How I Built a Successful Resort at 21 Years Old With No Money
Honestly, I think I am the only 21-year-old building a resort in Nicaragua without using my own money.
I get these questions everyday:
- How are you doing this when you are so young?
- How do you have the money to do this?
- Why are you doing this?
The answer is a lot longer than I have time to sit around and tell everyone I meet, so I figured it would be a lot easier to write it all out.
Where my brother and I come from
I grew up skateboarding, skipping school, and always dreaming of doing something crazy and cool with my life, just like any teenager dreams about. My family is not rich, and not always the most supportive of my new crazy ideas, but whose parents are?
My younger brother (19 years old) and I were having a few drinks in our parent’s hot tub one cold winter night in 2009 in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Looking back, I think those cold Canadian winters gave us motivation to get away.
My bro is pretty cool. One time we ran away from home when we were 4 and 2 years old, only to be rescued from getting hit by a vehicle by a passing jogger.
My younger brother has always been there and we make an awesome team. This is important because you can’t do this alone. You need someone there. Trust me.
Nicaragua? Why Not?
That night, after being a little boozed up, we went on Google and looked up “cheap land for sale." Nicaragua and the Philippines came up.
Nicaragua was closer so we decided to look into it. It got to the point where it was pretty funny from the ideas we came up with, but the more we looked into it, the more we knew we were going to fly to Nicaragua.
I don’t know what got into us, but we booked two return tickets that night. The plane was going to leave in one week. After waking up the next morning with a hangover, we asked ourselves what we had done. We didn’t even get flight insurance so we couldn’t cancel it.
Keep in mind that we both worked at gas stations at $8 per hour. We had hardly any money saved up and we maxed out our credit cards for this trip.
Our First Trip to San Juan Del Sur
I could write and write about our first adventure to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, but long story short, all we did was surf and party since their beers were only $1. We also didn’t look at any land until the last day.
We ran into a guy from California renovating a bar. He overheard us talking and showed us around his bar. Then we went to go check out his friend's land that he had for sale.
We had around $1,000 left to our names between the both of us. The land he showed us was two acres of flat prime property just outside of town, on the edge of a jungle and a river. It was the perfect spot. The deal was $28,000 USD and we could pay over one year. We got him down to $21,000 with a $1,000 deposit, still with paying the rest over the course of a year. We went to a lawyer and paid around $20 to sign some papers and make an agreement.
A Business Plan and Investors
It still didn’t feel real on the flight back. The thought that we'd just gotten scammed kept popping up in my head. Turns out, it wasn’t a scam. We went back home, got crappy jobs again for one year to pay off the land, went back to Nicaragua for another small vacation and to check it out again, and most importantly, make a business plan on what we wanted to do with it.
We decided that since we both grew up with extreme sports and that is and was our life, we would build a resort blended into an action sports complex that offered every action sport in the world. No one else was doing it, so why not?
We spent the year teaching ourselves everything from the Internet. We learned how to design our own website and based it on our business plan. We even learned how to design 3D-models using Google sketch up – it’s free to download.
We made the business plan and business concept irresistible. We needed money and funding for it. Forget the banks, forget re-mortgaging your house if you have one. Forget all of that.
Here's what we did: We posted an ad on the Facebook classifieds, and our local town’s website looking for investors. We asked for $35,000 USD for 10% of the company.
You probably won’t believe it. I didn’t and still don’t. But within a week we had meetings at a local Starbucks with 10 separate investors who lived in the same town as us. They ranged from millionaires in their late 20s, to couples, to pilots, to tanning shop owners. They were all sorts of people.
The great thing about this was that we got to choose who we wanted. It was unbelievable and anyone can do it, even you.
So We Got the Money, Now What?
So we got the money. Then we thought, now what do we do? We pretended like we knew, but the truth was, we were young with no experience. We now had money and we were off to a foreign land we knew nothing about how to build a resort.
I could write a book, and probably will, about all the experiences we have had so far.
We sold everything we had, (which was not much), and said good-bye to our girlfriends who we had dated for over 5 years, and said goodbye to our parents. We got on that plane, leaving everything and off to a new world we went.
This was in 2010. Since then, we have learned the ins and outs of this Wild West country. We heave dealt with everything from corrupt policemen to our staff stealing from us. You name it and we have experienced it. But then again, we have experienced many amazing things that most people will never get to in their lifetimes. This country has its flaws but it is . . . wow . . . so beautiful.
Our resort is called the Surf Ranch Action Sports Resort. It is located in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. So far we have built a staff house and office, a fully functional paintball course in our jungle which is almost booked out every day, and Central America’s and Nicaragua’s largest skateboard plaza park.
We are finishing up our first bungalow which we have already sold. In two weeks we are going to start selling four more at $44,000 each and giving the owners 50% back of all rental income, plus many more incentives like buying their plane ticket back, etc. They are pretty cool and this is the best priced investment in Nicaragua right now.
You Can Do It, But Not Alone
So here I am at my office and house in Nicaragua, listening to the crickets chirp away, writing about how I did this.
I get the question every day. It is no secret. You don’t need to go to school—I didn’t—you just have to take the risk, have the passion, and most importantly, have someone with you. Otherwise you will lose your mind. I promise you that. I see people come here like I did, but they come alone, and they don’t last long.