[Editor’s note: I came across Xeric Design-the micro-ISV behind EarthDesk 4.0 – in my hunt for more Site Review Monday volunteers and I thought their story was so compelling and cool I cajoled Trygve Inda to write it up for MyMicroISV.]
Text by Karen Inda, Xeric Design
Few things can be said to have changed our lives more than the internet and e-commerce. Over the past 5 years, my husband and I have pushed the limits of running a mISV from anywhere – and I do mean anywhere – with an internet connection. All it takes is a sturdy backpack, a Mac laptop and the desire to wander aimlessly around the planet.
December 2002, Tbilisi, Georgia (former Soviet Union): The electricity has just come back on and we are struggling to maintain a 24kbps dialup connection to answer our support email, when we learn that we need to download a 300mb Developer Tools update from Apple. The solution requires an airline ticket to the closest developed country (the United Arab Emirates) and we’re on the road again.
Our business started as a side project from Trygve’s day job as the tech/web guru for an ad agency in Reno, Nevada and operated that way for four years.
It made for a nice secondary income, but there was never enough time to really make it work. In the months following the September 11th attacks, Trygve’s job dried up as the advertising budgets for many firms went the way of the dodo. This left him in the position of being home all day while I worked. The business rapidly picked up and we soon realized that we could put our whole business on a laptop and manage it from anywhere in the world.
In case our sales did not keep pace with our cost of living, we needed a backup plan. Our first stop was Prague, Czech Republic, where we took a month-long certificate course to teach English as a foreign language. Then we went briefly back to Nevada to get rid of our apartment and put our stuff in storage. Soon we were in possession of a one-way ticket to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. We haven’t looked back since.
We took 2 Macintosh laptops, extra batteries, a multitude of cables, adapters and installation CDs and two large backpacks. When you read that the laptop only weighs 5.1 pounds, take that with a grain of salt!
In Tbilisi, we rented an apartment and purchased a UPS in anticipation of the serious electricity shortages that plague Georgia every winter. We taught English, worked in editing for a newspaper, did consulting for a couple of NGOs and ran the software business.
As it turned out, the country’s multiple infrastructure problems led to us being unable to stay connected to the internet for more than about ten minutes at a time. We were extremely unhappy teaching English and the power, water and gas problems, exacerbated by corruption from all levels of society, made living in Tbilisi impossible. After half a year, we escaped to Germany, lugging 170 pounds of stuff with us, including the UPS. We must have looked like refugees!
The business was now earning enough so that odd jobs were no longer needed.
We managed our business from an internet cafÃ© for six weeks in Germany and then moved back to Prague, where we rented an apartment and installed cable internet.
Our work environment in Prague was significantly better than anything we’d had since we left the States and we were able to release EarthDesk 2.0. As we were “tourists”, we couldn’t legally stay in Prague for long, so after several months, we set off on a seven-month-long journey through the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia. We traveled with the laptops, of course, and managed the business on an almost daily basis from the United Arab Emirates, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Surprisingly, the easiest place to get decent internet was Cambodia and the most difficult was the Seychelles.
In most places, we were able to simply hook up the laptop at an internet cafÃ©. Others, like Sri Lanka, have kiosks selling scratch-off cards that provide several hours of internet access from any phone line. Then there are places like the Maldives where only microwave towers exist and the prices can soar to $1/min for high-speed access.
The following year, we got a development contract with a small company in Dubai. We relocated there, replaced our aging laptops and rented a villa. To escape the scorching Dubai summers, we also purchased a summer home in Prague.
To this day, we continue to move back and forth between Prague and Dubai, while spending several months of each year on the road. Next week, for example, we are headed to Yemen for a few weeks of exploring that fascinating and isolated corner of Arabia.
Amongst all this, we try to work in an annual visit to Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and, this past January, we exhibited EarthDesk at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco.
We’ve operated from dozens of countries around the world, from Turkey to Uganda, and are only limited by our imagination and our ability to get online.
Cambodia: Monks marching in Phnom Penh.
Congo: Even Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, has internet cafes.
Georgia: Road in the High Caucasus Mountains near the Russian border.
Laos: Evening market in Luang Prabang.
Maldives: Floating “airport” near Kuramathi Island.
Mauritius: Waterfront in Port Louis.
Rwanda: Park with wireless internet in Kigali.
Sri Lanka: Buddhist Temple in Central Sri Lanka.
Tbilisi Office: Where we worked for 6 months. Note the Russian heater.
Uganda: Internet CafÃ© in Masindi.
Uganda – Kampala: Chaotic street in downtown Kampala.
Oman: Town of Rustaq, Oman in the mountainous north of the country.