When Gabriel first touched down in Columbia at age 30, he looked like Riff Raff on a budget. Traveling through South America for months on end had taken its tolls, ripping quarter-sized holes into all his clothing. His beard resembled a young Che Guevara.
Arriving at night at the Medellin airport, he was scared.
Negative, fear-mongering U.S. news coverage got into his head. Two hours later, he found himself sitting at the dinner table with a Colombian family he just met behind customs. They gave him a ride, fed him, bathed him, and paid for his cab to the hostel.
Welcome to Columbia.
That first night, he fell in love with the country. So much, that he now runs the second best rated hostel in booming Santa Marta, the Drop Bear Hostel.
Picture yourself living in a country you love, running a fun and profitable business by serving fellow travelers with room and board in a lively city. No boss. No cubical. You recruit your own team and even hire volunteers who want to work for you.
You spend your evenings trading stories with people from all around the globe, sipping rum and coke from your own bar, enjoying the mild breeze from the Caribbean ocean.
Sounds like a romantic Hollywood plot, doesn’t it?
But it’s not. Gabriel did it from scratch, and you can do it, too. And it is doable with as little as 100,000 USD to start with, seeing green figures after just 12 months.
Here are the details on how he did it:
The biggest challenge for Gabriel was hunting down the right property. After blowing hundreds of dollars on cab rides through the city, he rented a motorbike. Cruising through “el Barrio Jardin”, Santa Marta’s richest neighborhood, he spotted an abandoned house with a crooked “For Sale or Lease” sign in the front yard.
His heart jumped. He knew the place would be perfect.
He called the owner and set-up a meeting, bringing his girlfriend to help with the language. A couple of days later he held the signed lease in his hands.
They agreed upon $7,500,000 COP per month, equaling $3,125 USD.
The building came with a swimming pool, spacious balconies, a humongous living room, now equipped with a pool table, ping pong and comfy seating opportunities, a kitchen, and lots of space.
Gabriel turned the empty spaces into 6 dorm rooms (between 6 and 10 beds), 7 private rooms, a fully-licensed bar, and 5 bathrooms.
The initial equipping ran him $40,000.
For $77,500 (annual lease plus equipping), he built a running business. The remaining $22,500 were spent on marketing and “to keep the place running without customers in the first months,” as Gabriel puts it. After 12 months, he saw a $500 profit.
That is no surprise to me.
On a booked-out day, and he has many of them, he averages $675 USD just on beds.
But let’s be super-conservative and assume the Drop Bear is only booked at half of it’s capacity. Gabriel would still rake in $10,125 per months, and that is excluding food, drinks and guided tours.
Now, in the third year of operation, he projects $40,000 in profits. He lives in a secluded part of the hostel, so he has no added living costs and the money is his to keep.
As of today, he employs ten people and is able to pay them above-market wages. He just renegotiated the lease and got a five year contract at $2,900 per months. In the near future, he will turn the garage into two more private rooms, adding extra revenues.
The money is nice, he says, but the feeling of waking up in the morning, knowing that you created a place that other’s enjoy while having the freedom to go to the beach any time of the day is… priceless.
Gabriel never went to college. He worked his fingers bloody in IT-jobs and decided to quit before the age of 30 to “go out and see the real world.” He did… and he used what he learned from traveling to create a business based on his passion.
“If I can do it,” he laughs, sipping his second rum, “everyone who is willing to work hard and is persistent can do it, too. Just don’t party too much.”