Jacob Laukitis, founder of http://www.benomad.co/, talks to us about maintaining the remote work lifestyle through managing expectations, suitable career choices and seizing opportunities in online industries.
You can also download Jacob’s free ebook ’29 Proven Ways to Quit the 9-5 and Become a Digital Nomad’ at http://www.benomad.co/quit-9-5/
Dale: Joining me today is Jacob Laukitis. How are you, Jacob?
Jacob: I’m pretty good. Thank you very much.
Dale: We’re going to be talking about today how people sustain working remotely and how we can maintain this lifestyle in the long term.
Jacob is a fascinating case study. He is the founder of benomad.co, the author of 19 Ways to Quit the Nine-to-Five, and has a very successful YouTube channel where he documents his travels all over the world and has over 130,000 subscribers.
Dale: So let’s start then from the beginning with you then, Jacob. Talk about your journey with me and how you grew your online business?
Jacob: Yeah, so I guess my story is a little bit different for most people in the sense that I actually began my very first online business at a very young age. I established my first official company at the age of 15, and then ever since then I’ve just been running different online companies because I come from a really tiny country in Northern Europe where we have less than three million people. Doing business in the local market was never really an option, and because I was living in my country I figured the only way for me to do something that would really interest me would obviously be to do it online.
I had many, many different ventures. Obviously some of them failed, but some of them became quite successful. But at the age of 19 I was completely focused on my business. After graduating high school I didn’t even apply to any university, but at that point I wasn’t really that much into travelling and then I was invited to this really cool event in Malaysia where they gathered 500 young entrepreneurs from all around the world. And so I spent about a week in Malaysia, then a few days in Singapore, a few days in Indonesia, and that trip would literally open my eyes and I realized how big the world was and how interesting it was and everything else.
So then I decided to simply take my business remote. And for me it was very, very simple because at that point I was running a like social media marketing agency where we were basically running Facebook ads for our clients and obviously managing their Facebook fan pages and doing stuff like that. So I had a team of people working with those clients, and I never really needed to see my team face-to-face or my clients face to face. So for me it was a very, very natural and easy transition. I simply packed my bag, both a flight ticket and in a week I left and basically never stopped traveling it and that was about four years ago.
Dale: Fantastic. So that was kind of a little bit about your story then, Jacob, kind of where you are at now, kind of what kind of stuff you working on, do you still have the same business? I know like you kind of started then benomad.co and some other things, kind of teaching other people, but how was that progression been for you?
Jacob: Yes, so after the social media marketing agency I sold it about a year later I reckon, and then I was working with some other ventures. But my main source of income and basically the business that I’ve been focusing on for basically all of those years while I was a digital nomad is this online coupons company in the United States that’s called chameleonjohn.com, so basically it’s very similar to all the other online coupons companies out there like Coupons.com or RetailMeNot or companies like this. So what we do is we aggregate these discount codes and promo codes from thousands of different retailers in the US and some other countries, and then we give it away … we’ll give those codes away to people for free.
But obviously every time they use those codes to buy something with those retailers we get a small commission. So obviously because we have hundreds of thousands of customers a month it constitutes to a good revenue, and the business is completely bootstrapped, I have two partners and basically … Yeah, I mean, it definitely allows me to travel absolutely anywhere for as long as I like and like gives me total freedom both location wise and obviously financially. So that’s where I’m at right now.
And speaking of Be Nomad and my YouTube channel, I, because I was travelling so much like I think a lot of digital nomads they would either have a base somewhere and then travel just a few months a year or even if they travel all the time they would go to like one location for like three months and then another location for four or five months or something like this, whereas with my travels they’re generally really, really quick, I mean, it’s like a few weeks per country or like a week per country or like basically up to a month. I mean, it’s hard for me to spend more than a month per country.
So at some point I think after two years of travelling I sort of decided to start making some videos, because I really wanted to document my trips and at first I did it for fun good but then at some point some people started noticing it, and obviously I grew some sort of an audience. And then what I noticed is that absolutely everyone kept asking me this question like, “How can you sustain this sort of lifestyle? Like how can you travel so much and all that stuff?” And that is why eventually like just a few months ago I decided to start the website that you mentioned, benomad.co, where we basically want to interview digital nomads from all around the world so that other people who would like to have this sort of lifestyle they could read those interviews, get inspired, figure out how to do it, and then obviously do it themselves.
But this is like a non-profit business sort of, it’s not even a business yet, it’s like making the money and stuff. But it’s really my way to give back to the community if you like.
Dale: Yeah, no, that’s fascinating. Because, yeah, we kind of get it a lot with participants in Hacker Paradise, like their friends back home will message them and say like, “How are you doing this? Like, well, how are you being in these places?” And I think I will kind of touch on this a little bit later, but I think that a lot of it does come down to like you said finding something to do that gives you income or finding a job that does allow you to just not … you don’t have to physically be in a certain location, right? Like I said this is why it lends itself well to a lot of people in software engineering, and tech, and start-ups, and that kind of stuff where at the end of the day you’re just logged on to a laptop, and as long as you hit your deadlines and you kind of checking in at certain times. And I think that’s kind of where it starts, isn’t it? It’s the type of job you have and the type of thing that you do definitely is the starting point, and then from there you could build it.
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I feel like there’s hundreds or even thousands of different ways to make an income location independently, but it basically all comes down to whether you need to meet people face-to-face or no. Because if you don’t, I mean, you can do so many things, like you can literally be the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation and be basically a digital nomad as long as you do not need to meet people face-to-face, either your clients or partners or investors or whoever that is. So there’s definitely tons of opportunities especially right now.
Dale: Yeah, fantastic. And so that kind of brings us through … lends it to my next question, Jacob, and I know you have a lot of really kind of fascinating stories in Be Nomad, about people, other people who’ve done this. But I would love you to kind of share maybe one or two of them right now, and talk about kind of like what have you seen other people do or kind of what other jobs or what are the things that other people have done that have allowed them this type of lifestyle?
Jacob: Yes, so obviously like when people try to categorize the sort of ways to make money remotely as a digital nomad, it usually comes down … like usually the categories that you can get to are usually so either people are remote workers, so basically they simply have a full-time job that doesn’t require them to stay in one location, then there’s a lot of people obviously who are freelancers because you’re basically selling your time for money and you don’t need any money to start this sort of thing, as long as you find your first customer you can obviously start making money by simply selling your time. And then obviously the third category are sort of like entrepreneurs and obviously once again you can do absolutely anything you like, you can have a crypto currency business or even like a social network or an email platform or anything you like. But obviously being an entrepreneur requires a lot more, like obviously need some investment and there’s a lot more risk and uncertainty and all that stuff.
So speaking of the people that we have interviewed, most of them were … in fact, pretty much all of them we’re either freelancers or remote workers because once again I said I think it’s a lot easier to do it and there’s a lot less stress and it’s much faster to start. So speaking of the stuff that they generally do it really varies, but some of the stories that I found that was really fascinating was first of all I guess about … it’s a very good friend of mine, he’s also from Lithuania, so he’s an exceptionally good Facebook advertising specialist, but he has a very niche focus so what he does is he focuses on working with different Kickstarter campaigns.
So let’s say someone obviously creates a new sort of product and they want to run it through Kickstarter, in some of the time like the select few they might get so much attention from the media or so much viral traffic or whatever, that they might get a lot of sales by simply that because let’s say the product is so good and so new and all that stuff. But most of the time if you want to have a really successful campaign you will obviously have to have a marketing strategy and obviously spend some money and advertising and other stuff.
So he works with companies who want to have successful Kickstarter campaigns, and he himself has managed over five Kickstarter campaigns that have raised over a million dollars in a month. Some of them raised as much as five million or more.
Jacob: So I feel like his story is quite inspiring because even though he’s a freelancer, like he works alone, but he sort of has a business at the same time because he gets paid usually as a percentage from what he raises for those campaigns.
Jacob: So like for him like once again he can travel all the time. I just met him a few like a month ago in Indonesia, and then a few months ago we stayed together in Bangkok for about two weeks, and like he can go absolutely anywhere he likes. But at the same time he can make like hundreds of thousands of dollars a month if he gets some successful campaigns and he really performs very, very well for them. So yeah, so now he’s making a six-digit salary without basically any risks, without hiring any other people, by travelling the world about ten months a year or something like this.
Dale: I mean, which is fascinating, isn’t it? When you think about it, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize is that when they … They’ll kind of like read up about this nomad lifestyle that we put in kind of inverted commas and they’ll always come back to travel bloggers, right? There’s a handful of people out there who have successfully built blogs that thousands of people kind of read and want to learn about this lifestyle, and then they monetize them or whatever. But obviously the 99% are not going to do that, like for every kind of one successful blog out there, there are thousands that fail. But I think you’ve kind of really hit the nail on the head there it’s like … a lot of it is like looking at the market and seeing like what do people need right now, and that’s such an interesting thing.
Like, Kickstarter is huge right now, right? A lot of people want to use it to fund their projects, but as you said if you start a Kickstarter and you don’t have a big online following or you don’t have the right kind of marketing in place, yeah, your Kickstarter is not going to raise money. So all of a sudden then even just that buzzword Kickstarter, that’s something people are going to be searching for online – How do I make a successful Kickstarter? And then when you find someone who can say, “Well, actually you can get a successfully funded Kickstarter through using Facebook advertising.” All of a sudden then you’re answering or dealing with a pain point that is kind of very relevant to the industry and what’s going on right now.
And it’s something that I definitely experienced as well when I was a graphic designer probably back in like 2000, and we’re talking about 2010, 2011, when … do you remember those like big long infographics were really popular, and everyone wanted them?
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely.
Dale: And I for probably about two years of my life that was pretty much the bulk of my income, and I ended up working with some kind of huge clients, particularly in the corporate field. Just putting together these long kind of … They worked well on like mobile because they were thin and narrow, and that was literally all I was doing for like two years. And yeah, like I got paid very well for it, because it was a thing that was in demand, whereas now you look at it right now like no one wants that anymore. You look at like content now like it’s all video, right?
So if you’re someone right now thinking, “How do I break into this field?” If you look at what’s going on, you look at Facebook, you look at the popularity of YouTube, not even kind of the long winded videos, like there’s a huge market now for people who just want this kind of snapchat, in the moment style video content that’s a very popular. And the great thing is like most people as long as you have an iPhone and a little bit of practice and some of the apps, like you can do something like that. Like, I have a friend back home who has built a very successful business doing that type of video and content for people who don’t want to pay high-end for a big, well done video with all these cameras and angles. They just want something nice and quick that people scrolling through on a Facebook feed can pick up.
And I think that’s a big part of it, isn’t it? It’s like look around, like you look at the market right now – what are people needing? And every day that’s going to change, because we’re in such like an environment where every day there’s new technologies and new things coming at us, and, yeah, if you can just tap into that, particularly if it’s technology-base, like you’re kind of halfway there.
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. I think you touched on a very good point. So when I look at a business I have this sort of … I don’t know where I read the saying, but I really agree with it where they say that, “If you look at any business idea or once again a way to make money as a freelancer or anything like that, you need to do something that’s non-sexy sort of.”
Jacob: Because like when most people think about running a business, let’s say, like a normal non-online business a lot of them will want to start their own restaurant or their own coffee shop or something like that, their own clothing line or like a t-shirt shop or those sort of business, righ? But what happens is because those businesses are so popular and so sexy so to say, I mean, the competition is immense. There’s probably no business in the world that has a bigger failure ratio than a restaurant for example, because you think, “Oh, it’s so easy to get started.” Let’s say I’ve been cooking at a home for like many years, I’m pretty good at it, obviously I could open a restaurant, buy some tables and start doing business, right? And be like it’s simply so difficult.
And there’s so much more that comes to in our job, if you got a restaurant, you don’t just need to buy the tables and obviously buy the food and then cook the food, right? There’s so much more, like you need to get the customers in the door, you need to the phone and talk to them and make reservations and so many things. So yeah, I feel like there’s definitely a lot of opportunity for like very niche ideas, the sort of businesses that most people wouldn’t even think about.
And I think that’s where it’s easiest and fastest to obviously make money either passive income or just an income. And yeah, that’s definitely what Adamas has done, he basically does [unclear 15:52] which is kind of sexy but he does it for a very specific niche where there’s a lot of money he’s made and obviously he’s incredibly successful, so there’s many, many niches like this, and once you find one just go for it.
Dale: Yeah, fantastic. Well, kind of speaking of success stories, Jacob, I’m going to kind of move on now to your YouTube channel, because I mean you have like 136,000 subscribers I believe now, and some of your videos have hit the views in the millions, which is absolutely phenomenal. So I’d love to ask you this question, kind of how did you grow the YouTube channel to that size? And kind of then a leading on question from that is how does that kind of helped you in any way in terms of your businesses and your brands generally?
Jacob: Yeah, so once again, speaking of my YouTube channel I once again have quite a weird story I could say, because when I started I never thought of it as let’s say a way to make money or as a way to gain some sort of a brand or some sort of a business. I don’t know, I just really wanted to document my trips, because basically the story went like this, like the first year and a half or a bit more, almost two years of my travels, I had the sort of attitude that I think most, like a lot of people have, where I thought if I’m going to take any photos or videos I’m not going to be in the moment, right? I’m not going to enjoy the moment; I’ll be focused on taking that photo or some.
And so basically in those two years even though I visited like 30 countries or 25 countries, I don’t even know, I probably have like, I don’t know, 50 pictures on my phone or something like this, and all of them are like crappy photos, something like food or like some nature. Like, really stuff that you wouldn’t want to see. And then I thought, “Yeah, I mean, I was in the moment but like at the same time I cannot even remember where I went exactly or like how I looked or how those places looked.”
I mean, if let’s say some of my friends they were like, “Hey, Jacob. We know you’ve been to the Philippines and now we want to go to the Philippines, can you recommend me where to go?” Right? And like I wouldn’t … I could hardly even remember where I went or how it looked and why it was cool, all that stuff. And then I figured now that I’m still travelling, I mean, I spend so much time travelling, I should probably start documenting it, right?
So my very first videos were like super simple done with a GoPro, and then I just sort of started publishing them. And the one thing that I did was every time I would publish a video, let’s say it was like a motor biking video, right? So one of the hacks that I think helped me grow at first and obviously gained some audience for my very first videos was that I would Google something related to that topic, so let’s say it was like a motor biking in Indonesian, right? So I would Google something related and then I would find some blogs or news websites or some like this, that cover something related to that, either a big website that had an article about motor biking in Indonesia, or some specific blog about motor biking in Asia or something like this.
And then once I would publish the video I would simply send them some emails and say, “Hey, I started a content. I just published a video about me doing this and that, and I thought you might want to take a look, right?” And then obviously I would send them a link. And then some of my actually first videos they also got good noticed, so they went somewhere in the tens of thousands of views, some of them. And then that obviously gave me some sort of a boost and it sort of took from there. But once again, speaking of actually growing the YouTube channel I think the biggest boost any YouTube wherever it gets is obviously when they get a viral video, right?
Jacob: Because you might have let’s say, I don’t know, 10,000 subscribers which will take you a very long time to get, and then all of your videos could get like 5,000 views, 4,000 views, which is pretty good, it’s like 40, 50% ratio from your subscribers. But it’s not at all that much, and then all of a sudden one day you wake up and one of your videos got featured in YouTube or featured in some specific countries on YouTube and you got like five million views and like 100,000 subscribers, which obviously it takes you to the very, very next level.
Jacob: So for me that happened when I published this video from North Korea where I went about two years ago, and once again, like my idea there was that I was really fascinated by the country, and just a disclaimer I do not think it’s good, it’s a good thing to travel to North Korea. But obviously at that point I didn’t really think a lot about it because I come from a country that used to be a part of the Soviet Union, so I really wanted to see some sort of a similar system to the one where my parents were born and raised in and obviously my grandparents were born and raised in and stuff. So I just thought the only way for me to really see that is obviously go to North Korea, and I just went.
But, yeah, so what’s exciting to me is that even though I’ve watched many documentaries and videos about North Korea I felt like all of them were actually focused on the political aspect, because they were all about either like the history or the leaders or all the really bad things that happen there. I know the war camps and labour camps, and so many things.
So what I want to do I just sort of wanted to focus on what we saw there as tourists, and obviously make it … I made it very, very clear that we’re not allowed to explore anything on our own, we didn’t have our passports, and all that stuff. But I simply showed what we were shown, and obviously I think most of the people who watch the video they realized that a lot of the stuff wasn’t actually staged or really unnatural or stuff like that.
But I think because the video was quite different most of the other videos about North Korea, it got noticed, it became sort of viral with like millions of views. Right now it has I think 7.5 million views in about two years or a year and a half or something. And I mean, it’s still getting traction. So that’s when like my channel really started growing, and then I had some other videos that also did really well with hundreds of thousand views. Another video right now has probably four million or so.
But once again, what happens is if you do manage to get a viral video the problem then is that most of your subscribers will come from that video, they might not be interested in you as a person or like in my case as a traveller, they might just be interested in the topic you covered. So once again, in my case it could be that a lot of those subscribers that came they might actually be interested in North Korea more so than travelling or obviously the person, myself, right? So even though you might say, “Oh, it’s like a huge channel, a lot of subscribers and stuff like that.” But I mean, obviously the engagement rates are nowhere near what people would get if none of their videos ever went viral and they’d simply grew organically to that audience. So once again, there’s like up sides and downsides in growing your channels so fast, but I mean that’s probably … that’s my channel’s story I guess.
Dale: Yeah, no, I’ve always found it fascinating because like you said there are so many channels out there that just kind of, and this is applicable to anything, isn’t it? Pages and communities or whatever, but so kind of to sum up then obviously I kind of when I was looking at your channel I was like, “Yeah, I can understand why this has grown,” because like you said you’ve initially the motor biking around different countries that is such a niche thing, and I can imagine how by reaching out to communities who are very interested in that kind of stuff you could get some good traction on those videos, and then obviously going to North Korea you think, “Oh, that’s such a topical place right now and something that everyone is so fascinated by.” That is like you said massively going to lend itself well to some form of viral content. So yeah, no, that makes complete sense actually, Jacob.
So in terms then of … Let’s see, we’ve talked a little bit about kind of like the things that you work on and other people, and we discussed some ideas for kind of like ways to work remotely. So let’s kind of like break it down a little bit more now, and come through to kind of things to consider then. So say like you’re a first-time nomad or maybe like say you’re working in a job and you’re thinking, “You know what? Like, I really want to try this lifestyle.” And I would kind of go through some things to think about, and the first thing obviously is, and I know we’ve touched upon this a little earlier, but we’re going a bit more in depth now, essentially how do I make money?
Dale: And obviously there are a number of ways to do this, if you’re not going to go down the traditional kind of being employed by someone to which we will come to shortly, but kind of from what I’ve seen at Hacker Paradise is that, and we spoke about this just now, is having a unique or niche skill set or idea definitely helps, but even more so to the point like right now in the software world everyone is talking about React, and React Native, and that seems to be like the hot kind of trendy kind of web language to learn right now as say if you are a coder. And thinking about if say you’re sitting there right now and you’re thinking like, “Yeah, how do I get some form of remote gig or how do I get to a point where I can work on something from a location that doesn’t require me to just kind of like be in an office.”
Learning something like that would be massively helpful, because you think like you learn React, all of a sudden there’s lots of different companies who are going or different things that need to be built, and they’re going, “Yeah, we want a React developer.” And you think, “Yeah, I can do that thing.” So I think like going out of your way to like learning like a hot kind of, I don’t want to say trendy, I kind of hate that word, but definitely something that’s in the sphere right now. Like, as I said my friend with the social videos, designing video is one thing but designing it particularly for Facebook, that is a niche, isn’t it? And it’s a lot of thing, it’s something that people are really intrigued by. And kind of like looking at what the market’s need.
But in terms of like kind of making money then, kind of anything else, Jacob, you think that people can kind of consider before they kind of put steps in place and start looking at avenues.
Jacob: Yeah, so once again, I think as you’ve mentioned probably the main obstacle that most people face when it comes to them becoming a digital nomad and I think the only obstacle they probably face 99% of the time is obviously they do not really know how to make money remotely, right?
Jacob: So like every time I talk about this subject I really want to sort of focus on that and like convince people that it’s actually not as difficult as you might imagine, or it’s like it’s very similar to making money location dependently. So I think a lot of people as I said like the transition it is actually relatively easy. Let’s say you have a job, and like I remember me when I was running my businesses, but like I used to have an office, and what I would notice after a while is that even though I’m sitting there with my team let’s say, a few team members that are just like a few meters away from me in exactly the same room, even if I have a question for them generally I wouldn’t stand up from my desk and walk up to them and ask them because I don’t want to disturb them, like they might be coding or they might be really focused in something and I don’t want to disturb them.
So even though I’m just a few meters away and I can like see their faces I would still send them a Skype message, right? So after a while I just sort of figured, I mean, what difference does it have, like why do we need to be in the same place and wake up at the same time in the same location? Maybe we’d be a lot more happy and fulfilled working somewhere else and still sending those Skype messages to one another. And it would be as efficient as this stuff, you know?
So every time I meet with someone who actually has a pretty good full time job doing something like this where don’t really need their team face to face, but obviously their clients face to face. I simply say that they should probably approach their boss and ask them to start working from home for let’s say a few days a week, right? And then if that works they can say, “Okay, so I’ll just work five days a week from home,” right? If that works then they could say, “Hey, maybe I’ll just go to some other city.” And eventually after all of these tests of like months of practice or whatever, you can obviously start travelling and going to different countries at the same time.
And like I think why it really makes a lot of sense for the employer and obviously the employee is that obviously the employee is a lot more basically happier because they can go anywhere they like and do whatever they like. And in a lot of the cases those employees they even say, “Hey, if you let me do this I can take some sort of a cut from my salary let’s say like 10 or 15% or even 20%.” Because if I spend my time somewhere in Southeast Asia or South America for the discounted salary that I get right now I can afford so much more stuff. So once again, everyone’s happy, the employer can save some money, and obviously I can afford a lot more stuff, so it’s definitely a win-win.
And as I said there’s like so many different ways to do it, so I think once again if you do have a job that’s probably the easiest transition. If you are a freelancer and just want to start it right now without having any prior experience, I would definitely recommend not obviously quitting your job and just focus in with that, and usually it’s best to just start something on the side and work like an hour per day or two hours per day or whatever amount of time you have. And then once you start making some money and you see that you can actually take it to the next level if focus full time then obviously quit everything and focus just on that.
And I feel like for a lot of the people the amount of money that they would need to travel pretty much anywhere they wish would like I think a thousand Euros could be a good amount. Obviously, you probably … you wouldn’t be staying at 5-star hotels or something like this, but I feel like with a thousand Euros you can travel to most places and make yourself comfortable, and obviously if you want you can always increase your salary and stuff.
Jacob: So I don’t know if I actually answered the question, because I guess my answer was a bit vague, but …
Dale: No, not at all, Jacob. No, I think you kind of you’re really on point there, because I think a lot of people think that they just literally have to quit their life, stop everything, jump on a plane and leave. And obviously that’s not the way to do it right, like you said it’s a process, it takes time. A lot of people who come to Hacker Paradise do have a full time job, but they’ve asked the right questions, they’ve approached their boss, and they’ve said, “Hey, can I try this for a while? Can I kind of maybe do four weeks with this program in say South America or whatever country?” And it’s like, “Let’s try it, see how it goes.”
And it’s a trust thing, isn’t it? And I think that … I think a lot of people don’t realize that they do have more power than they first think. If you’ve been for a company for a while and you have a very good relationship with your boss, I’m not saying just go up to your boss and say, “Hey, I’m leaving,” whatever, but I think that it’s definitely asking the question is the first thing in saying like, “Look, I’d been thinking about this. This is something I would like to do. Let’s try it for two weeks. Let’s see how it works with my team.”
Obviously that there are certain pain points to working remotely that have to be kind of dealt with and you get used to, but we’ve seen it time and time again with Hacker Paradise a lot of people don’t even … Don’t have freelance gigs or they’re not their own boss, but they just have … they work for a company or a team that is kind of very accommodating of their will to have this lifestyle.
And again, it’s not even about you don’t have to do this continuously, some people do it on/off. Like, there’s one of the developers who comes with us and he does six months at home in South America and then he travels to Europe for six months. So he has a nice balance where he’s not just travelling all the time. He follows the seasons essentially, he likes being at home and he likes having his home comforts, but then for six months of the year he likes to travel and has the capacity to do that. So I think that … And I think this is what a lot of these kind of travel blogs kind of don’t kind of highlight is you don’t just have to stop everything, quit everything, start a new life. This is something that can be kind of grown and slowly kind of manifested over time where you start a little bit then you get more, then you get more.
And you find your level then, like if you want to travel extensively and go to different countries, great. But at the same time if you just want to do three months on, three months off or a few weeks on, a few weeks off. That’s also working remotely. You don’t just have to be traveling around the world all the time, there’s different ways to do it, isn’t it? And there’s different kind of levels people are comfortable with.
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what I keep saying as well, I mean, being a digital nomad is not about travelling, and I think that’s a misconception we should actually change. It’s definitely not about travelling. It’s about having the freedom to go where you want for as long as you want.
Jacob: So once again, I mean, you can be a digital nomad and live in exactly the same city that you would live in with your office or there’d be like you just work from coffee shops or whatever, but at the same time you can travel all the time or let’s say you fall in love with horse riding so maybe you can move to Mongolia and then ride horses every day, but at the same time connect to the Wi-Fi and do your job with the company in New York, or whatever else.
So I think one of the coolest things about this sort of lifestyle is that everyone comes up with their own sort of routine or they realize what sort of life they want for themselves, what kind of travels they wanted for themselves or if they wanted them at all. And then they pursue those, and like no one will tell them what to do because it’s what works for them, and everyone’s happy with that. So I think being a digital nomad is not about travelling, but it’s all about freedom to basically go where you want to go and live where you want to live. So I think that’s what’s so cool.
Dale: Yeah, no, I completely agree, Jacob. And kind of coming on to that point then, I know you have your book 19 Ways to Quit the Nine-to-Five and Travel the World which is a fascinating read, it’s really insightful stuff in there. But what I want to ask you, Jacob, is say someone is kind of like ready to start out but just kind of seems a little nervous, kind of wants some help and some advice, do you know of or would you kind of recommend any resources that you could kind of talk about very quickly to these people? Obviously know Nomad List is probably one of the most famous ones, whether you have a big online community, people travelling all over the worlds that kind of talk about good places to work in each location and rank it on safety and quality of Wi-Fi and all those kinds of things. So Nomad List is always a good starting point. But any kind of other resources you can think of, Jacob, you think, “Yeah, I think you should check that out before you start thinking about this type of lifestyle.”
Jacob: Absolutely. So once again, speaking of my own journey of becoming a nomad it was once again very, very simple, in the sense that I didn’t even know that these sort of people existed or this sort of community existed. I think I only heard the word digital nomad the very first time like a year after my travels, right? So for me I didn’t think too much and I didn’t read too much, I just pack my bag, took my computer and work from anywhere I could, either co-working spaces or like coffee shops or hostels or literally whatever else.
Now, so even right now I don’t really use that many resources or communities myself, I’ve been a member of Nomad List for a while, some time ago. But I’m sure it’s a good resource. But once again, when it comes to people inquiring me about all this stuff, so what I did is that I decided to write that book, which is not really a book, it’s more like a PDF file where I’ve listed the 19 ways that I think are cool, and obviously I described them, and then I link to some cool resources like some articles about that specific way to make money or some Udemy courses that people could take that are really cheap and obviously very, very helpful.
But what I try to do there is that I have an email list of a few thousand people there, and after they download the book then I send them my own story with all the key details that I can obviously remember that I think will help them. And then I send them dozens of emails with some really useful information, and obviously every day I’ve receive quite a few replies from people all around the world. And then I personally read all those emails, and then reply to all those emails. So like for my part once again what I try to do is I try to talk to them and if they have any questions they have I will either direct them somewhere or obviously answer their question myself.
And like, I spend a lot of time doing this, and I really hope it will help some people become nomads. So yeah, I really hope … Once again, I hope that will be is a good resource for someone who’s … a complete wannabe basically, they don’t know where to start in obviously how to make money. So I do my bid there. And speaking of other resources I think Nomad List will probably be cool if you want some more specific information about the places to travel or the places to stay at or the places to work at, but I mean apart from that I don’t really use much more myself.
Dale: Yeah, no, that’s great. And I think that’s kind of it at the end of the day, there are a lot of sites. I feel like another one that’s popular is co-worker, that kind of lists a lot of co-working spaces around the world and gives you kind of ideas for places that you could work. But I think a lot of it is tapping into the communities, isn’t it? And not being afraid to like reach out to … Because I think that most people that lead this kind of lifestyle … Again, I don’t want to make a generalization here but I think most people that travel and work and kind of visit different countries are generally very kind of liberal minded, they’re very kind of open to ideas and open to having these discussions. So I think that if you follow someone or you find someone who you just kind of look it up online and look, like you said Nomad List is always a good one to start, but ask these people these types of questions like, “Hey, where can I work from in Shanghai? Or hey, can anyone give me a good place to stay while I’m in this certain city.”
People, and we see it with the Hacker Paradise alumni community, people are very willing to give this information out for free. There’s not like this kind of secret club going on where it’s like, oh, we’re the nomads and no one else is allowed in. A lot of this stuff is people will willing to talk about, so I think not being afraid to ask those questions as well I think is really important. And like just visit these online communities and just ask the questions and nine out of ten times people will give you a very good answer.
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, once again, I think it’s kind of like with me, after living this sort of lifestyle for years now I think it’s like the best thing ever. So I feel like a lot of us feel exactly the same way, where like if you go to a really good movie, I mean, and then after the movie you will obviously start talking to all the friends that you have and all the family members you have, and you might seem a bit spammy because like you’ll just keep talking about it until they tell you to shut up or obviously go watch the movie themselves, and obviously they will probably like it as well.
So I think it’s the same with people who have discovered this sort of lifestyle, is that like it seems to be so good you kind of cannot stop talking about it and obviously you want to inspire more people to do it, and obviously as you said you want to openly share your experiences and your tips and your advice. So I feel like if there are people who want to do this as well, there will definitely be a lot of others who want to help or share their experience, and it’s definitely very easy. I mean, as long as you want to take that first step I mean the rest will come for sure.
Dale: Fantastic. Well, let’s talk a little bit about your story then, Jacob. I’ve got some kind of … I think just the places you’ve been and stuff you did is fascinating and I’d love to kind of just chat very quickly with you about some of that. So kind of what is your craziest travel story? What’s kind of like one of the craziest, weirdest things that’s happened to you while you’ve been leading this kind of lifestyle?
Jacob: Yeah, so there are many like many, many things that happen. It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint like one craziest story, but out of the events that I’ve just had like over the past few months I think some really interesting things happened during my trip in India where I spent about one month right now. Because in the beginning of the trip I decided to motorbike the world’s highest road, I don’t know if you notice, but it’s called Khardung La. It’s like 5,670 meters above sea level or something like this, which is higher than like most mountains all around the world. I mean, it’s even higher than the Everest base camp, so like it’s crazy, it’s like really, really high.
And so what happened there is that I was motor biking with two friends of mine, and what we wanted to do is we wanted to cross the path, the road from one side to the other and then spend some time on the other side in this really beautiful valley with a lot of Buddhist temples and stuff like that. And then we wanted to come back. Now when we were crossing it, it was all okay, it was obviously very cold and hard to breathe and stuff like that, but like the road was okay.
However, two days later when we were crossing it back to go to where we started, where we rented the bikes and everything, there was a huge snowstorm. And so apparently the roads were blocked, but because we didn’t have more time, we just sort of bypassed it and then sort of ran away from the guards, who just sort of let us go.
Jacob: So there was only us on the mountain like the whole day, and then some military trucks. But so the road was insane, it took us I think … It took us two and a half hours to get the last 1.5 kilometres, because we’re basically pushing the bikes every single step because there was ice and snow and like sometimes the rocks would fall on the road, like it was crazy. And at some point one of my friends, he was an Indian guy, and because we had to push the bike so much and we only had two bikes with three people, right? So he was sitting on the back of my bike and he had to do most of the pushing because I had to control the bike for it not to fall down, which did many times, but still.
So after pushing the bike a few times, like at some point he was running to push the other bike, and then suddenly he stopped and like he started gasping for air. And there’s like, “Ugh, ugh, ugh,” you know like … it seemed like he was suffocating or something, and that’s all of a sudden he just dropped his knees and then like his face was on the ground. He was like scratching the snow, and it was crazy. And then me and my other friend, we just ran up to him and we’re like, “Damn, what’s happening? What’s happening? Please stay alive.” And he still couldn’t breathe normally, so then what we did is I ran to the … I took some snow and then I tried to melt it as best as I could in my hands. And then my other friend he took some medicine that we had against … How do you call it? It’s like altitude … Against the altitude motion.
So then I melted the snow, then we gave him the medicine, then he drank from my hands, the water, and then after, I don’t know, I guess 30 seconds he started feeling much better. But it was really weird, because it’s almost I thought he’s going to die, because obviously it’s like very, very cold, very, very high up as I said like almost 6,000 kilometres above sea level. And obviously it’s very, very hard to breathe, we were running, pushing the bikes, and we were all sweaty, and it was terrible.
But once again, I think like I remember I was there like I couldn’t feel my fingers because they were almost frozen. And I mean, my legs were shaking and everything, but I mean, even then, even though it was incredibly difficult I figured that … I mean, I remember thinking that this is one of the reasons I travel. You know what I mean? These sort of experiences, these sort of memories are like what will stay with you forever, and obviously the feeling of being cold will disappear. So that was really cool.
And then I travelled a bit more around India, and then eventually I made my way to Mumbai where they have the largest slums in all of Asia. And because I have some friends who were born and raised in the slums, but then got into some online businesses and now they are obviously live somewhere else, they introduced me to some of their childhood friends who still live there. And so what happened is I actually got hosted by like a family who are still staying in the slums, and they allowed me to be with them for like five days or something.
Dale: Oh, that’s incredible.
Jacob: So I was actually living in the slums for five days without running water, toilet, electricity, and obviously AC or stuff like that. And that was also one of the greatest experiences, because every day I would roam around the slums, go to different places, obviously meet people, and it was incredible. It was … I don’t know, mind opening. Really nice.
Dale: Yeah, I mean, that’s what’s amazing about kind of when you do these trips in different countries and you go to developing countries and you go to places where like that they don’t have the infrastructure or they don’t have the resources that we’re kind of used to coming from kind of the developed world. And it massively gives you perspective, doesn’t it? I remember one of my first trips with Hacker Paradise being in Jeju in South Korea, and it was just a complete kind of culture shock for me to be in a place where there’s basically no English spoken, you have to find a way to communicate, the food was very different to what I was used to, like the language is not even the alphabet I’m used to. It’s a completely different way of communicating, having to like deal with that.
And just kind of taking yourself out of the bubble and experiencing something like that. I remember leaving Jeju going on to Shanghai then to take the second leg of the Hacker Paradise trip and being on a China Southern plane and being at the back and like no one spoke English in this plane, everyone was like speaking Chinese or Korean. And I remember thinking like for the first time my life like, “I’m a white male and I feel like a minority right now.” And I think that when you actually feel that and when you go through that it really does make you appreciate what you have back home and kind of how lucky you are to have the upbringing you’ve had and the opportunities you’ve had.
And it does, it gives you a completely different perspective. And I know we’re kind of talking about travel here at a higher level, but I encourage everyone that kind of does eventually … if you do eventually go on and visit different places and working remotely all over the world is I would highly encourage you do something like that, you go to a place that kind of does just put a little fear into your heart, because I think it’s just such a life-changing experience, isn’t it? And it’s something that you’ll take away forever.
Because the locations are the locations, but it’s the moments and the things that happen to you when you’re there and the people you meet, that’s what kind of really makes this lifestyle so fascinating and so interesting.
Jacob: Yeah, I completely agree. And in a lot of the cases those places or those experiences they really surprised me, like for example most people would think living in the slums is very terrible and very dirty and unbearable, and all that stuff. But I find it to be really enjoyable, like I really enjoyed my time there actually. And even though we spend five days there which is probably a lot more than most foreigners would ever dare to spend there, but I felt like I could even stay longer and the people were nice and it definitely wasn’t as bad as we are led to believe by the media and by the stories we’ve been hearing ever since we were children.
And like I really want to see everything with my own eyes and obviously make my own judgments of the places, because I mean, yeah, it’s like very, very often it surprises me how different the place was actually was compared to what I imagined it to be, and so I really think it makes sense to go there yourself and obviously experience it yourself and then make up your own mind about it. So yeah, I agree with you.
Dale: In terms of travelling, Jacob, can you name one thing that you just could not travel without? What’s the one thing that you’re like, “I have to have that with me wherever I would go.”
Jacob: You mean like a physical thing?
Dale: Yeah, it can be whatever, but kind of one thing that you have to travel with.
Jacob: Well, I guess I would have to say my computer of course because, once again, I mean, the fact that I’m able to make money online is the only reason, the only reason I can travel 12 months a year, right? So once again I feel like all the clothes or shoes or whatever else that I have or backpacks or anything, power banks, I don’t know. You can always buy it on the road as long as you can make money online, and like it would never be possible without a computer and without a Wi-Fi connection. So once again, like this tiny thing that doesn’t cost a lot of money is the only way I’m able to afford literally everything that I do with my lifestyle. So I think that’s the only thing that really matters during my travels, because as I said like everything else I can buy anywhere I go.
Like, if I lose my camera somewhere I can just buy a new camera, if I lose my phone I can buy a new phone. But like, if I lose my job or my income streams I cannot buy anything and I cannot continue travelling. So yeah, I think for me that’s definitely the most important thing.
Dale: And my last question to you, Jacob, and this kind of regards Hacker Paradise a little bit more, and I know that you’ve done Hacker Paradise in the past and you’re kind of aware of the companies that do these kind of like remote work trips and that kind of stuff. What are your thoughts on them, Jacob? For someone who’s kind of starting out do you think it’s like a good way to travel or try out this lifestyle? And kind of what value do you feel they add to a travelling experience opposed to say doing it on your own?
Jacob: Absolutely. So I did do Hacker Paradise, I think it was about two years ago in Tokyo for a few weeks, because I had met Casey Rosengren, one of the one of the co-founders of Hacker Paradise some time before and we’ve made very good friends. And obviously, I really wanted to try out the program. And I was very, very satisfied with it. And I think there are probably two types of people whom the programs really, really worked very well. So most stuff I said is probably for people who are just starting out and they just want to test this sort of lifestyle. And I think the reason is those programs are very, very good for them is because there’s like very little risk because obviously this program says, “Okay, we’ll go here and you’ll be with a group of people all the time, so you’ll never feel lonely, and you will not have to stress about booking tickets and booking hotels and searching for co-working space and all those stuff.”
So basically, I mean, you’ll be able to focus on your work or you’ll make new friends and you’ll be able to also focus on just having fun and exploring the surroundings and stuff like that. So like you will basically be getting the best part of the travel experience, and you will be skipping the worst part and the most stressful part that you would have to do if you did two years off, right?
And then another thing is that as I said I travel quite actively, but what I recently started doing only this year is I notice that if you once again travel very actively at some point you get very, very exhausted so to say because there’s so many things happening. And even though you can manage a business but it’s sort of difficult to grow it because like you can’t really focus. I mean, like if you just work like after, I don’t know, motor biking around some island and then you sit down with your computer and answer some emails, you might be able to manage your employees, right?
Jacob: But if you really want to grow the business it’s a bit more difficult, or once again like start a new project or something like this. So what I began doing I began sort of choosing some place where I wanted to stay for a bit longer, let’s see like a month where I sort of tried to create myself some sort of a routine where let’s say in the morning I do some sports, and then I do some work, and then I go to my favourite place for food, and then I continue working, and then in evening I catch up with my friends or something like this.
And even though I really like these sort of experiences but what I realize is that after a while if you go to like a new place, a new city and you don’t really travel, it gets a little bit lonely. So in those times you’re … like the first week is usually quite good, like after that you would really want to be part of some sort of a community or like be together with a group of people. So what I realized is that like next time I will take this sort of break from active travelling, I will definitely look into Hacker Paradise and what you guys are doing and maybe come join you somewhere, because like if you travel and there’s so many things that you’re doing it’s okay, it’s never boring, but like if you want to focus a bit more on work then I think being with a community like Hacker Paradise is definitely very, very useful. Yeah, I mean, now that I know it, now that I know how lonely it is to spend like a month or a month and a half alone in like a big city that you don’t know, yeah, I definitely feel like these programs are a very good fit.
Dale: Yeah, like you said it’s eliminating pain points, isn’t it? And having people around you so that when you arrive …
Dale: Because it does, it takes a good … If you land on a city on your own, and again, I would kind of highlight this to anyone who’s thinking about again trying out this type of lifestyle, if you’re a person that is very independent and kind of like spend a lot of time on your own, absolutely wonderful. But we find that that’s what a lot of people say to us is like, “I like the fact that I can just land in the city. I know everything’s taken care of. My housing is good to go. There’s a place for me to work,” which again is a mightily important thing if you’re going to work remotely is finding a solid internet connection, it’s the Holy Grail, and it’s something that because we partner with a co-worker space we know we can get solid confident Wi-Fi, which like you said is needed to operate smoothly day to day.
And knowing that there’s people around as well, particularly when you go to a place like Jeju or South America where there’s a lot of Spanish spoken and there’s not too much English, it’s definitely easier to approach that with a group of people who were kind of in a similar position to you.
Jacob: Yeah, I completely agree with you. And as I said it takes away the pain points, so you get to enjoy the travelling experience and meeting new like-minded people, but at the same time you don’t stress about stuff that’s generally quite boring, but you would have to do if you were to go there alone. So for sure.
Dale: Fantastic. Well, Jacob, it’s been a pleasure, mate, it really has. It’s been fascinating to hear more about your stories. So just for people who are kind of listening to this, and I know we’ve covered a lot today in this talk, but we’ll just kind of quickly sum up really, like you said the title of this is how to work remotely sustainably. And I think the things that we’ve kind of really highlighted here are one thing is firstly you don’t have to just kind of stop everything and quit and leave, there’s definitely ways to do this progressively. I think that’s definitely a good way to approach it.
We start with asking your boss, asking your team, “Is this something that you would allow me to do, because I don’t want to quit my job, I like my job, I enjoy what I do. But, like as I said it’s my main income source, but I would like to try this type of lifestyle in different place.” Looking then at people who are looking for ways to make money online as we spoke about finding a niche is incredibly important, particularly now in the tech and design and online scene, there’s kind of ample opportunities. We spoke about our friends who do Facebook marketing for Kickstarter, video specifically for social.
I remember reading a good article about a guy on Upwork who was making kind of … an Indian making triple figures, and what he said was he niche down specifically as a Squarespace developer, and at the time Squarespace was really big, one of those kind of like do-it-yourself web platforms, and to the point when he ranked as like the number one Squarespace developer then on Upwork.
Dale: And so people were looking for him specifically, and because he was on Upwork, one of these kind of like freelance jobs websites, he didn’t have to meet the client face-to-face which again is another point you touched on is as long as you don’t have to physically be present with people, something like this is very doable. And then finally then as well I think about thinking about passive income, so it’s not necessarily you need to quit your job and start something, it’s great to start something on the side that could kind of slowly become your main income. Udemy courses are very popular, we see in Hacker Paradise a lot of people will have online courses or online things that people can buy which they don’t bring in substantial income, that you couldn’t live off it, but they at least give you that extra thousand, $2,000 a month or whatever it is to do a Hacker Paradise or to pay for the flights or anything like that.
Jacob: Yeah, and speaking of Udemy, sorry, like it really depends, because I know some people are actually making quite a lot of money, even like six figures a year or so. Obviously, there might be exceptions to the rule, but like once again if you do it really right and you have some sort of marketing channels to like push them out and get those sales, I mean, it is possible to make even very decent amount of money just by doing those courses. But yeah, it’s definitely a way to make income passively basically. And as you said that’s why it’s so bubbling with many people.
Dale: Yeah, and kind of like you said then thinking about not worrying about quitting everything and starting over. It’s a progressive thing, isn’t it?
Dale: And you don’t have to lead the lifestyle like to the I have to be in a different country every month and I have to travel for four years nonstop, as you said that nomading is not about travelling, it’s a lifestyle. And you said someone working from a coffee shop at the other side of New York that’s still technically nomadic, that’s still having this type of lifestyle.
Jacob: Yeah, absolutely.
Dale: And thinking about the comfort level or the level that you would be comfortable with before you take on something like this. And as we said as well Hacker Paradise and remote work programs are definitely a good way and a good kind of stepping stone for people who want to at least give it a go and then from there decide if they want to kind of do more of it in the future.
Jacob: Yes, completely agree.
Dale: Well, Jacob, thank you so much for your time, fellow. It’s been so much fun to talk to you. Best of luck with everything. As we alluded to before your benomad.co, you can also download Jacob’s book 19 Ways to Quit the Nine-to-Five and Travel the World from that website. As I said it’s a fascinating resource, there’s loads of really cool stuff in there that can kind of get you on your way and help you kind of get some ideas in place and get some infrastructure to kind of start doing this type of thing yourself. And, yeah, thank you, Jacob. What’s next for you, Jacob?
Jacob: So right now I am already in the Middle East because I’ve never really traveled in this region, so I want to spend like two or three months traveling all around these countries where obviously the culture is fascinating, very different for what I’m used to. And it’s exciting to be here, it’s very, very nice. I would like to go to at least five or six different countries and see what life is like there. And we’ll see what happens.
Yeah, but thank you very, very much for having me. It’s great to talk to you and I really hope it’s been helpful to some people. And I mean, once again, the more people becoming digital nomads I think the more beautiful with the world we’ll live in because, I mean, I don’t know, like I think it’s such a beautiful lifestyle, you have so much freedom to do what you want to do, and nothing really binds you to anything, so you just do whatever you like, go wherever you want, and that it’s beautiful. So yeah, if you’re thinking about this sort of lifestyle, well, definitely go for it and you’ll see for yourself.
Dale: Wonderful. Well, Jacob, take it easy my friend. I’m sure we’ll speak to you soon. Thanks very much.
Jacob: Yeah, thank you very much, Dale. See you around.
Dale: Bye, Jacob.