While most Polish ten-year-old boys during the mid-90s were making the most of the country's golden age of comics - you'll just have to trust me on that - I was rapidly consuming computer magazines. It only took three short years of nagging before my parents caved and bought me my very first PC. I'd love to tell you my affair with computers began because I knew in my heart that technology would become the key to our future; that I was a young savant who knew he was going to live his life on the bleeding edge of innovation. Bullshit - it was fun. It was fun writing my own Trojan and infecting my cousin's computer to spy on him and getting away with it. It was fun up until the point my dad started worrying that too many late nights online were bad for my health and severed my internet cable with a kitchen knife. Success and failure.
If you're picturing a pale teenager slouched over a keyboard in a dimly lit room for hours on end, well, you'd be half right. Fortunately, my competitive nature - and technically speaking, my grandfather - drove me to swimming and karate lessons from an early age. Lessons led to competitions which, for a while, resulted in failure. But, if I hadn't lost, I wouldn't have developed the work ethic I needed to win. By the end of my time at high school, I was winning - a lot. I wasn't successful because I was naturally talented, I was successful because I wasn't, and that allowed me to learn.
When I wasn't failing so I could win at sports, I was busy struggling with my studies. I was fascinated with chemistry, but, sadly, fascination doesn't translate into success, as my miserable test scores would make painfully clear. If they weren't as low as they were - if they were "good enough" - I wouldn't have spent every weekend of my final high school semester driving 80 kilometers to visit my aunt, a chemistry teacher. With my parents' encouragement and my aunt's tuition, I sacrificed the chance to party with my friends for a 98% pass mark and a ticket to every university in the country. Ironically, I wouldn't have earned this opportunity if I'd succeeded in the first place. Now it was time to fail at bigger and brighter things - college.
Before I left; however, I was persuaded to close down my first business venture. In my final years of high school, I built up my own mobile top-up affiliate company. One of our domestic mobile carriers was offering commission for referrals, so I scrounged together a list of 10,000 potential customers and got to work, making money from top-ups and affiliate offers. In my parents' eyes, the internet wasn't something to be relied on for a career - and I couldn't begrudge them this worldview at the time. They didn't get the opportunity to attend college when they were my age, and they wanted the best for me, so felt I should be focusing entirely on my studies. They weren't wrong.
My first attempt (spoiler alert) at college took place at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where I'd enrolled in the sci-fi nerd's dream course: Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. Unfortunately, despite my new-found aptitude for chemistry, my maths and physics abilities were sorely lacking. If I could conquer chemistry by pushing forward, surely I could master those as well? The short answer was - no. Sure, I improved, but only so much. By my third semester, my lack of progress and a bad breakup had battered my mental health to the point I decided to drop out.
Clichéd quote time.
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." - Martin Luther King Jr.
That's the only one, I promise.
But it's my favorite for a reason, and at this point in my life, I was determined to keep crawling. With the support of my ever-patient parents and an encounter with Maxwell Maltz' seminal self-help book, Psycho-Cybernetics, I was able to get back on my feet for attempt number two. I enrolled in Krakow's AGH University's Chemical Technology program, determined to finish this time around - fortunately, I didn't. It was during this time that I met the love of my life - and now wife - Karolina, and if I'm honest, she describes what happened next more eloquently than I could in our blog (https://karolinapatryk.com/about-karolina-patryk/).
I'll give you the basics. This time, I made it to the finals of my last semester. As a little pre-exam treat, Karolina and I decided to book a weekend away at the Warsaw Marriott, where we promptly fell in love with the opulence of it all. It made me ask myself whether it was possible to live like that forever. I asked Karolina if she felt the same, although, in hindsight, I think she saw it as more of a hypothetical. A few days later and I found myself sitting in my university's exam hall, unable to shake the thought from my head. Five minutes went by before I picked up my pencil, and another five passed before I could bring myself to open the first page of my answer booklet. I looked around. Heads down. Noses to paper. Furious scribbling. And I stood up, blank paper in hand, and walked out the door, turning in the empty pages on my way. As I walked out of that building, I felt like a king. Then, the adrenaline wore off. I had as long as it took me to walk home to figure out how to break the news to Karolina. And my parents? Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, my parents put an end to their financial support, but I knew I could count on Karolina to help me make this work. Together, we came up with a plan to use my knowledge of the mobile phone market to begin dropshipping. I know, I know - every man and his dog has dabbled with dropshipping by now, but back then, in Poland, it was the height of innovation. And, what's more, I was successful. I honed my marketing skills and threw myself into every aspect of my business, ultimately outselling every retailer in the country. After two years, we finally had the stability to live out our dream of working from paradise and booked two one-way tickets to Thailand. And then I found myself $100,000 in the red.
The quality of the products I was importing from China took a nosedive, and I found myself handing out more money in refunds than I was making from sales. My lack of accounting expertise had meant I'd grossly overestimated our profits too. Flying to walking to crawling. We moved out of our apartment and back into Karolina's childhood bedroom at her parents' place, but we still had our tickets to paradise. We could crawl forward. Luckily, Karolina had the idea of starting a travel blog (https://karolinapatryk.com)- again, a relatively novel concept at the time - which would mean we didn't have to starve on the streets of Bangkok.
The truth is that I was always going to fail. It could have been three months after we started our business or five years down the line. If I hadn't failed, I would have been forever blind to the path of long-term success. I then used what I knew - and what I didn't - to benefit another dropshipping startup developing marketing strategies for everything from beauty products to car accessories to protein powders. Then, after two years, the blog took off. We were getting paid to travel.
We've spent the past seven years working our way around the globe, and when it comes to properties, we've seen them all. We've checked into hostels, poshtels, apart-hotels, guesthouses, homestays, hotels, and treehouses. We've been treated like royalty, and we've been treated like a bad smell. We've slept in places fit for a king, and places unfit for living creatures. Trust me; there's not always a correlation between the two. But I know a thing or two about accommodation.
The hospitality and digital marketing industries have more in common than you might think. To succeed, you need to not make people feel at home but deliver that they expect. Your clients and your audience need to trust you to take care of their needs, to maintain their privacy, to give them something fresh every time. You need to play to your strengths and focus on what makes you different from everybody else. These days, I turn my past failures into others' success.
I'll stand down when someone knows more than me, but I'm not afraid to admit when I know best. I've learned from enough mistakes so that you don't have to make them. And like our respective industries, I move forward, combining traditional and contemporary growth strategies to boost my clients' businesses all over the world.