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How I Built a Successful Resort at 21 Years Old With No Money

Updated on June 16, 2016
Our first private bungalow almost done
Our first private bungalow almost done

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.

Our Background

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.

The resort finished!
The resort finished!

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.

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    • profile image

      Michele 4 weeks ago

      Your story is amazing. I am in school right now for Hospitality Management, but now that I have read your story I guess you don't need a degree to own your own resort. It has been my dream to have my own Hotel and Resort on some secluded tropical island. Now I realize I can have that dream if I work hard at it. I love the idea for the Skateboard park and the Paintball course. There are no resorts out there like that. You are an inspiration, thank you very much.

    • profile image

      Clement 7 weeks ago

      Hi. My name is Clement. I am from Benoni in South Africa. I am planning to built my resort. It was always my dream to own one. You story is amazing

    • profile image

      Maria 2 months ago

      Wow amazing..

    • profile image

      Sheen 5 months ago

      This is so inspiring!!!

    • profile image

      raphael 5 months ago

      did you present a visual to your investors or just an idea? raphferr85@gmail.com

    • profile image

      galethata 6 months ago

      wow am so inspired i will start to chase my dream now because its been some month trying to do my resort park thanks guys wish u the best

    • profile image

      Aubrey 6 months ago

      THIS IS SO INSPIRING. I recently graduated from a university at the age of 19 and was saving up until now that I am going to be 21 this year as well. I was planning to build my own resort at the Philippines. My Parents left me a 2 hectare land but I have nothing, except the land they gave me. Hopefully I can with my best friend ,for 9 years, with this story we are motivated THANKS GUYS!

    • profile image

      Denver 6 months ago

      Wow..Awesome, I'm from the Philippines and planning to start a forest resort business too. I would love to share my story just like yours once established.

    • profile image

      DeeJoemar Gonzales 8 months ago

      Wow! Very inspiring story you have! I am so amazed of what you made. I am thinking if I could do the same and risking all possibilities in my life. Stories like yours are pretty much to keep. I am in the middle of my searching right now on how to start a business in my hometown. My family owns a land with a possibilities of being a good spot for cliff diving, snorkling, paragliding, sanctuary for sealife and land animals. With untouchable caves, sharp-edged rocks, slope areas are full of sugar apple trees, famous & rich of black stone. Everything you name is there. Beside our land is a long island white-sugary sand. So serene and tranquile place, sorrounded with nice and hospitable residents. A place where you can say..."Wow! This is my heart is!"

      I wish I could have the same courage like you have. I still wish I cam make this happen for my family, friends and my communty to enjoy the treasure I have.

      Again, Thank you very much for your inspiring story. Hope I can build my paradise in years yo come! Or maybe in 5years? Who knows?

    • profile image

      unknown 8 months ago

      im 22 years old , from Philippines and wanted to have a resort , i dont know wer

      to start bcoz same as u i also dont have money ! but i know that sooner or later everything will fall into places , in gods perfect time ! your story is very inspiring and i salute your willingness & hardwork just to build this resort ! thankyou 4 inspiring me ! & may the lord god bless u more!

    • profile image

      primie 9 months ago

      so proud of you and also I am inspied

      I want to build a mountain resort someday too in my hometown Philippines, we already have a land about 20 acres in the mountains with a river but just don't have money yet to start building

    • profile image

      anitabooks888 9 months ago

      Really is an amazing story.

    • profile image

      ana nulyrah 9 months ago

      Woah!! amazing, inspired!

    • profile image

      Nikita 11 months ago

      Inspiring story. Great job!

    • profile image

      lavesh 14 months ago

      hey dude i am inspire your great story

    • profile image

      favas 14 months ago

      nice bro

    • profile image

      Akshay 15 months ago

      hey brother i m very much inspired with the work you did.i m from india and even i m planning to open an resort in some great place with less investment.plz if possible provide your contact details so that i can conatct you and take some help to open ma resort and become a successful businessman....Really need help of people like you.

    • profile image

      bheemanaidu M D 15 months ago

      we have got property for resort and hotel in india for more info please mail bheemanaidu@rocketmail.com

    • profile image

      Real Jean 16 months ago

      Wow! Your story is really inspiring! Congrats and may God bless you more and more!

      Thank you for the thoughts and idea's about building a resort. :)

      I hope, I can build my own resort, too. :D I've been dreaming of owning a resort one day! Hear my prayer oh, GOD.

    • profile image

      Agnes Lakman 16 months ago

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. That was an inspirational story. I've been dreaming of owning a resort one day. Base on your story will work out something in the near future.

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 18 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      Thanks for sharing. I would love to see the plans of the holiday homes you build as well as how you did it. Perhaps you can write a hub about the construction and layout of the holiday homes.

    • profile image

      Toni 20 months ago

      Your story was inspirational :) I'm planning to build a small resort too using my fathers land. It's not very big but can pretty much build a good function hall for occasions and cozy small pools :) I hope you can help me with ideas on how to look for investors too. For now bank is my option :)

    • profile image

      fei 23 months ago

      wow! I am exactly 21 of age and at this moment I am planing and writing my ideas for my dream resort-farm. this is such an inspiring article! thank you guys and keep up the good work. :)

    • profile image

      Jen 2 years ago

      wow. your story is very inspiring. im 21 and building a resort is my dream and i happen to be from the philippines :)

    • profile image

      Rone gin 2 years ago

      Hello, im 26 sorry for I am not so good in english. . But your story is inspired me after reading your article, actually my husband is planning to buy a 50 perches of land,I didnt check the land yet but I am planning to have a resort in that land if possible. Honestly I dont have any idea about that business but I really love beach or pool so that's why im thinking to have that kind of business. If you dont mind can you give any suggestion about it? You can email me also to this addres roneginmugar.rgm@gmail.com.

      I would appreciate if you could send me a message there.

      Thank you!

      Best Regards,

      Rone gin

    • profile image

      aluana panmei 2 years ago

      hi! i have more then fifteen years experience in hotel and resort management, now i need and investor to start a new ventures of setting up resorts and restaurant in any parts of the world. The investor need not active in business running, i will handle the show you take your assured profit percentage.

      ALUANA

      rkluana@gmail.com

    • profile image

      Marie 2 years ago

      I would like to say thank you, its an encouragement. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Lewanda Abbas profile image

      Lewanda Abbas 2 years ago

      Please, please, please write an ebook, and publish it on Amazon Kindle. I want to know who designed the layout of your resort.

    • Maria Glensie profile image

      Glensie J D 2 years ago

      Oh my. This is so inspiring! I am 24 and I work 6-days a week! I should get my mind straight and plan on something better than what I am doing. Thanks for this! :)

    • profile image

      Julie 2 years ago

      Hi,

      I was browsing the internet and came upon your story, it was really crazy in a great way. My family owns a land in the Philippines and im thinking of making it into a beach. its along the shore and the mountain, i think it'll be a great diving spot. Thanks for the inspiration!!!

    • profile image

      Sailosi 2 years ago

      Hi,thanks for that beautiful story. I want to build a resort here in Fiji on a 10 acres land 20 minutes drive away from Lautoka city.The venue of the project viewing the Pacific Ocean and the island of Malevu a 0.3 ha island surrounded by white sandy beach.I already met the landowner and the meeting was successful. I need someone to invest on this project my email s7tuivuya @gmail.com

      Phone +6799549939

      Thanks

    • profile image

      Mike James 2 years ago

      Im looking to partner up with someone in regards to starting up a resort business. Whether they have experience or willing to go through the experience. I've been studying for a year on hospitality, how the business is ran and still learning. It has always been my vision to start up a resort business. I'm 24 years if age. I'm new, and have no business experience. I've worked at 5 different jobs. But Im looking to partner up with someone who really wants to launch off. We can learn together, grow together and grow the company we built. We need to form up a business plan once we find a location and good market. I'm in this for the long run. I believe anything is possible. Ive watched a homeless man go from homeless to self made millionaire. If we stick to it and never give up we can accomplish great things. I don't care about the millions of dollars being made.I care about making sure the business is a succees. Employees are taken care of and customers are beyond happy. I want to expand the resort business in the future and start building new resorts in different areas. Feel free to email me at theofficialmikejames@gmail.com

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago

      Im looking to partner up with someone in regards to starting up a resort business. Whether they have experience or willing to go through the experience. I've been studying for a year on hospitality, how the business is ran and still learning. It has always been my vision to start up a resort business. I'm 24 years if age. I'm new, and have no business experience. I've worked at 5 different jobs. But Im looking to partner up with someone who really wants to launch off. We can learn together, grow together and grow the company we built. We need to form up a business plan once we find a location and good market. I'm in this for the long run. I believe anything is possible. Ive watched a homeless man go from homeless to self made millionaire. If we stick to it and never give up we can accomplish great things. I don't care about the millions of dollars being made. I want to expand the resort business in the future and start building new resorts in different areasFeel free to email me at theofficialmikejames@gmail.com

      Thanks!

    • profile image

      Nahid Sikander 2 years ago

      Hi, I was searching for the making resort material on internet and find your website, I read your story and get motivated a lot. I am also working on Project Plan for a Resort in India. I need your guidance and motivation about the business.

    • profile image

      idaslu 2 years ago

      Your story is interesting , I'm from the Philippines living in America working so hard until year 200o bought this empty property in the Philippines then built buildings made into a small resort since I'm not there it is hard to make money may be you can be my partner in the business, you are welcome to come and see my place see you tube Morgana beach resort of Southern Leyte Philippines I have more lands overlooking pacific ocean if you are interesting. Yes indeed your story is inspiring.

    • profile image

      Calvin Nalei 2 years ago

      you guys are great! I was searching for ideas like yours and came across your story. I'm a decade older than you but have had that urge to build a small business such as yours. I come from a coastal area in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and and the idea is very fitting. My inspiration comes from growing up doing a lot of water sports and crazy outdoor stuff. Your story is inspiring.

    • profile image

      Sebastien 3 years ago

      I'm thinking of embarking on a similar venture, however I would like to know what are your direct costs to see what I'm up against.

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      Ajit 3 years ago

      hi I am from India. I wanted to ask you, how much was the swimming pool cost and one cottage cost to build.

    • profile image

      Ash rolfe 3 years ago

      How much was the construction cost? Also who did you use for it? My email is below if you can ping the reply to there. Cheers mate

      Ashley

      Ashley_rolfe@yahoo.co.uk

    • profile image

      manoj sharma 3 years ago

      Really gr8 u 2 r and wish you all the best.

      I hv land in Nepal in chitwan national park arround 90,000 sq ft.This land with jungle and Rapti river..need yr advise.

      Manoj

    • profile image

      Angeli 3 years ago

      Wow! I hope I can do this also.

    • profile image

      gugu nkabinde 3 years ago

      hi I am 34 years old and I also want to open a resort in south Africa with no money

    • profile image

      trimbak 3 years ago

      i want to meet a resort consultant

    • profile image

      Kevin F 3 years ago

      Great story man. Hope I can send you mine someday!

    • profile image

      Marz AKA 3 years ago

      I will one day too wish this into fruition.

    • profile image

      akhil rawat 3 years ago

      Thnx for inspiring me. really nice blog.

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      congrats guys!

    • profile image

      bvhphoto 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your story and enthusiasm. I'm curious about the terms of your contract with investors. How will you be paying them back? Did they pre-purchase the private villas? Or are you selling the villas to other people and then paying your investors from the sale/rental income? Thank you.

    • profile image

      Faizal 4 years ago

      Hi guys,ur story is really inspiration..i was many times look dwn by my frens and so on up until now still..i wanted to prove them wrong but end of the day,i believe there is nutin to prove but only to myself..i am at my end road left with a few hundreds dollars to survive every month..my dream is to open a resort in Philippines..i have found a big Lot there..i really need help for my business plan opening 3-4 stars resort facing the beach in philippines..i have already found a Lot by the beach..it is an upcoming island and i am desperately finding for an investor ready to invest/loan..it is only the matter of a convincing business plan proposal to the investor..please help or advise me at volcomvolt@hotmail.com asap..thank you..

      PS: it is an upcoming so called Boracay alike island and it is still underdeveloped,pristine and unspoiled but soon next year the island will b marketed,upgrade in infrastructure etc..hope you could assist me finding an investor..thank you..u were once like me stranded no where to go hoping someone could just help or assist u in ur dream..i wish and pray for it everyday..i hope my turn will come soon..God bless to u..btw i am from singapore..thank you for ur sharing..

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      Darry 4 years ago

      Thanx Lucas! Will start researching and dedicating to the fullest...i appreciate you taking the time to answer and your great advice...

      Have a great one...hopefully in the near future i´ll take a trip to the ranch...it looks awesome!

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      Lucas 4 years ago

      Darry, it is great to hear of your entrepreneurial spirit. You are right, you can not save enough up to build your dream on those wages. When we started the surf ranch, all we had was a $1000. The key is to find investors, and use other peoples money, but you need to make sure you pay them back as your reputation will be on the line. There investment has to be worth while, and you need to dedicate your life to your goal. Keep it up and you will succeed.

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      Darry 4 years ago

      First of all congrats to both of you! (u and ur brother)! I caught up wth your story browsing the web...and never could have imagined it...I´m from Nicaragua and live in Managua...lived in the US for 6 years and returned as a teen...have always wanted to start my own business since then...(now im 31 :/) but salaries here are too low to save up money and get started somehow (been working with US companies as Customer service rep...sales...even debt collector! hahahaha...now im working from home but manage to get around $800 a month)...i´ve always wanted to open business formats like in the US...things that are not common or not even established here...like u mentioned before...i really am interested in doing so because i wont receive any pension when i retire if i continue with these types of jobs but i cant let them go because they are well paid (compared to regular nica jobs) so i am going to NEED to have an income in the future...my main idea since way back is simple... a recreational place (pool tables...foosball...air hockey...mini golf...couple of small outdoor and indoor park for children...indoor soccer...basketball...a batting cage...and in the long run a swimming pool with slides, paintball and cool ideas similar ALL in one place) because there is no place like that...there are some places with only 2 or 3 of these things top...and close too early...

      i will always want to do this but have no clue where to start...any ideas would be welcome...

      Thanx in advance and good going and much success!

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      Corey and Micky 4 years ago

      Hey dude, happy B-day. Can't wait to come see your dreams come true.

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      Whatever 4 years ago

      Whatever dreams these guys had..the realty is their "surf ranch" is not surf oriented at all. Their policies are anti-surfing and make staying there a surfing a real pain in the ass.

      Read the reviews of this place elsewhere before you go And GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING before you make reservations.

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      Luis 4 years ago

      Thank you so much for sharing your story.

      I think I will visit your ranch pretty soon and hopefully I will meet you in person, and I would like to talk about business with you if possible.

      Great job with the website.

      Wish you the best man.

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      anita 4 years ago

      wonderful stories....

      i'm 25 now, and i ust start thinking to build a resort in my hometown in indonesia. i don't know how to start but i will. thanks for inspiration and wonderful experience you had. i'll catch you

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      Eyuriel 5 years ago

      I'm 15 now and I'm thinking of starting a resort in Florida and I'm working on the architect crap know but I'm going to get a 2mill dollar loan to work on the resort when I become 18 yrs old

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      kim 5 years ago

      i am so inspired by what you have done, im working in the businees world and i know its not me, i want to start my own ting,im also 21 and have no idea what it is i want to do yet but i definatly know this world aint cut out for me.#high hopes