1. Hello Karsten, please tell us more about yourself, thailandstarterkit.com, karstenaichholz.com, and your ongoing adventures?
I first came to Thailand in 2006 to start my first company here. Technically I came to Thailand the first time in September 2005 for a weekend where I bought a lot of knock-off t-shirts that I then had to promptly toss out when I found out I’d be actually moving to Thailand (who, after all, wears fakes here except for tourists?). I needn’t have bothered in the first place since two rounds in the washing machine tend to reveal the difference between the real deal and what’s sold on the roads of Sukhumvit and Silom. There might have been a life lesson in there somewhere.
My original business was firmly in the land of video games – a domain I was familiar with through extensive playing of said games in high school. In retrospect I like to refer to that as ‘market research’. My parents might disagree with that assessment but who’s to deny a founder his origin story? Originally I started it with a business partner who I met while studying business administration back in Germany, though eventually, in 2011 I bought him out and have been running the company on my own ever since.
Having noticed that personal interest has shifted a bit away from the virtual successes of video games, I went ahead and started writing Karstenaichholz.com about the insights I gained over time of running a company, working in Thailand and trying to figure out what to do next after having run the same company for essentially more than a decade.
It turns out that part of what I’d like to do is share some of these insights to help other people trying to accomplish the same: Recently I launched Thailand Starter Kit Thailandstarterkit.com, a website dedicated to providing free and unbiased guides for people looking to live, work, retire and start companies in Thailand.
2. Back when your 20s when you were saying goodbye to your job as a management trainee at Lufthansa German Airline, and first start your journey in entrepreneurship, did you have any anxiety or fear?
The advantage of doing something completely unfamiliar at age 22 is that you didn’t really have the chance to see things to go really ship-shaped – both in your own life as well as that of your colleagues. We were certainly aware of the official statistics on startup failures, but as so many others, we thought this wouldn’t apply to us. It was years later that my business partner and I noticed how lucky we were to have pulled through and how close we got to actually having to give up: At one point we were so low on cash that we were only about 3 months away from bankruptcy.
3. Now approaching nearly ten years of living and working in Bangkok, what are some of the most important things you have learned along your journey?
I think people tend to focus a bit too much on the exciting things – whether it’s astronomic success, unexpected betrayal or any other kind of enticing narrative that colors the picture many potential founders and expats hold in their head. Reality tends to be a lot more mundane. No matter how exciting the city – in the end it’s the place where you commute to work. No matter how exciting the business – in the end someone still has to do the accounting.
What does make a difference though is habits and good practices – both in moving to Thailand and starting a business. Whether it’s treating staff well or living healthy: Some things we do automatically, others we have to pick up over time. With managing people that meant for me learning to assume positive intent: When something goes wrong, it’s usually not done on purpose. With living healthy that meant figuring out where to live (close to a gym) and what to eat (7-Eleven has surprisingly healthy food options).
4. Do you have any funny story while living in Thailand?
The very first time I posted a job ad, the established websites hadn’t really done professional translations of their English-language versions yet. This definitely resulted in some chuckles when I tried to figure out what options to select when creating a now job ad: Available job categories aside from engineers and accountants included ‘pope’ and ‘proffreader’.
5. What has been your favorite article to write either for your blog or another publication?
My personal favorite article is “What is the Life You Want to Remember One Day?“. It’s based on a speech I gave in Thai at a gala dinner about two years ago. Back then I didn’t think much of it – I just tried to create a basic enough message that had some use to all members of the audience. In hindsight it was definitely a collection of thoughts I had assembled over the years. While it’s not necessarily an account of how I live my life, it’s definitely one of how I wish I did.
6. What has been your most successful blog post to date and what was it about?
Defining success is a difficult question in itself. In terms of visits, I think my blog posts on health insurance and cost of living definitely got the most views. I assume because both are very data-based (e.g. specific expense and reimbursement numbers) while still being very personal (they reveal the actual amount of money I spend on different parts of my life and the reimbursements I received from my health insurance).
7. Interesting how you were able to combine a trip to entrepreneurship. Would you recommend that others try combining travel and a career in tech?
I’d advise people to get the business cash flow positive first, then think about the ‘traveling’ part. If moving to a location with a cheaper cost of living is part of the cash flow plan: Great. However, it might add complexity and distractions that ultimately can harm a business in its early phase. I do think though that interspersing entrepreneurship with travel periods takes advantage of the benefits of the lifestyle, allowing more than just financial gratification after spending a lot of time and energy on building up your own company.
8. I was surprised to see that you’ve been featured by some big names. How did you manage this so early on? Any tips for new tech entrepreneurs out there following in your footsteps?
The media mentions I gathered were usually either due to chance encounters (hard to influence those) and establishing authority in a very specific field. If you become ‘quotable’ that makes it much more likely that journalists approach you. Past accomplishments help with that, but also being the person that writes the articles that journalists use to research a topic comes in handy.
9. You mentioned on your blog that you have been to 60 difference countries, what are some of the secrets you have learned from the road?
I actually shared quite a few of those in one of the very first blog posts I ever published: How to Create Memorable Travel Experiences.
10. I love that you share a love of video games, traveling, and digital marketing. Do you have any advice or tips for aspiring our students who want to start their journey in tech entrepreneur?
Start a business in a field where you don’t mind working for free: Because there’s a good chance you will do exactly that.