies in the same industry. My first company was in the smartphone industry and I had no background in computer science. I believed that the less I knew, the better off I was to challenge the foundation of everything that people have taken for granted. When I started the space exploration company my first question was, “How do you go to a place that keeps moving? Every time I look at it it has moved already. How am I going to get there?” The point was, I was that dumb. And now, in the next six months, we will become the first company ever to land on the Moon. In fact, it will be the first company to ever leave the Earth orbit. You might think, ‘Aren’t Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos all going to space?’ When they talk about space, they talk about low Earth orbit. Unambitious. Underachievers.”
The laughter in the room interrupts his talk.
“Leaving the Earth's orbit and landing on a celestial body, that is ambitious.
The mindset is what stops you from doing. When someone comes and tells me ‘What you are doing is not going to work,’ it means that they have taken themselves out of the competition. The more people believe it is not possible the better for you to move the ball forward because nobody is coming in your way.
I am an immigrant, I grew up in India. We were so poor, we had no food to eat, we had no place to stay, we moved from village to village. There were places where there were schools with no tables, no chairs, we sat on the floor, we wrote on the floor.
I came to the United States with $5 in my pocket. I didn’t speak the language. I was different. I am different. I don’t speak like an American, I don’t dress like an American, I don’t talk like them. Here is what I learned. Amazing things happened. If I was one of them, they could tune me out half the time and they could still understand what I was saying. Being with such a thick accent – you are not paying 100% attention to me, you don’t understand a word I say. That was the beauty of it. If you want to be like them you will always be ‘like them’ at the bottom. The person at the top is a different person. Be different, don’t be ‘like them.' Don’t think you have to be like everyone else to be successful. The more different you are, the more different you think, the more different you look – these are the things that make you a great person. This is your best advantage.
The reason why I am able to start so many different companies in so many different industries is that I read a lot. I work for 17-18 hours a day, seven days a week. There has not been a day that I have taken off. I get up at about 4.30 am in the morning, and I spend the first two and a half hours reading the news about science.
As an entrepreneur, you are always looking at the problem saying, “What technology is at my disposal to solve that?” The amazing thing is everything is now possible and it doesn’t take a lot to do something.
I believe the entrepreneurs are going to be the next superpowers. Nations, states, countries, and governments are going to become completely irrelevant. The problems that used to be the domain of the country, the nation, or states are now being solved by entrepreneurs. What did you expect the government to do? Healthcare, education, defense, space, security. Who is doing them now? It is someone like me who said, ‘I am sick and tired of this damn system, and I am going to go out and fix it, or kill it. And that is how the entrepreneurs do. When we land on the Moon, not only will we become the first company, we will become the fourth superpower. Only three superpowers have ever landed on any celestial body. And we will become the fourth superpower. And that is not Germany, France, UK, Belgium, Bulgaria; it is a small group of 25 people that say, ‘Because we can do this.”
What to do when people are sick? Let’s just prevent the disease. What if nobody is sick? Think about what happens in healthcare today. Doctors have no incentive to keep you healthy because their children can’t be fed if you are not sick. Who is going to pay the money? Pharmaceutical companies love chronic diseases. For the rest of your life you are paying them a subscription fee. They don’t want you to be cured because you stop paying. They don’t want you to die because your credit card stops working. They hate that. They just want you to live in misery for the rest of your life. There is nobody who cares about you. The insurance company has no incentive to keep you healthy because the more premium you pay, the more money you make.
When you are sick there is no one who cares more about you than you. When you have a chronic disease, if you are smart, you become the expert. You research everything. You talk to everyone about the disease. You try everything. And by the time you walk into the doctor’s office he is writing a prescription already. He is not even listening, he is already writing a prescription for you.
Make things happen. There is nothing that you cannot do. The things you believe – you can do. If you know nothing about it, it should not discourage you. I had the same team for a long time and I worked with them in my last company. I worked with them for twenty years and there were eight of us. I said, ‘Guys, if I have not taught you everything you can learn about entrepreneurship, you will never learn. Go away and start your own company.’ And every one of them did. Every one of them got funding. I had to start with completely new people. And I started in a completely new industry that I knew nothing about. Amazing things happened. When you put up that audacious goal in front of other people, that becomes the magnet for the best talent in the world. I said,’“I am going to start a company [Viome] that is going to make illness elective. And we are going to do this by understanding everything that is happening inside the body and apply artificial intelligence because the human mind cannot understand this much data. We are going to find what is going on, and we are going to use diet and nutrition to cure everything. Because diet is the best drug you can ever have. There is no one thing that is good for everybody. If someone tells you, “Don’t eat carbs or spinach is good for you, avocado is good for you” they don’t have a clue. 90% of our DNA is the same between any two people. When you look at our gut, less than 5% of the microorganisms are the same. How can the same diet be good?
When you start a company, have a purpose and a goal that is so audacious that the world’s best people will come to you. And here is the second part. All the finances that you need, the money comes to you. When I put out that audacious goal, the team came together. Then every venture capitalist started calling me. “Oh, I heard all these people are working for Viome, I want to invest in it.” I keep telling them I don’t need the money and the more I kept telling them that they thought, “he must have something really good.” And venture capitalists, I can tell you one thing that they hate the most. Fear of missing out. You tell a venture capitalist what you are doing and they don’t fund you, and then you become successful and they become someone you came to and they told you, “Nah, that is not going to work.” They hate that.
When someone tells you that the sky is the limit what they are saying is that your imagination is the limit. If you can imagine it, you can get there. Find something you are willing to die for. And live for it. Will you give your last drop of blood before you say ‘I give up?’
Imagine that you have everything that you want in your life. You have a billion dollars, you have a wonderful family, you have a great house. What would you do? And if you do that today, you will get everything that you want. You have to go backwards. And if you say, ‘I am going to sit on the beach’ then you are meant to sit on the beach.
‘I can’t do because the system doesn’t allow me. I can’t do because people don’t want to fund me. I can’t do because I live in Bulgaria.’ None of that really matters. Those are excuses. What you are saying is, ‘I just can’t do because I don’t believe I can.’ Just believe that amazing things can happen. The Universe will come together and align itself.”
Valencia to Javea, Spain
Another stranger, another couch to crash in Valencia. I cook pasta for Adrian and he shares a glass of wine with me. He then gives me a choice between the couch in the living room and a mat on the floor in the closet. I choose the closet. I hear the rain outside. It feels like it is in my room, in my bed, in my mind. I need another blanket. How could he do this to me? Why is he not paying me on time? Why is he so mean to me? I stick my nails in the mat and hit the air with a fist. It is all my fault. ‘Your performance is going down. You are not focused. You miss things. Is this not important to you anymore? I feel like I have misplaced my trust.’ He is right, I miss things. But how can I be motivated when almost every time he is so late with my payments, when he is not appreciating me? I now have to hitchhike. I just told a friend not to let others treat her badly when it’s been five months of me doing exactly that. I carry poison in my heart. I try to hold it for a little longer. Maybe I should stop blaming M., tell him everything that is on my mind right now, and just quit. What am I afraid of? Why am I postponing this? I will tell him tomorrow.
I prepare a new sign. Javea. Sun. Rays. The small town where October is good enough to swim in the sea is my next stop. Seventy-six smiles and four hours later, I am on my way in a car with a Spanish couple.
– ¿A qué se dedica?
– I am sorry… I don’t speak Spanish…
– Aahhhh… no English… what you do?
– Oh! I travel… and write. Viajo e escribo.
I wish I could tell them my story and ask them about theirs. But I can only say and understand this much. My broken efforts end up with me meditating on the moving dry fields outside. The man waves his hands in the air when he talks to the woman. I am almost sure they are discussing something about work and money. Dineros. I understand his passion about it, I feel it too, especially when I don’t have it. I hope he remembers to hold the wheel again. I appreciate him taking me in his car. I trust the kindness of a random person to stop and pick me up from the road. I eat $1 pasta with plain tomato sauce. I crash the couches of people who are almost strangers. The pain. For some reason, I know I cannot not go to Lisbon and that feeling is so strong it causes me pain. And that goes against all logic.
– Look! It’s Full Moon tonight! When are you going to land on it? You, yourself. Not the robot.
– In about five or six years.
We all see the same Moon but from different angles. One day, Naveen will be looking at it from above his feet. But in this moment, we are seeing it the same, as it sits above the roof of Sofia’s National Theater. I ask him to take a picture, a possible nano piece of history.
I would have laughed if a year ago someone had told me that one day I would be taking a billionaire on a tour around my hometown. Back then and from that point of view, that would have seemed impossible. I vaguely remember the conversation we had that evening. What stays with me is a feeling that is either going to ruin me or empower me to a point of madness.
I must believe and do more impossible things. Right now, not after they happen. Here goes one – one day, all great entrepreneurs who now seem as far as the Moon will know me.
Javea to Granada, Spain
– I do operations but I am thinking of quitting…
– A lot of people quit their job or raise their fees after staying here.
Great, I need this. I have a deal with the co-living space in Javea to spend three nights in exchange for writing an article. I pay for three more.
– How did you get to here?
– Well… shared transportation…
I tell them half of my truth because I am too ashamed to tell Jon and Edu that I hitchhiked. I go out with the other digital nomads who are staying here. I don’t order anything because I only have a budget for one drink that I will have later when we go dancing. It is better for them to think that I am on a diet or have unhealthy eating habits rather than to find out that my daily budget is $5 and I have to make choices between food for two days or a cover charge at a nightclub. I went out to dance salsa in Barcelona one night and then ate bananas and peanuts for three days to make up for it.
That night in Javea, I meet Derek who also talks about not eating out that often because he has a special diet. The next morning, he offers me coffee with oil and butter blended in it. How can someone drink that much fat and not have a heart attack?
– Why are you doing this?
– Bulletproof coffee. You want to try?
– It looks gross but sure.
It’s quite filling.
– Do you want one?
– No, thank you. Why are you drinking it with oil?
I peel a banana.
– Your body metabolizes fat when you eat more fat and fewer carbs, including fruits.
The banana tastes like it has been in the fruit basket for a few days too long. I wonder what is his story. We decide to go for a walk from a near village called Jesus Pobre (Poor Jesus) back to Javea.
Derek Gallimore. A British ex-millionaire and founder of a real estate company who has lost most of his fortune.
– And now I am in Javea, in a hostel…
Why are you laughing, Derek? Most people would pity themselves to suicide if they were in your place.
– So how did it happen?
– I started some property development when I was young and bought my first house when I was about 24. I have just arrived in London and I caught the property boom. I could then afford to buy another house, six months later. And then another one, six months later. I started developing the properties, doing renovations and extensions. Out of that, I built my service department company and continued to build that for the next nine years.
– Service department… what were you doing exactly?
– We would lease entire buildings and rent out the individual apartments to corporate or leisure guests.
– How did that business go?
– It was organically grown and funded. We started from one apartment and it grew rapidly. There was about half a million turnover in the second year. The model was very effective so we just continued to expand it. We got up to about 220 properties last year. But then we hit a difficulty, there was a lot more competition in the market. The price per night started dropping.
I look at him in his pink shirt and white shorts. It is difficult to imagine him in a suit and in this corporate role.
– I sold all my personal properties within the last year, trying to bail the company out. That didn’t work. So now I have nothing. Or very little. Very little.
– But it’s almost like you can build something all over again and go back to having a lot because you have all this knowledge…
– I think it should be easy to build a business of about 5M to 10M turnover again quite quickly. I want to build up another business within the next year or two. You learn a lot when a business is growing. You learn a lot when you get funding. And you are also learning a lot when the business collapses.
– What’s your greatest learning from this experience?
– It’s very complex. I will definitely chase security, profitability, and sustainability over growth now. I am quite optimistic. They say that you either win or you learn. I am excited about the new business and the new ideas. This is actually the fun stage, creating something.
– The moment when you get your first dollar…
– I want to test three or four ideas. Incubate them quickly and see if I can get traction. I need my freedom. I haven’t worked for anyone since I was about 24 which was 14 years ago.
– I admire your attitude. This has probably been very tough for you, emotionally.
– It becomes a part of your identity, owning a big business. You lose this part of your identity and then you have to build it again. When you lose your job, you ask yourself what are you going to do now. But when you own a business, it’s almost like your baby but you also lose your job, your income. There are a lot of new beginnings and that can be seen as a terrifying thing but it can also be seen as exciting.
– A new challenge.
– That’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this before. The freedom this collapse has given me is quite nice. I am trying this digital nomad thing for a while. I expect to return to London after the winter and launch this new company properly.
– How would you compare both these lifestyles? Having status or having freedom.
– I like to make money but it’s not for the pursuit of it. It’s for the strategic game but also because of the freedom and opportunities that it buys. Ironically, I have more freedom and opportunities now. I just have one building in London now. I think I should be able to get to 10M again quickly. Life is a party.
I see a picture of my parents counting copper coins to buy feta cheese. ‘It is easy to spend money but making money is hard. You will realize this when you grow up, Annie. Life is hard.’ And then there is this man walking next to me who has failed massively and yet still feels positive that he can make millions again, telling me that life is a party. Maybe he has a point.
The last morning in Javea, I wake up at 7 am to pack my bag. I only have a laptop, a flat iron, ten shirts, two dresses, two pairs of pants and plenty of underwear. I have to roll the clothes and fit all the things that I have for a month in a small bag.
I wait on the road for hours, until the sun is now high enough to sting my arms and nose. Many drivers stop but they are all going to places that are too near. What if I have to stay here all day? What if no one is going to Granada? Maybe I should go to Alicante. I leave this spot to look for a better one. I remember that there were a lot of cars passing through the toll gates, including some parking space where I can stand with my sign. As I approach it, I see a woman and a man, a little far away from each other, holding signs. A car stops and picks up the woman. I wave at the guy. He waves back. I look at the road signs. Alicante, right arrow. Alicante, left arrow. On which side should I stand?
– Hey… Hi. Where are you going?
– South. And you?
He has it written on the back of a plastic plate. I show him my sign. There is an aura of body odor that surrounds him.
– That’s also South. We can wait together. People might think we are a couple and pick us up.
A couple? Me and you? No way. You will lower my chances.
– Sure… But maybe it’s best if I wait right there for now. Let’s see how it goes.
All drivers acknowledge me but not even one of them stops within the next half an hour.
– Where are you coming from?
– I hitchhiked from Berlin.
– Oh, wow… Do you have a pen or a marker by any chance? I think I have more chances of getting a ride to Alicante.
I take his marker to draw a line under Granada and add the Alicante option.
– I think I will try to stand on the other side and try the other route to Alicante. But thank you! Good luck.
I cross the road. A car pulls over almost immediately.
– I am going to Alicante… but in the evening.
– Thank you… but I need to get there during the day.
He gets off and lights a cigarette.
– I am meeting my cousin. It’s been 20 years since we last saw each other.
– Really? How come?
– Family issues… you know…
– Yeah, I know how it is.
– I will remember you. You are now a part of my story. I feel nervous.
– I am flattered. Are you nervous or are you excited?
– I guess I’m excited.
– It will be fine!
– Thank you…
– Hey, do you know which side is the best one if I want to get a ride to Alicante?
– Over there where this other guy is standing.
– I just don’t want people to think he is with me and he smells kind of bad. It will ruin my chances, you know.
– Well… it’s the jungle. It’s either you or him.
His cousin comes and I cross the road again to stand before the hippie. I am the first one in line now, I should get a ride. I look back. A car has stopped and he is getting his bag in the trunk. So much for the laws of the jungle.
– Yes! Are you going there?
I jump in. Close to Alicante, I end up at a highway – toll gates with more than ten lanes. I walk around to find if I can escape this place by walking. I can cross a fence to another highway that leads to Madrid. Or cross the highway and a dry field in the distance that leads to another highway. I better wait here. At least there is a spring. It is already 2 pm and I have 4 more hours to go. I make another compromise when a car stops.
– Si, si. Murcia.
Maybe it will be easier to get a ride to Granada from Murcia. I know only a few Spanish words but they are enough to explain that I travel and write. The guy decides to take me to the beach instead. I won’t be able to get to Granada before it gets dark if I to go that down South and come back.
– No… Murcia. No playa! Granada. Yo. Granada. Murcia. Granada.
– No, no Murcia. Playa. Yo. Playa.
– No playa… Murcia.
Just take me to Murcia like you promise.
– No Murcia. Playa. Muy interesante.
I get it, you want to take me to the beach because I am a travel writer. But this is not an option for me right now, how can I communicate this to you?
– Aqui. Yo. Aqui. Finito.
As I watch the disappearing car in the distance, I realize that I asked him to leave me in a place so small there is not even a hotel where I can spend the night if I have to. I decide to wait by a small gas station within the village. You got yourself in a situation again. You should have waited. What if no one is going to Murcia from here now? What are you going to do? What are you going to do, Anna? What? What? What? Think!
The motion slows. A car drives by in the opposite direction. A man looks at me, the motion slows even more, focusing on his terrified expression. He turns back and approaches the gas station. The doors open. A woman gets off and waves at me as if she wants me to get in.
The couple doesn’t even try to speak English. The woman tells me that they will take me to the bus station in Murcia. I don’t argue. I probably look like I am in a lot more trouble than I am. By the time I get to Murcia it is too late to find another ride. I have to take the bus. I buy a ticket.
I should have waited longer for a ride that takes me all the way. The cars that took me near took me farther from where I wanted to go. I took a virtual assistant job because I thought it was going to take me nearer, because I was scared that my aspirations were too far, that I don’t have much time left. And so now I am here, further from what I wanted to accomplish. Broke. Broken. Not making it as a writer. But having learned a valuable career lesson thanks to hitchhiking – never take the opportunity that takes you near, wait for the opportunity that takes you all the way to where you want to be.
On my way to Lisbon, I close my eyes and pretend I am sleeping in the car. I want something unbelievable, mind-blowing, life-changing to happen to me at this conference. I silently wish for it.
Anousheh Ansari, the first private female space explorer is the person I want to meet and interview the most at this conference. I message her. She replies. ‘Thank you. We can try. I am only here one day. If not maybe we can do it over the phone later.’
The next day, I go to her talk with the single objective to locate the exact spot near the stage from where the speakers exit. I sit as close as possible to it. I wait for the line of fans to talk to her. I have time. I even help them take their pictures with her. I don’t interrupt their conversations. Finally, I am the only one left.
– Hey… I’m Anna, we messaged about the book interview… Is it possible to do it now?
– Oh yes… Let’s do it now. Let’s go to the lounge. It’s more quiet there. Can she come with us?
I explain the concept of the book as we walk.
I don’t know where we are going but I follow her through the crowd. I cannot lose her. I cannot miss this opportunity.
– She’s with me. We have to do an interview. She will leave when we finish. – Anousheh tells the three security guards as we pass them through to get inside the lounge.
Anousheh has achieved a dream that many don’t even dare to dream about, going to International Space Station.
“We are our own worst enemies because if we think that we can’t do something then guess what, we are not going to do it. The first thing is to really take out all these limiting thoughts and fears that we have that may be because of where we grew up, or that our family, our environment, or society has put in our heads. Believe that these fears and limitations are not real. Once you stop limiting yourself then you open up the space to imagine and dream what you really want to do without anything holding you back. That is where you can find your passion you didn’t even know you had. Find that dream that you have but you never allowed yourself to dream about.
It’s all in the mind. I have seen other women who blame everything else around them. One thing that never works for me is blaming – I don’t have the money, I don’t know the people, there are no opportunities here. Whatever is not working for you, you can change. If where you live is not helping you – move. If you don’t have money – find a way to get money. I wasn’t born rich but I have always found resources to do what I need to do. When you believe in something then the Universe helps you achieve it.
I was born in Iran. I lived through a revolution and a war that devastated a country. As long as you believe that every step you are taking is toward something better that is taking you closer to your dream and ultimate goal, then you use the energy to take the next step, and the next step, and the next step. You have to have a commitment to whatever it is that you want to do. There will be tough times. There will be setbacks. There will be failures.
You look at Earth from space and you don’t see all these lines we draw on a map. It’s all artificial. In our minds we create walls but these walls don’t exist.
I thank Anousheh, take a picture with her, and head toward the exit, as I am supposed to. But then I notice the lunch buffet. Here there is, this nice food that is available. And then there is the pasta with tomato sauce that I will eat when I go out. I took a one month trip across Spain and Portugal that I could not afford. In our minds we create walls but these walls don’t exist. In our minds… we create walls… but these walls don’t exist. Status. Just another wall. But these walls don’t exist. Don’t exist.
I already am on the other side of the wall that is guarding the rich and important from the not so rich and important. I put my jacket on to hide my different badge and bracelet underneath. The low status. Or the imaginary brick I took from the imaginary wall. I will stay here until they kick me out. I put some salad, cheese, and meat on my plate and take a glass of wine.
– So… what brings you here?
– I am traveling the world to meet brilliant entrepreneurs for my book.
– Oh! You should interview my husband! He is going to the Moon!