Peter Slowe Interview – Running the World’s Largest Gap Year Organization
Could you describe what you do and how you earn your living Peter?
I run the company I founded, Projects Abroad. We are the world’s largest gap year and volunteering organization, sending around 5,000 young people a year from developed countries to work for between a week and six months in developing countries. We have offices in over 30 countries, 350 staff worldwide and a turnover of about $18,000,000.
You are currently living what I call the Internet Lifestyle, what does the Internet Lifestyle mean to you?
I’m lucky to have a job which enables me to travel to do interesting and worthwhile work in exciting countries. I’m not sure that my lifestyle is really an Internet Lifestyle. The Internet is an important working tool for me as for most of us nowadays, but that’s about it. We have an IT Department though and they’re developing new things all the time.
Ever year your business allows you to travel to dozens of countries around the world, what is it like working on the road?
I usually try and get through several good books when I’m travelling, especially at airports and on long journeys; you go mad if you try to work all the time. Also, you need to sleep a lot because otherwise the jet-lag gets to you. Of course, I do work on the road as well – I’m answering you from India after all, and nowadays in business we just expect to be able to communicate with everyone from everywhere – it’s the single big business change of the last two decades.
The Internet Lifestyle allows you to work any hours you like, what’s the biggest benefit of this for you?
I’m not sure about this. You still have to work basically when other people work, and I’m not one for working lots of evenings and weekends unless there’s something major happening.
The great thing about your business model is that you make money by helping people, what’s been the best result of the influence of your company in these gap year countries?
It’s desperately difficult to choose one thing. I suppose you’d have to generalize and say something about brining people and cultures together which I think is massively important in the 21st century. But I’ll also pick our wildlife reserve in the Amazon rainforest, our clinic in a South Indian village, and our housing project for villagers in rural Ghana.
What would you say is the biggest single reason for your success?
We respect our customers, the young people who pay us to work to help others and for their own self-development; they’re brilliant, exciting and interesting people, and we try to meet their requirements for work, try to fit in with the time they have available, and so on . And we respect our partners in the developing world. We really spend our time trying to match the skills, aims and interests of our volunteers to the needs of our partners. We care about what we do and we believe in its value.
You are known as the authority website in the Gap Year niche. What advice would you give a new webmasters to dominating their niche?
Think about your customers all the time. Empathise with them!
I understand that you have been offered a large amount of money for your company, how come you turned it down and retired early?
What am I going to do? Play golf all day? I think I can double or treble what we’re doing in the next few years.
What advice would you give to people just starting out with an online business?
Know your customers. Concentrate on work that you enjoy doing. Make sure you leave enough time to do non-work activity – sport, reading, drinking …
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what advice would you give yourself regarding making money online?
Remember that you’ll make mistakes which will cost time and money. It’s a racing certainty! So charge enough money to make sure you have enough reserves to carry on regardless.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
One fundamental one:
Always remember your mission. Believe!
And one other:
When you start to do well, don’t relax. Innovate!
Thanks very much for the interview, Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?
Sure. We are always doing a lot of new things. This year, we’re starting in Japan, Israel and Sweden for recruiting volunteers and in Tanzania and Fiji as destinations. We’ve opened a community centre in Sri Lanka, a mobile clinic in Mongolia, a human rights centre in Cape Town – and lots of other things. We keep innovating. This afternoon, we’re working on our new online magazine here in India..
My lifetime goal is to have done some things that have improved people’s lives and which I have enjoyed doing. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious but I’ve got enough money. If we make some profit in a good year, that’s great and we’ll re-invest most of it and keep a little back as a reserve. I like living comfortably but I have absolutely no ambition to own a Ferrari or to swathe my wife in diamonds – though she looks nice in one or two small diamonds …
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