Very good lessons in business, from unusual trades around the world

“The Adventure Capitalist: Camels, Carpets and Coffee: how face-to-face trade is the new economics” by Conor Woodman

Conor Woodman left his job at the City of London, sold his flat, put all of his belongings in a storage, and converted his £25,000 profit from selling his flat into $50,000 (the GBP/USD rate at the time). He then use the money to invest and trade while circum-navigating the world, with one objective: to find out whether we can still trade the old way: to buy something in one country, travel with it, and sell it in another country.

His trade routes and its commodities were quite unusual, which make the book interesting: Selling carpet in Morrocco, camel trading in Sudan, selling Zambian coffee in South Africa, selling South African chilli sauce in India, horse trading in Kyrgyzstan, buying jade in Kashgar, selling Taiwanese oolong tea in Japan, selling Mexican tequila in Brazil, and more.

This in not your typical round-the-world adventure book, however, this is not even a backpacking story. Instead, this is a trained economist doing real business trade with real professional businessmen in their respective fields, making long term business connections in the process between the buyers and the selers that he has helped to establish.

Indeed, to my (pleasant) surprise, the entire book has the feel of a business book. It’s the economics of pricing, the art of negotiation and salesmanship, the power of branding, the importance of contracts and licensing, the ancient business tricks by different cultures, how to extract the real market price from traders, the highs and lows of exporting and going through customs, and how to recover when your plan A doesn’t work out and you really need to get rid of the commodities before leaping to another quest.

But of course, since this is a round-the-world trip to mostly unusual places and meeting unusual people, the high-and-low tales of adventures were (thankfully) not lost: horse racing in Uzbekistan border, getting slammed by Mexican waves, stranded in a Sudanese desert, fishing race in Japan with a wager to marry the fisherman’s daughter if he lost, to name a few, and of course the thrills of negotiations and risk takings.

All in all, I began reading this book with the expectation of a light reading on amusing adventure tale. But instead, I got so much more from it: the adventure story, the local insights and the very good lessons in business. And just in case you were wondering, yes, this is the same Conor Woodman that would eventually host the brilliant National Geographic show “Scam City.”