It seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.
Today we talk to Therese Hansen about living small and travelling.
Therese is a Computer Scientist, Programmer, Blogger and Startup Weekend Mentor. On top of this, Therese is also the co-founder of Monzoom, and the woman behind xiive.com (the social media filtering site) and rouqk.com (analyzing Twitter every 20 minutes).
Therese’s passion is for travelling and living small. Therese says the two go together pretty well with her professional life as a entrepreneur, but they are her passion and she would be doing it even if she wasn’t a successful entrepreneur.
Therese, you tell me that your passion for living small started when you and your husband moved in with your father when you were 30. What prompted you both to quit your jobs and work full-time on your professional passions in this way?
My husband and I were part of a Startup Weekend (weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas are viable) in our then-home town of Aarhus. That weekend we met other entrepreneurs, worked on something we were passionate about, and were injected with the entrepreneurial spirit.
It was a transforming experience, and we decided halfway through the weekend that this was the kind of thing we wanted to do full-time. We both had well-paying jobs in IT, so we had quite the nice buffer of money saved and after that weekend we started talking about how to stretch our savings so we had as much time as possible before we had to make money from our new company.
My father was living alone in a really big house at the time, and he had an unused attic as big as our apartment, and when we told him our plans he invited us to stay with him. My father was also an entrepreneur, though with a physical shop, and so was his father, and my great-grandfather.
It runs in the family, and I think my father was quite happy to learn that I had the startup-spirit as well. With the support of our family and a lot of great feedback from our social circle we decided to do it.
Alongside this another side of the story developed. I was stressed out from commuting 4 hours a day to and from work, and sometimes staying in hotel rooms alone to avoid the long commute. The Startup Weeked woke me up to see that there are other ways to live.
You mentioned to me beforehand that your travels to date have so far mostly been to Asia, with cheap trips also within Europe. Can you tell me about your first trip — or about a particularly memorable trip?
Our first long trip took us to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur, Krabi, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and then home. We were travelling for 7 months and loved it. I learned a lot about myself and my husband on that trip. It changed our view on our daily life.
Anyone who travels a lot will tell you that seeing how other cultures organize themselves and what they hold as truths will make you do some introspection and question the things you take for granted.
It also inspires you. Nothing compares to the freedom you feel when you know you only have the things in your suitcase (we are too old to be backpackers). You can’t spend a lot of money because if you buy new things you will need to discard something old to be able to still carry your things with you.
As an entrepreneur, when you are travelling have you found there are marked differences to how you are received in different places to how you are at home?
I wouldn’t say that I know how it feels like to be received as an entrepreneur in different cultures because it has never been something we told people. We always just say “we work in IT” and the response you get for that is not much different in Thailand to what we hear in Denmark.
In what ways has living small changed life for you and your husband? What impact has it had on your outlook on life?
Living from a suitcase and living on a small budget has changed a lot of things for us. We are able to support ourselves by doing relatively little paid work. Our budget requires us to work 2 days a week on paid work and we can do what we want with the rest of the time.
It turns out what we want is to work some more on getting our own products out there, and I can’t say that that was what I had predicted when we started cutting back on spending.
I have had a lot more mornings waking up and thinking that I’m too lucky after we made this change in our life. In the old days I would work hard to earn a lot of money to spend on expensive clothes and gadgets and now my clothes and gadgets are mostly packed away and my newest dress cost 150 Thai Baht (about 30 DKK, $5 USD, £3.50 GBP or €4 Euro).
I do not spend a lot of money, but when I do, I spend it on things that will make it easier to travel. My latest purchase was a foldable whiteboard - something we really have missed while travelling. I have a whole new outlook on spending and consuming. “Do I really need it?” is the one question I have with me all the time - not “Do I want it in this second?” which were my old criteria for shopping.
You tell me that living small and travelling go well with your professional life as a entrepreneur. Can you tell me about the benefits and challenges your lifestyle has had on your professional life?
The benefits are simple. I don’t have to spend a lot of time making money to put food on the table, because my expenses are low. That allows me to create the products that I want to make and not focus on the profit from day one. My priorities are different.
The challenges I have faced while travelling have been relatively small. We couldn’t go to a certain island because the internet connection was not good enough for us to work. We can’t meet with customers in person when they are in Denmark and we are in Thailand. My professional network in Denmark is shrinking because we are not there a lot of the time and I have to use a lot of time online to keep it.
Cutting back on expenses also means a lot of public transport and that makes it a bit difficult to get places to meet with customers. It also takes a lot of time to save money.
What are the top pieces of advice you would offer to others who wanted to start living small but are unsure how to break the cycle of always collecting more “stuff”?
Start with changing your thinking. Brand “collecting stuff” as something undesirable in your head. Stop and think before you buy. Do an experiment: don’t buy anything for a week (except food) and when you get tempted, write it down. If at the end of the week you can’t live without the things you have written down then buy it; my guess is that you won’t miss anything on the list.
Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time? Do you and your husband plan to always keep travelling, or do you think you might travel less while still living small?
When my father died last year we reexamined our priorities. Yes, we do want to keep travelling, but we will probably do it less because of our business and how it is changing.
I really don’t want to spend another winter in Denmark, ever, so that means that we have to make plans for the period of November-March in another country: with the exception of Christmas. Our mothers don’t allow us to travel on Christmas; we did it one year and they missed us too much.
Living small is now part of who we are. Even if we were millionaires we wouldn’t change much about our current lifestyle. My attitude towards my mindless spending can’t be changed back. I think collecting “stuff” was weighing me down mentally, and I will never go back to that life. Now the top of my priority list is the people around me. Material things has never meant less to me than they do now — it is a learned mindset. Less is more.
This attitude has seeped into all parts of my life.
For example, we launched our company website (monzoom.net) a few weeks ago. The website is one page, and it only has the things on it that our customers asked for. Not the many, many things we could tell about ourselves, but the things that are needed.
You can almost see the change in our mindset in the products that we create.
In our first product, xiive.com (search and statistics about keywords across social media sites), we put in all the features we could think of. Now we create apps and websites that are small and with only a handful of features - and we invite people into the process, not just to see the result.
Other than your work, travelling and living small, do you have any other passions?
I do genealogy as well, but that is a relatively new passion of mine, so there’s not much to tell yet. Although I did find out that my family has blood ties to the Danish royal family far, far back, but this is something I probably share with most Danes :)
Right now I live in a small Danish city where I have found family members all the way back to the year 1600.
Therese is now a mentor at Startup Weekend, and recommends the experience to anyone who thinks they might have entrepreneurial blood. Therese would also like to invite anyone with an interest in travels, entrepreneurship or social media to connect with her on LinkedIn dk.linkedin.com/in/theresehansen or Twitter @qedtherese.