Truer words couldn’t be spoken nor could they have more aptly applied to three unforgettable months living in Costa Rica.
It was December 15, 2008. I had just survived a one month excursion through South America, where I watched my diet regress from jugs of Chilean wine and slabs of Argentinian beef to train station sink water and sleeves of Ritz crackers.
Financially speaking, it was time to make a move.
My buddy and I set our sights on Costa Rica, which promised good surf and job availability. But the tourist-friendly bars, restaurants, and grocery stores we had assured ourselves would be waiting with open arms greeted us with a “No, gracias.” Bank accounts were dwindling. Running short of options, we mulled our future one evening over necessary beers and exotic fruit in hostel hammocks.
Together with my best friend and newly appointed business partner, I was able to create a business that was both profitable and delicious, sans any former sales training or MBA, in seven basic steps.
1. Assess your situation.
Understanding that jobs weren’t going to simply fall into our laps, a makeshift supply and demand economic session got underway as we battled evening mosquitoes. The beaches were still filled with free-spending American tourists; it was just a matter of finding a commodity that would actually turn a profit.
Shoveling another ripe four cent banana down, up came the hovering light bulb over my skull. Noting how the beaches were packed with foreigners constantly harassed by 8 year old children selling ceramic pots, local stoners pretending to offer surf lessons, and old women with cheap shell necklaces, I realized, “We could be those people!”
Brainstorming and high fives ensued throughout the night.
2. Realize that timing is everything.
Deciding that our new company would manufacture, market, and sell frozen bananas in various flavors, the next step was opening a factory within our hostel’s walls. What we eventually developed was a finely tuned two-man banana assembly line that would make Chiquita salivate.
We conducted bi-weekly raids upon our local supermercado, collecting about 30 bananas, whatever meltable chocolate was in stock, skewers, and our choice for that week’s toppings. We soon learned the importance of daily visits to the store as a banana’s green-to-yellow-to-brown lifespan seems to accelerate under fluorescent lighting.
Photo courtesy of the author
Assessing that late morning and early evening were prime selling hours, our schedules shifted accordingly. Our well-stocked banana cooler didn’t exactly appeal to the drunken masses when we set up outside a popular bar later at night. Plus, we had to battle with cigarette, gum, and sausage vendors.
3. Name it right.
The catchiness and cheesiness of alliteration works wonders; thus, the Banana Brigade and Potassium Patrol were formed. Using Sharpie markers, we emblazoned our Styrofoam sales cooler with our company name along with fake banana websites and freshly created gmail accounts displaying how legitimate this operation truly was. Our ever evolving menu kept consumer interest high as “chocolate” developed to “Mounds bar,” which later developed to the mysterious “experimental” selection.
4. Play the part.
Knowing that even a cool product with a catchy name would not simply sell itself, we realized that an amicable, crafty nature would be a useful asset. Fellow gringos always welcomed a familiar face and simply striking up a chat about the recession, the weather, or the Red Sox promised future sales.
When my feet were swollen from stingray attacks or mosquito infection I found the silver lining and bandaged and limped as pitifully into the hearts of lounging retired women as one could. Vacationing South Americans responded to our heavily accented cries of “CHOCOBANANOS” after we exuded our bilingual charm. What we lacked in sales experience, we made up with in friendly conversation.
5. Emphasize quality over quantity.
As founder of your own business, pride in your product is essential. After initially trying to cut a few corners and market our aged brown bananas as “double chocolate,” we soon agreed we were jeopardizing the integrity of Banana Brigade.
As our entire livable income depended on customer satisfaction and our advertising was not much more than word of mouth, we harnessed our culinary skills to create the optimal look and taste. Once satisfied, customers returned to our frozen cooler to purchase treats they could make themselves at a fraction of the cost.
6. Remember: Sex sells.
The female creature should never be underestimated. Especially if you have two beautiful, free-spirited Spaniards willing to forego their bikini tops and stroll the sand as temporary saleswomen. This also helped to alleviate the awkwardness of offering grown men our long, sweet, frozen delights.
7. Enjoy your work.
Running my own business turned out to be the best job I’ve ever held. I worked my own hours, accepted a hangover as an excuse for a sick day, never struggled my way through a sales meeting, and literally ate our losses.
While self-employed, you find joy and satisfaction in what you do, which is the best and possibly only reason to hold a job. The recession seems to be nothing more than an excuse by many to stifle their creative selves and play it safe and dull. I’d even suggest that starting a business in a beautiful get-away locale like Costa Rica is more promising than any. Besides the sheer beauty you experience daily, a profit can always be turned in a location where people are showing up fully prepared to spend recklessly and be as lazy as entirely possible.
Step away from that cubicle, fellow dreamer; the world awaits your genius. The risk is worth the reward and the reward has never tasted so sweet.
Read other inspiring stories from people who have escaped the cubicle! Want some advice about ditching the cubicle. Matador editor Julie Schwietert tells you how to get rid of your 9-to-5 job, and Dana Ranill offers advice for convincing your boss to let you telecommute.