SIOUX CITY | In nearly 30 years, a Sioux City native never sunk his teeth into one of the old-fashioned franks from George’s Hot Dog Shop. Some locals might call it blasphemous. Or just plain unbelievable.
Lloyd Lee couldn’t believe it himself. He had traveled the world eating pad Thai in Thailand, pig rectum and octopus in Korea and Nasi Goreng in Indonesia, following native customs by using his hands to scoop up the spiced fried rice and shredded meat.
He went to open air markets where fish flopped around on the table until their heads were chopped off and, against better judgment, he bit into a durian, a spiky foul-smelling fruit found all over southeast Asia.
Yet somehow, he spent part of his childhood living on Sioux City’s west side without stepping into the locally-famed hot dog shop.
Not too long ago, he finally went in to tell the owners about Qneo, a mobile app he developed with business partner Travis Hemmingson. It’s like a hyper-local version of Groupon, which offers a limited number of discount deals in Sioux City.
Pursuing this entrepreneurial endeavor, the budget backpacker has wandered far off the path he thought he was supposed to follow.
At one time, Lee had dreams of getting a big, flashy job in corporate finance that would take him overseas. After spending a semester in Italy and afterwards backpacking through Europe, he fell head over heels in love with travel, especially meeting new people and hearing their stories, which he gets to do now when he meets with small business owners to tell them about his coupon app.
“I knew I didn’t want to go into finance,” he said. “I just kind of made it through because I thought that I had to get my degree, get a job, work, then retire and die. I thought that was how life went.”
Instead of taking a traditional trajectory, hurtling toward death, he found a way to get paid to live abroad and went to teach English to elementary school kids in Korea.
Upon his arrival in Tongyeong, Lee thought he knew how to travel since he’d been all over Europe, but his survival skills put to the test as he stepped out onto the streets lined with signs and lettering in indecipherable symbols. He had no phone, no directions back to his apartment written down and no grasp of the Korean language.
Eventually, he found his way around. During down time, he taught himself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator by watching YouTube videos. That led to learning coding and web development.
After three years in Korea, his whims took him deep sea diving around the Philippines, Thailand, China, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. He couchsurfed for about six months. Not knowing what he was going to eat or where he was going to sleep was thrilling.
He settled in East Timor, one of the youngest countries in the world, north of Australia, ringed by coral reefs. He worked at a scuba shop and went diving in the pristine waters three times a day.
Eventually, reality sunk in. He had student loans to pay. He made enough money to buy a ticket back to the United States by way of England, where he went to visit his British girlfriend one more time.
Lee returned to Sioux City in November 2014, entering a new kind on unknown. Unemployment.
He ended up in the marketing department of a tech company. That didn’t last long. The structured corporate setting didn’t agree with his freewheeling nature. So, when he was laid off two months ago, he didn’t seek another 9-5. Instead, he’s fully committed to Qneo, a side project he started last year.
Travel prepared him to take the leap. For Lee, being an entrepreneur is just as unpredictably exciting as gallivanting across the globe.
He pinched every penny to be able to buy plane tickets, prioritizing experiences over material possessions. Now, running a cash-strapped startup, his go-to outfit is a Qneo T-shirt; he’s 30 and lives with roommates and never goes out to eat.
“It’s hard work for no pay,” he said. “It’s a gamble. It’s a risk. But I’ve always taken gambles and risks, calculated, I think, but maybe it’s a little bit crazy.”
After spending several years chasing the highs of new experiences abroad, by maintaining a traveler’s mindset, he’s discovered a different side of his hometown that he never knew.