Live and Work Wherever

by Adii Pienaar, Founder of WooThemes

I live in Cape Town, South Africa.

When I travel abroad, I have a 12-hour flight to most places in Europe, a lengthy 20+ hour transit time to the U.S. East Coast, and a whopping 30-odd hour transit to the West Coast. Suffice to say, I’m quite isolated from all of the major tech hubs and cities around the globe.

On top of this, we don’t yet have much of a startup culture in Cape Town, which in turn means that finding local mentors, advisors, and investors is tough. Our broadband penetration is average, and our students are only now starting to cotton onto this “working online thing” (as a feasible career option), which means we do have a shortage of skills; hiring locally has its challenges.

So, in terms of building a global business from the tip of Africa, we’ve most definitely not had it easy and have had to navigate quite a few unique challenges compared to startups based in tech hubs.

I’m reminded of this quote by Paul Graham when talking about the location of Y Combinator in Randall Stross’ book, The Launch Pad:

“We wouldn’t be doing founders a favor by letting them stay in Nebraska. Places that aren’t startup hubs are toxic to startups. You can tell that from indirect evidence. You can tell how hard it must be to start a startup in Houston or Chicago or Miami from the microscopically small number, per capita, that succeed there. I don’t know exactly what’s suppressing all the startups in these towns—probably a hundred subtle things—but something must be.”

None of this matters though.

What I’ve learnt is that the location of your startup is merely just another line on your company fact sheet. Nobody really cares where you are based. If they love your product or service, they’ll pay for it, regardless of whether it’s made in Cape Town, Lagos, Mumbai or Sao Paolo.

To this day, I’d bet that less than 1% of WooThemes’ 300,000+ users actually know that we’re based in Cape Town, South Africa. They just don’t care.

The reason that our location is so irrelevant comes down to creating a professional, global business and acting the part in every facet of our business. From day one, we created something that could stand side-by-side with our international competition; both our quality and execution was spot-on.

We also invested in our branding, as it was the cheapest way to market a Cape Town-based brand internationally and build a sustainable, loyal audience. On top of that, we committed to delivering the best service experience possible to our customers, which turned out to be an even cheaper marketing campaign than our branding efforts.

Give your customers the product, support, and experience they desire, and they won’t even bother checking your contact page for a physical address.

Doing exactly that, we overcame all of the supposed odds that our physical location leveraged against us. If you choose to view location like this, then it becomes “just another” challenge that you need to address.

Don’t let your physical location become an actual stumbling block in building your business. Yes, you’ll experience a few unique challenges, and you won’t have many experienced mentors to help you figure out solutions for those. But it’s most definitely not impossible either.

Adii Pienaar is an entrepreneur, husband and very new father, based in South Africa; the combination of these roles results in an epic & challenging journey. Unlike the bios of most “serial” entrepreneurs, Adii is (as at the time of this going to press) a one-hit wonder with his role as co-founder & CEO of WooThemes. That status isn’t for a lack of trying either; it’s just that the other attempts lost more money than they made…