From Porsche and London jobs, to digital startup nomads on their Bucharest stopover

An Australian woman and a British guy give up their high-paid jobs in central London and embark on an entrepreneurial adventure: create 12 startups in 12 months, while travelling the globe.

Kate and Paul McCann have to whisper, as everybody around at the Impact Hub in Bucharest is working. When I arrive, Kate and Paul are seated at a table near the big windows, with their laptops on, enjoying the view to the Dambovita river. All the chaos and movement in the Unirii Square, in downtown Bucharest, are somehow silenced.

Kate is 28 and comes from Australia. She wears small golden earrings and has a warm smile. She has worked in development, project management and business analysis. She has also travelled a lot in her 20s, and describes herself as minimalist – she never made large commitments, such as  mortgage loans.  Paul is 35 and was born in Liverpool. He is a self-educated IT specialist, who has worked in games, education and digital industries for 15 years. He has a tattoo – his mother’s birth date.

The evening before, Kate and Paul presented their adventure in front of the local audience. They quit their corporate job in London, sold everything they owned and decided to bootstrap 12 startups in 12 months whilst travelling the world. They’ve started in February this year and have launched 4 startups so far. Carrying two backpacks, one of 30 liters and one of 50 liters, they moved from London, to Cornwall, to Liechtenstein, France, Germany, Poland, Prague, Slovakia, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, back to Poland and now Romania. They got everything they own in their backpacks. Before starting the trip, Paul organized a garage sale and got rid of everything he owned. Aren’t they afraid of not having a base anymore? No, the world’s our home now, Paul answers jokingly. “It’s quite infectious, once you start seeing the world.”

“We’ve always wanted to start our own business and work on ideas,” says Kate. But giving up a high-paid job in London and a comfortable life is quite a challenge. They designed the plan around Christmas last year. They spent five days baking ideas and finally they decided they’ll create 12 startups in 12 months, self-funding all the businesses. That way they could have the freedom to test different ideas, measure the results and adapt the projects along the way.

This new freedom, of course, meant a lot of responsibility: deadlines, self-imposed discipline, and lots and lots of hours of work. They can work from wherever they want, a cafe in Budapest, or their Airbnb apartment. But they’d also stay up until 2 in the morning just to respect the deadline. It helps being two and sharing the adventure. “We benefit from having each other,” says Paul. “You feel more accountable when there’s another person. You don’t want to let them down.”

This is actually related to their fifth startup that they will launch in a few days, Kate says. The project will connect people around the world and pair them up for two weeks. Each person from a team sets a 2-week goal, and they support and keep each other accountable. When I ask Kate which is her favourite startup so far, she laughs and says, “Oh, it’s like a child, you can’t pick the favourite one,” but then she adds, “I’m excited about the next one because we’re gonna bring entrepreneurs together. It’s great to be paired to someone in another country and get to know a person for two weeks”. Then Paul adds: “If you’re with us for one year, you can meet 26 entrepreneurs, all at different stages. It’s almost like travelling around and meeting other people.” They got the idea while travelling around Europe. They found a lot of people who want to start their own business, but they are on their own.

“Essentially the ideas come from problems we find. I could make that better or easier,” says Kate. She got the idea for their first startup called Tea Witty during one of her trips to Portugal. She drank there a tea that is only growing on a Portuguese island and became fascinated with local tea. In England, premium leaf teas are really rare. So they decided they’ll go after these leaves. People who sign up for the Tea Witty project can choose from different packages, and they’ll receive 100 grams of loose leaf tea every month. “This equates to 50 cups of tea at a price per cup of 46c (EUR).” Kate and Paul plan to go to various tea plantations around the world and make contacts.

When they launched the startup, they thought their target group are older people who love tea. But then they looked at data and saw that the target group were actually much younger people. So they pivoted the idea to the health aspect, and instead of getting involved in tea clubs for older people, they started building a community, creating hashtags, getting people to change coffee for tea.

Paul and Kate don’t think that we are now experiencing a startup bubble.  “I would say that people have more confidence to change their lifestyle. We’re seeing more success stories. They are being covered more, and inspire other people.” Paul says that many big organizations don’t look after their staff and take people for granted. And people become very disengaged.

Paul himself has gone through this transformation. Years ago he was making lots of money but he was never happy with what he had. He was driving a Porsche and slowly became consumed with money. Essentially, “I didn’t really do anything but worked.” He travelled a lot to India, due to his job, and saw how little some people had and how humble they were. “I kind of felt embarrassed. Do I need all this?” The change was gradual. He first sold his Porsche, then the house he owned and before starting the trip, he sold everything else. Except for what he’s carrying in his backpack. He describes himself as having gone through “a transformation from Porsche to digital nomad.”

The name of Paul and Kate’s website is Inner Wanderlust. Wanderlust means a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world -loanword from German. Kate’s ancestors are German. Maybe it was the same wanderlust that made them leave Germany many many years ago, travel the world, and eventually settle down in Australia. And the probably same wanderlust made Kate leave Australia, move to Europe and wander the world. After our interview, Paul and Kate plan to head Sofia and then further down East. It’s only their fourth month into their one-year project.

By Diana Mesesan, features writer, [email protected]