April 22, 2014
Get chapters of David Niu’s book Careercation: Trading Briefcase for Suitcase to Find Entrepreneurial Happiness for free starting today.
In 2012, BuddyTV cofounder David Niu bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand for himself, his wife, and his 10-month old daughter, Keira. He was burned out, and it was time for a “careercation.”
Niu had two goals for the trip, which also took him to Australia, Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. The first was to have amazing experiences with his new family. They explored New Zealand by RV, mimed their way through non-English-speaking Korea, and visited grandparents in China. The second was to learn about management and culture from entrepreneurs around the world, hoping to avoid burnout in the future.
So while traveling, Niu interviewed over 30 entrepreneurs about their advice on hiring, performance reviews, communication, and culture. The book intersperses interviews with Niu’s travelogue, and it could actually be two books – the story of his careercation, and the story of the inspiration for TINYhr, the company he founded when he got back. As Niu says in the book, you can even skip one or the other section depending on your interests.
TINYhr’s first product TINYpulse now has over 300 customers, including Amazon and HubSpot, so Niu obviously learned something from those interviews. But as a digital nomad myself, I was curious about the concept of a careercation. Below, Niu tells us when to take a careercation, how to get the most out of it, and where he’s headed next.
Tech Cocktail: Who would you recommend a careercation to?
David Niu: Everyone should be intentional about being happier in their personal and professional life. But in particular, I would recommend it to anyone who is burnt out and stuck in a rut. It’s a great time to recharge, refresh, and focus on what’s the most important to you.
Tech Cocktail: When’s the best time for a careercation?
David Niu: If you’re not a 9 or 10 going into work on an ongoing basis, it’s probably a good idea to make the jump. In addition, I hear from others that other life-changing events like a failed startup, a sold startup, a divorce, etc., present great opportunity to reflect and regroup before moving forward. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up.
Tech Cocktail: How do entrepreneurs afford a careercation?
David Niu: Great question. Careercations, or the concept of it, come in all different stripes and flavors. We went to relatively expensive countries, but we could’ve easily saved money by going to more affordable areas. Furthermore, you can plan strategic stops with friends and family. Plus, if there is a will there is a way: save up, work as a deck hand on a boat, work at a ski resort, etc., to see different parts of the world to recharge.
Tech Cocktail: Some entrepreneurs might feel lazy to take a careercation – how do they get over those feelings?
David Niu: Yes, I felt guilty at first. I also experienced Internet, email, text withdrawal. In a weird way, I felt validated when needed and bombarded with communication. But for me, I was able to adapt after about two weeks. I gave myself permission to slow down and journal, meditate, explore, and spend quality time with my family.
Tech Cocktail: Not all entrepreneurs are married – do you recommend they go alone, or bring someone along?
David Niu: I think either way works. But I will have to say it’s not all roses to travel with one’s family. When we were on the South Island of New Zealand driving around in a campervan, I thought my wife and I were going to kill each other. We were driving on the left side of the road in a big metal billboard with no outlet. But we survived. I’ll tell my daughter Keira to do the same before she thinks of getting engaged with anyone. Yet if you do travel with someone else, I would just get clarity that the goals are aligned in terms of timing, pace of travel, costs of travel, type of travel, places to go, etc.
Tech Cocktail: If entrepreneurs are looking to travel to get inspiration for their next business, what should they do to help that happen?
David Niu: I took the time to do two things. One, I journaled to discover what I was passionate about. As an entrepreneur, we’re going to spend countless hours working on our venture, so it might as well be something that I’m passionate about. Two, take the chance to talk to other entrepreneurs during your trip. I would reach out and go to events and buy entrepreneurs coffee to chat. Try to also get away from your comfort zone. Mine was technology, so I purposely reached out to folks who ran a catering business, winery, and consultancy. People were gracious beyond belief.
Tech Cocktail: Where will you go for future careercations, and what will you do differently?
David Niu: Doing it once definitely showed us that we can do it because we were nervous and scared to travel with our 10 month-old. I think our next careercation will focus on South America or Europe primarily. So many awesome places for us to explore as a family. As for what I’d do differently, there’s not too much. I would probably pack even lighter. But we’d like to stay in one place for even longer periods of time. For example, if we end up in Patagonia, we’d love to be there for two to three months and also invite friends and family to visit and share in our discovery and memories.
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