One of the objectives of our journal is to interview interesting people who embody the digital nomad lifestyle, combining technology with travel to live abroad and run a business. We met Andrew at Betacowork, a coworking space located in Brussels, Belgium. This is what we learned.
Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I’m originally from Wisconsin, however I haven’t lived there since I was 19. After going to college in Colorado, I moved overseas, first to Germany for 7 years and then to Belgium, where I’ve lived for the last 3 years.
Tell us about Pygmy Elephant. What does your business offer?
Pygmy Elephant is an adventure travel agency that specializes in creating journey’s worth taking for our travelers. We offer customizable itineraries to adventure destinations like Torres del Paine in Chile or Mont Blanc in the Alps. We even have a vespa tour through Italy. People can choose their dates, if they would like to complete the tour with a guide or without, and customize their experiences and adventure according to their preferences. We also create bespoke tours for clients from scratch. We have a large network of partners across the world that allows us to do this. Recently, we have been very busy in creating adventurous honeymoons in Tanzania and South Africa.
What were you doing before and what was the transition like to running a business online?
Before Pygmy Elephant, I was working at a large chemical company in Germany. I really learned a lot from working there and it’s helped with administration, but running your own business is a much different ball game. You have no one else to blame when things don’t go well. Still, I feel a great sense of satisfaction when things do. As many entrepreneurs can tell you, their are a lot of ups and downs.
What sparked the idea to start a business in the travel industry?
I’ve always loved traveling and being in places that were slightly outside of my comfort zone. It’s one of the reasons I moved abroad in the first place. After gathering my courage to do a bungee jump, something that I didn’t think I would be able to do, I was determined to find a way to help people have that same feeling of achievement. From there, it was about finding an outlet for that and over the last three years, Pygmy Elephant has developed.
Tell us about the name Pygmy Elephant.
That’s actually a question I get a lot. First off, I love elephants. Granted, that’s not really a good way to decide on a name for your company, but I looked for things that I liked and took it from there. After doing some research, I found that Pygmy Elephants are unique in that they are only found in one place in the world, Borneo – which is also a pretty adventurous destination. I wanted to convey both adventure and that we create unique and interesting trips for people. Plus, I didn’t want to be just another name in the crowd. There’s a lot of competition out there, so I wanted to have a name that you wouldn’t forget. Pygmy Elephant is pretty memorable.
What trip do you currently offer that you are most excited about?
I think one of the most interesting trips we do is a Self Guided Vespa Tour from Florence to Rome. When you think of a vespa, you immediately think of Italy, so there is a romantic element to the trip. Plus, the Italian country side is painfully beautiful; once you go there, it’s hard to return to the office. Then there is the adventure. Going from Florence to Rome on a vespa is a real journey. It’s not like you hop in a car and drive 5 hours on the highway and you’re there. You have to navigate the backroads, through small hamlets and hilltop towns, and through various different landscapes – the crete senesi, Maremma, Lazio and Umbria. And the last part I love are the accommodation along route. You stay in these boutique Agritusimos that source food from their own farm or a 12th century castle that produces it’s own Chianti wine. And the Italians are just fun and gregarious people, so staying at these places is a unique experience itself. It’s a trip that has a lot to offer – beautiful landscapes, great food, and achievement for making it all the way to Rome.
What are some of the biggest challenges of running a remote business from your computer?
I would say time is the biggest hurdle. I am only now getting started in outsourcing activities to other people. It’s myself and two other people working on the business, but I’m the only one full time. I have so many ideas and so many things I want to get done, but I just can implement it all. I’ve got to learn to delegate better and use freelancers more often.
Let’s talk about travel gear. What are the items you never forget to bring with you on a trip?
The one item I always have is my camera. I have a canon 60D and I think it offers great value for the money. Pictures sell travel, so being able to capture halfway decent ones myself is a real advantage. The second thing I always have is a portable battery pack. With a 10,000 mAh unit, I can charge my phone almost four times without plugging into a wall. I also think having the T-Mobil global plan is pretty great. It’s 20 cents a minute almost anywhere in the world, plus free data. Granted the data is painfully slow, but at least I can receive and send emails without wifi.
What about tech gear. What computer equipment or applications do you feel are essential to running your business?
Wow… I just realized that all the above is tech. So yea, tech is really important. Google docs, spreadsheets and drive are the best way for me to stay connected everywhere and keep a uniform brand image. I have templates that I can access from any computer, so that I can always provide a good quality quote, even if something happens to my laptop. I also need lightroom and am more and more relying on photo shop to promote content. There are a lot of great free Mock Ups that you can use that are not difficult to figure out. Just insert your logo and you have a really professional looking e-book cover in under an hour.