I spoke with Sondre Rasch from Safetywing on their podcast Building Remotely about the future of remote work and how society changes as the millions who just became remote workers this year (due to COVID-19) realize they're now location independent and start moving around.
You can listen to it here: https://buildingremotely.com/episode/8
Full disclosure: Safetywing are an advertiser of Nomad List and Remote OK, but this podcast wasn't part of that deal; it's just interesting for me to talk about this stuff. I'm preparing a big presentation and blog post about the topic in this episode too, so it's nice to already talk about it.
Welcome to building remotely, the podcast where we talk with founders and leaders, of remote companies. Together with them we aim to uncover hidden insights that you can use when building startup remotely I'm your host, Sondre, the founder and CEO of SafetyWing, a Y-Combinator backed startup, building a global social safety net. Let's begin.
Pieter (Intro) (00:23):
Everything we do that is following our lizard brain is not going to make us happy.
In terms of nomadism, and remote work, being able to move to remote work hubs where you can find a community of people: that's going to make you happy. Not the infinity pool, not the nice food and not the beaches. But the people.
In this episode, I'm joined by Peter Levels the founder of Nomad List and Remote OK. And at least for me, one of the founders of the digital nomad remote work world, as it is today. If you're listening to this podcast, you probably already know who he is. And if not, then it's about time. Together with Pieter today, I will explore what is happening with remote work, what it means for the digital nomad scene in the future. And to answer the question are all remote workers, future nomads, welcome to the podcast Peter
Thanks for having me Sondre
1 billion digital nomads by 2035
So I first heard you speak, uh, as I was contemplating quitting my job and becoming a nomad at the DNX conference, uh, in 2015. And, uh, your talk was quite informative because you predicted a future where we had 1 billion digital nomads by 2035, by the way, I figure the economist later quoted and we have used in our pitching. Um, uh, and that was caused. you said by cheap air, travel, more freelancers, remote workers, sharing economy, better internet and other things. So looking back it's five years later now, uh, you know, we've had a lot of developments since then. Would you update your prediction? Is that where we're still heading?
I think so. Yeah, I think so. And I think it was five years ago. And then the last five years, I mean, I would say this year, a lot of, a lot of things changed regarding remote work. Uh, obviously, um, but in the last five years we've seen remote work grow like rapidly. Um, it's become the standard for startups in San Francisco, uh, just in Silicon Valley. Uh, it's, it's become, uh, like most, most, I think 70% of startup teams last year, in Silicon Valley where, uh, part or mostly remote when it started those. So it became kind of the standards. Um, and now with this year with Corona and stuff, uh, which is terrible year for everybody, I think, but remote work has risen fast and it's become really common with normal companies at regular companies because they're forced to work remotely.
And, you know, it's, it's not the best way to, uh, get in touch with remote work. I think because it's kind of forced upon people rights. Uh, but the reality is that they are working remotely. Now they're working from home and, uh, five years ago into the presentation about 1 billion digital nomads. Um, my definition of digital nomad was a remote working person who would work, um, away from their home country, at least part of the year. So it wasn't like the traditional definition of digital nomads, which is like, you know, bouncing around from city to city every week. And I don't know any anybody that actually does that. And I've said it multiple times, like people go crazy if you, if you do that. Um, but the realistic, realistic definition of digital would be somebody living, uh, part part of the year, working remotely from another country than in their home country.
And I think that's what we're seeing now happening, um, in America does not zoom-towns. I read the New York times as a new word zoom towns, and which means that, um, people working remotely, uh, are moving to smaller towns, booking Airbnbs there, um, a lot of students, kids in, in America, maybe Europe tutor, booking Airbnbs and living together because their entire course is not online and they're doing it remotely. So I would say, you know, I got a lot of flack for that prediction of 1 billion because it's kind of, you know, it's extreme, but I would say now a lot of people are like, ah, maybe, maybe he was pretty close because it's, it's only 2020. We still have 15 years to go. Uh, I think we can, we can hit one billion for sure.
The premise of Nomad List
Yeah. So, uh, yeah, you indicated there, well, tell me a little bit more about that, you know, we've um, about that part with the cities and the, and the Zoom town. So we had, uh, uh, you know, there is this almost premise for nomad list I find, which is that you, you go to nomad list and the only reason you would look at cities, you know, with these parameters is that you have the freedom to choose kind of where to live. Right. That's kind of the premise for the site. So, um, did you when did you, when did that occur to you that people would in the future choose cities? You know, almost like products.
It didn't really occur to me. It was more of a solving my own problem, because back then I was nomading, um, a lot more rapidly than now, but this was like 2014. And I was in Chiang Mai. I was in Bangkok. I was in Vietnam, like those typical South East Asian places. And I was like, ah, interesting, like these places kind of work like these places are not the typical place you see on quality of life rankings, like quality of life is like, you know, Scandinavia, uh, you know, Sweden, Denmark, uh, Vienna, those kinds of places. But, um, these kind of places, South East Asia were more, uh, kind of fun. If you're young, you're fun to live fun to travel around. Uh, and you could work on your laptop a little bit. Uh, but I was thinking, okay, so if we set these criteria, there are different from like typical quality of life rankings, but like criteria specifically for remote workers, which is like, you know, the typical ones, like internet speeds, uh, safety, very important.
You're sitting there with your laptop, right. Um, what else, weather? Right. It's kind of nice to be in a mild or warm place. Most people like that weather. Um, and then I started collecting all the data and trying to figure out like, is there other places that are like this? And that's been the premise of numberless for the last few years, trying to figure out those places. And, um, and I think it's, it's been, it's done a pretty okay job. Um, I think recently, recently I've added more like social data, like, cause you, you want to be with people like other remote workers in the same place. So the ranking is based more now, also on, is there actually other nomads is that actually people there that you can, uh, make friends with or start, you know, find, find a partner or something, or at least find some community around you because that's very important with, uh, being, being away from home.
Remote vs. nomad
So you also run in Remote OK, which I believe is one, uh, certainly one of the world's biggest remote work job sites. So you certainly see connection between remote work and, and, uh, nomadism. Uh, what do you think, how do you define the connection?
Yes. So the connection is interesting cause I I've been through that myself. Like, um, my previous business was like a YouTube channel for music. This was like 2014. And, uh, back then I was in Amsterdam. I just graduated a master's degree and uh, my friends would work in offices and I would work from home and those fun for awhile, but then it got kind of boring. So I would work from cafes and, you know, I'd worked from the public library and Amsterdam, like a nice library, but it's still kind of boring. And then I thought, okay, um, that I can work from different cities. So I've worked from different places. I've worked, you know, in my parents' city. Uh, I would visit friends around the country. And then you think like, okay, maybe you can do this in different countries. So I went to San Francisco, um, I lived there for awhile, uh, actually finishing my graduate paper, my thesis, and also working on my YouTube channel a little bit on my laptop.
So I kind of proved that worked for me. Um, and then I was like, okay. So I can pretty much go anywhere with this laptop and do my work. And as long as I make money, um, I can keep doing guts. Uh, so the transition, uh, of being a work from home or remote worker, which is a lot of people, not like during this 2020 year, the first time ever, because they went from office to work from home and then to like, okay, this is fun, but actually we can also do it in a different place in different city or in a different country. Uh, I think that's the transition and I'm not saying that the a hundred percent of work from home remote workers will, you know, go through that transition or have to, you know, it doesn't, you don't need to, but I think let's say 10% or something, or 5% of those people will, um, do that. And that's interesting cause that's like, you know, if you have the whole country working remotely and you have a labor population in America of, I don't know, 150 million or 200 million, that would mean something like 20 million, uh, people that, you know, potentially would work from different countries or different cities. And, um, I think that's the whole transition part.
Regular companies going remote
Yeah. And we're certainly seeing that in San Francisco, I think more than so I I'm mostly in San Francisco and I think, uh, something like 70%, uh, of my friends have left in the last six months. So it's an Exodus and, uh, rents are down 31%. I mean, that's kind of extreme with San Francisco in the high rents and all of that. But, uh, and some of them are just moving. They're relocating many are going on these kind of van road trips, very common. Uh, some are moving to, you know, Tulun is a big one. Uh, Austin, Denver, uh, and many are going nomadic. So you definitely see that on the individual level. I think it might be higher even than five to 10%, but of course San Francisco is, uh, it's not, uh, an average, uh, population segment. Yeah, absolutely. When you think about companies, so many companies are now going remote, um, how do you think, uh, the evolution will go for, for companies who have switched to work from home and then maybe to remote first now during COVID?
Yeah. Well, I think that the big problem that companies have now is that, and this is so commonly described by other people like David Heinemeier Hansson, um, and Matt Mullenweg from WordPress. Uh, that's, it's very difficult to have companies that are half remotes where like some people from the team work remotely and some people stay in the office. Um, and culturally that doesn't work because the people that work remotely they're left out from the social gatherings and you cannot really replicate that online. So pretty much the, the, the kinda the, the opinion is you need to be either a physical office company, or you need to be a fully remote company, uh, in terms of company culture, uh, where I see it happening now with these regular companies, like I'm from Holland. So I see a lot of, a lot of Dutch companies do it now. Um, they're moving, you know, if there's no Corona logged on, they will move slightly back to also working in the office again, and you will have these split in these teams. And I think that will be a really big problem, uh, in the future because these companies are, like I said, they're going to, they're going to have cultural problems between the people working onsite and working remotely. Yeah.
How society and culture changes to remote
Um, no, we definitely see that, uh, well, well in SafetyWing, we've been remote since day one and my previous company was also a fully remote by the way. It's so interesting to see how with the previous company at the beginning, we had to keep it secret from investors almost that we were remote. In 2016. And, uh, and now it's, it's, uh, I would say it's almost a plus. Um,
It's really interesting how our culture changes and you know, like me and other people on Twitter and social media and stuff, and, and we've been blogs and stuff we've been writing about it for a long time. Um, you know, I was not the first adult there's way more people before me, there were trying to push this remote works off and Noman stuff. And like the amount of flack we got and the amount of pushback we got was so huge, you know, even five years ago, it was just absolutely. Um, it was like a fringe, like a fringe subculture. And, but I remember that that every fringe subculture has potential to become mainstream because, um, usually you're an early adopter to something that will absolutely not be accepted in the beginning by, by mainstream society. Even if you're in discussions with your friends and debates, they're like, no, it isn't that it's remote work will never work because this is, and they'll find arguments.
And then once it switches, they're like, they're not talking about it anymore. They are actually also working remotely and the discussion isn't even there anymore. You know what I mean? So, so, so it's so weird. You can always find arguments against things when that's not your culture, but then when the culture changes, you're like, okay, I'll do it too. So it's not really about the debate or the arguments. It's about the predominant culture in a society or in a work, um, which defines what people do. And you know, of course it's herd mentality, which is completely normal, but it's so interesting to observe that over the last, uh, six years. And I don't know, I'm kind of grateful that I've been, um, that I've been in that scene and that, that I like the normal or mode works. I've seen it evolve and I've been a little bit of a part of it, of pushing it and that it actually worked out, or at least we're now in the middle of it, but it's actually kind of working out now. It's become, like you said, your, your investor's like, wow, that's cool that you work remotely. Does your whole company is remote. That's completely changed. Yeah,
And, uh, I mean, it is somewhat sad, but it's curious like what you said that when you get pushback, which you're really getting pushback for, is people just sensing that this isn't mainstream and they don't, therefore they don't like it because they like popular things, I suppose, but I guess that's a bit unconscious as well. Uh, what is, um, how, how do you personally feel comfortable, most comfortable on the French or like your, your stuff is, you know, going mainstream rapidly. Uh, are you happy about that or do you wish you would stay on the fringe?
Yeah, it's a funny question. I was talking to a friend yesterday about how, uh, the it's fun to be in this fringe subculture or a scene where you, you know, it's like underground. Like I come from electronic music, so like underground music. Um, the whole point is that it's not mainstream. The whole point is that you're like with people in this nation, like, for example, I was in Drum'n'Bass music, which is this niche, and it's not really commercial. You can't really make money with it. It's supposed to be underground. And you know, when there's a big pop music drawn base hits, you're like, eh, you know, that's commercial all this to mainstream. So the whole point of a fringe scene is kind of that it's cool to be in this subculture. That's different. And it's like, it's always a, it's a counterculture. Counterculture is a word like it's counter against the dominant culture of the mainstream.
And, and then of course, you know, you're building a business, so of course you want to, and, and it's, it's your thing. It's a thing. It's a thing for good, like remote work. So you want to push it and you do push it and you make a business around it. You make of business around it, like I did. Um, and then suddenly is mainstream. And then you're like, wow, okay. Like this was part of my identity. And now it's not now it's kind of like normal and now you need to find something else too. That's like, you know, on the ground or difference, but that's the whole point, right? The support, like the support of culture that changes. And if you want it and startups to like startups are, this is so integral to startups, I think, uh, you know, to, to, from founding a startup where you start something, because there's something missing from missing from the market, but also maybe missing from the culture.
And you push that. And by pushing that you actually create a markets, right. And then you have a product to sell. Um, so it's integral, but yeah, it's, I missed, uh, I missed a little bit the romantic feelings just six years ago or something, but it's, it's temporary. It's always temporary. It's like early nineties, um, hip hop or something, you know, in New York and East coast, those are like moments that I will never forget. And, and now I think, you know, we're still in the middle of it. It's still growing, but, uh, now it's, it's up to me also to find new stuff that's like fringe or different, uh, to build a business around or a culture around, you know? And I don't know if you're thinking a lot about that recently. Of course. Yeah, for sure.
Wow. Yeah, no. Oh yeah. I was, uh, also, you know, I, I definitely reflect on that, uh, myself, I, I liked the romantic phase, but of course you want your business to succeed and, and therefore it's kind of good, but anyway,
I expect if it would stay romantic, if it would say romantic that your business would not succeed, it would probably be stable because it wouldn't grow.
And in a way, then it wasn't, wouldn't be true what I thought either. Right. And exactly. So it's this real.
And so it would die out anyway, like a scene either becomes mainstream or dies out. Yeah. It's just a reality. Yeah.
Bootstrapping vs. raising venture capital
Uh, so I, wasn't going to ask this, but I'm just curious personally, because I, you know, had this, you know, dilemma and starting a startup and, you know, bootstrapping or ongoing venture funding. And I opted for venture funding, not for any kind of great reason in a sense like, I, I, uh, I w I saw the benefits of bootstrapping a lot, like you have, and we wanted to build a company that's very different that people wouldn't understand. I thought for a long time, I still kind of think so. And that there are, you know, big downsides of venture funding. And I kind of thinking that, but that, that could be overcome. I still think Y Combinator works like that works for, for bootstrapping, but the rest of venture funding, you know, is certainly mixed bag. So how do you think about that idea? Like you certainly could do you know? I imagine so a venture funding worth is bootstrapping, what's your, uh, short take there?
Yeah. Um, well, like from people that know me, like, I'm, I'm obviously a, bootstrapper, I've never raised funding. Um, I've never borrowed you know, loans from the bank or something. It's all been revenue, putting it back into the business, or mostly, yeah. Putting it back into buying coffee and food for myself. So I can code more and not even hiring a lot of, like, I, I don't have, uh, some contracts, but it's very like temporary and stuff. So, uh, there's a bootstrapping vs funding. I don't know, like yesterday I tweeted about it as well. Um, if you look at the exits the exit odds of selling your, your startup, um, the percentages, you know, the different, like different how you see the datasets, but I think it's something like, you know, zero to 10%. Um, and if you think that, uh, that a startup takes about, you know, let's say five years to do, then you'd need to do about 50 50 now wait five years.
Yeah. You need to do it, but you need to be doing startups for 50 years to get one exit. Um, but then you'd have a big exit. You have to have millions and stuff. Uh, so, so, so the odds are pretty low for individual founders, but then when you have, uh, VC's themselves, most VCs, they have a negative return compared to, um, the stock markets as a diverse, you know, if you buy and stock market ETF, if the S and P 500, and the return will be higher than buying regular VC investing, regular VC funds. So that's kind of negative two, then you have the venture capitalists. They make money on management fees, which is, I don't know, somewhere like 3% a year or 5% a year on the whole funds. So if you have a hundred million dollar fund, you get $5 million a year, maybe in management fees, you know, that's a really good business for a venture capitalist.
Um, and then you have the giant investors, like the pension funds that invest, uh, 10% of their money into these high risk, uh, venture capital portfolios. And they needed because they need part of their portfolio to be high risk, because 90% is in, you know, general stock and bonds and low risk stuff, because you don't want to, you know, lose people's retirement money. And these are like trillion dollar funds that, you know, especially in Europe, there's a lot of retirement funds. Um, so there's money needs to be invested and they need to be exposed to high risk. So the point is, 10% of this money is exposed to this venture capital stuff. And that's good for them cause it's increases, uh, the interest tthe return they have to have but for individual founders because the odds are so low that you exit, um, I'd say unless you have some, you know, really unfair advantage, I think, yeah, I wouldn't do it personally.
I would say start, start small, uh, bootstrap. And even if you bootstrap and you make money, you could re like I could raise VC money now with my revenue, for example, like proven like, look, this is a real business. Even then I could also reinvest the revenue and grow the revenue myself. And because it's bootstrapped, you're so tapped into the markets as a signal where anything you do to your startup or websites, um, you immediately see if it works or not because you make money on their knots. So it's very, it's very direct, direct connection to the markets. And we're Frencventureh capital. You have all this money or your bank accounts and you, you know, you can spend it on all these things. Um, and there's not a lot of incentive, especially in the beginning to, you know, build revenue or profits and that makes it a more vague connection to the market. So you can, so pretty much do a lot of BS, um, as a startup. And I think that's, that's a disadvantage.
That's so interesting that you would base it on something. So, you know, statistically rigorous as that. So like listening to you say that argument, that statistical argument, uh, you know, for, for bootstrapping, I, you know, I'm thinking, I think I'm thinking kind of whatever he found thinking, which is, well, I'm not a random I'm, I'm not sort of, I'm not, uh, like a random person out of the,
Yeah. You're not a statistic. Yeah. Everybody, everybody thinks they're different. Yeah. Yeah. It's really funny. Yeah.
I guess you kind of have to as well, like you have to believe in yourself too, because otherwise you're not going to do it. Um, yeah,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I was, I was still going to a, to a website broker about this cause they buy our websites and his most common thing he has is that you'll talk to a company founder, like usually a bootstrap founder and the booster founder is so in touch with their own business, just like I am. And you kind of feel like, wow, this is like a special project. This is like different. But generally he pays three to four to five times the annual revenue that's the valuation and the founders. They think that their thing is special and it is special for them, but it's, you know, to the market, it's just a, just a normal business. And you know, it's not special,
Well, SafetyWing is special for me.
Yeah, exactly. Now Nomad List is very special to me. Like I wouldn't sell it. It's it's my baby. And um, yeah, it's, it's pretty funny. This is bias.
Why people go nomad or relocate
So back to Nomadism And so, uh, we have this sort of general connection, you know, of remote work, opening up for nomad. Uh, what do you think? Uh, so now I just wanted to talk a little bit about why go nomad, what are the key reasons? Why, why do people want to do it?
Yeah, a really good question. Um, from what I can see around me, uh, people, um, yeah, it's, it's hard question. It's it's, for me, it was the, the, the possibility that it was possible. Like, uh, my life was fine and Amsterdam, I was like, I was pretty happy. I was, I was bored because I already started working. And, uh, but generally, like I had a big friend group, we do a lot of stuff. Uh, I was making music. It was, it was fun. Um, but I thought, okay. Like I want to see the world. I want to see different cultures. I want to travel. I want to meet new people. I want to, um, I want to live life, um, and a little bit more of a different way, a more, um, I wouldn't say better, but I would say at different, like, you want to, you want to have adventures and stuff.
And I felt that, you know, kind of like fight club, like the nine to five office and doing, got this routine, like I would go crazy from that. And, um, I see the benefit of it. I see the benefit of routine now, even more, but I dunno, it's, it's my brain wasn't really, doesn't really work with that. And my brain is a little bit, I guess, creative and hyper and it wants to, it wants to do different stuff. And especially when you're, you know, in your twenties, for sure, like then, you know, of course you want to see the world, for sure. So I think that's one of the reasons that was possible and that you, you know, you want to have an exciting life. Um, I think other reasons are that where people are born, like for me, I was born in Holland.
Then I moved to Amsterdam. Uh, Netherlands is a great place to live. A lot of people don't live in great places, you know, a lot of people live in, uh, yeah, just places that are not so great. And they could potentially have better lives elsewhere. Like with people they like, for example, um, the social communities in the place where you're born might not fit precisely with the social communities that you're supposed to be with. So for example, if you are, if your hobby is, uh, I dunno, like Annie Mae, like I don't like, I'm able to love people like anime cartoons in Japan. Uh, maybe they should live or live for a while in Japan. Um, if you like, uh, Thai food, maybe you should go live in Thailand and do a lot of cooking classes and stuff. Uh, if you like jujitsu fighting, maybe you should go live in Brazil and be coached by all these Brazilian jujitsu masters. Right. So there's a lot of things, a lot of reasons purposes to, to move to places, um, for your hobby or for, for your, your goals in life or for changing the community of people around you to fit more, uh, with the people you you want. And yeah, I think that's one of the main reasons. Yeah,
That's interesting. So if that's true, that means that the stages of the future will be much more sort of differentiated by interest probably even more than today because of the self-reinforcing. Yeah.
Um, I think so. And you see it in America now a lot with zoom towns that love the ski snowboard people, they moved to ski resorts, which becomes zoom towns. Uh, you know, like I think leaked out, licked our snow as well in the mountains. Uh, Denver, Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, of course. Go skiing, snowboarding, um, you know, surfers like I'm in the surf, Donna Portugal, uh, the surfers, they, they live to, you know, to move, to fly to places where there's specific wave specific types of surfing, uh, with the surf community. So we've already had a lot of these examples happening before even laptops and nomads and stuff. People were already doing it. Um, this purpose-based travel or moving and yeah,
A curious thing that, you know, sometimes I miss-click on nomad list because you can have overall score and then you can like click a button. And then you, you view from the bottom of the list instead of the top. Yeah. So it's, it's fun to view that, you know, when you think about quality of life, how much it costs, there's like some cities that are the worst.
Yeah. And I think it's a war zone, so yeah. But, but I have to check that, but yeah, there's lot of places that are not good to live and, um, and it it's really sucks if you're born in specific places that are not great to live. And, uh, and that's a global thing. Like migration has been part of human history, you know, always, uh, in different ways. And this is also part of migration.
Education when people go remote
Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, so in a way it's this accelerated migration that might also happen now, you know, in the coming years. Right. Uh, as people kind of resorting to new cities. I see. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Um, all right. So, uh, and then, um, uh, what, what about some of those edge cases just to briefly mention that? So, so if you kind of take them one by one, you, the demographic of digital nomads, digital nomads in retirement, what about families and schooling? Take those too.
Yeah. Um, well I think the kids thing is a really big thing now, because you, you see that the people that were, it's kind of like the second wave of nomadism is 2014, 2013, the first wave was like 2007 with Tim Ferris. Uh, I feel like the second wave is kind of ending now, and now we're in the third wave after Corona. Uh, a lot of people are, you know, late twenties or even late thirties and stuff. Uh, they they're having kids where they want the kids, for example. Uh, it's a great question. I think, um, I think a way education is not ready yet. And this is like a, kind of like a request for startup. Where ideally what you'd have, if you have kids and you, you live in like a few different places maybe, or you work remotely.
Ideally what you'd have is a centralized online coursework, for example, done by Harvard or by a company that's certified, and you have proper education for kids, for teenagers. And then, uh, you'd have practical, you know, physical, actual classes, like local classes. And maybe you could do this as with affiliates, uh, schools that would, uh, use that coursework and then do the practical class where also the kids have like the social environment of other meaning our kids and stuff. Um, and then you have, you have something that might work, uh, so an online part and an offline part.
Uh huh. So this is one of the key unsolved things kind of, are there any other unsolved things you want to highlight? Any other requests for start-ups.
Well, health care, but I mean, your team is working on it really, really fast. Um, uh, I think, um, I think the kids thing of the education thing is, is, is a big thing. And, um, that needs to be solved because education quality differs so wildly from country to country and place to place, especially in places which are, like I said, like the high quality of living, like let's say you move to Vienna, you will have great education. Let's say you move to a place that's really good for living for remote workers. It might not have that. Um, there's the international schools usually, and they're probably good, but it's not really, it's also the people that, that, that go remote and go nomad. They're always a little bit, a little bit different, a little bit alternative. So they'd might want like Montessori education, for example, like I was raised Montessori , those kinds of education for them.
So yeah, I'd say that's also from, um, I can't figure out other answer at this moment, but there is loads, like, there's imagine the entire worlds or these 1 billion Nomads, it's going Nomad or going remote and you'll find stuff that's, that's challenging. I think community is still challenging. Like, uh, um, especially in Corona, a lot of people are lonely, but, uh, you know, even if you're slow matting, if you let's say you, you live in Bali and you live in Seoul, uh, half the time, like this kind of what I do, uh, it's still difficult to, it's a little more challenging to build community then being in one place for, you know, 20 years. Cause you have your friends and it's, it's this repetitive social proximity environments. Uh, so I think social is still, it's still a really, really big challenge. And, um, I think if you talk about the zoom towns or these remote workups, um, I wouldn't say that a private bar, these shoots established this like built like villages or cities or something. I don't think that works, you know, and I don't think, you know, if you seen Wild Wild West - a Netflix documentary about this cult - , uh, I don't think there's these things kind of work, but, um, facilitating these remote workshops physically with services in some way. And I don't know exactly what that would be, you know, a nice business too.
Yeah. Uh, no, I love those. And there are some people that I've talked to, you know, who are looking into the villages things, um, yeah. Uh, both kind of getting these some abandoned villages. And, uh, I mentioned the previous episode, someone, uh, that we're helping out a little bit who are looking at castles in Europe, like this huge castle properties villages, that's sort of,
It's a lot of maintenance. A lot of Americans always forget that these things cost a lot of maintenance. It costs more maintenance than the price probably, um, about these villages. So I read a book, uh, last month about these, these, the communes in 1960s. And I think it's a little bit related, interesting. There was this journalist who he made like a list of all these hundreds of communes villages and stuff. And he, he would travel to America to try and analyze them, interview people there. And many times when he arrived, they'd already broken up. They'd already fallen apart because of just fighting in-fighting and stuff. And I think it's, it's this idealistic delusion that you can create in a, you know, you can create this new community that won't have the problems of general society. You know, you'll be living with your friends and everyone will be perfect, but it's not how it works.
Like if you've ever had roommates, you know, that's, it's a lot of, you know, conflict and, and living together is really difficult and that's why you have beliefs. And that's why you have, you know, ambulance and fire, uh,fire brigades. So I think it's, I did this book recommend it's, uh, I think the book was called do nothing, how to do nothing and this book, this right to recommend it, uh, instead of trying to create new villages, which reinvent the whole console society, try to iterate on the society you're currently living in. And I feel like that's a, that's a much more realistic and practical way to do it, which means that, you know, going through a remote workup, um, building some roots there and improving the living situation there, um, for you and the people around you and, you know, it sounds very vague, but there could be, for example, open like a school for remote work on people or, uh, open a nice co-working open, nice cafe, um, make sure the money goes back to locals. It's very important. That kind of stuff. So iterate on what's already there, I think is a much better proposal.
No, I, I very much support that. I hope someone takes up that community mantle. Um, you know, because I would totally join it. Like if I would want to be even in SF, if someone, I don't just want to go to an event, but I would like something, you know, to be where you could participate in like someone who were trying to do something and, and, uh, and, uh, that sort of community, I just, I haven't come across. Do you know anyone working on something cool?
Um, well now like, it's the thing in America now for tech people to do it like, Oh, we're going to start a fearless. Right. Uh, I think, I think that the in Canggu, I felt the closest to that - and Canggu not perfect at all, but I felt the closest to this, this weird, uh, cozy vibe of like people like you. Uh, I know it's like a resort town, you know, it's like, it's mostly foreigners, but it's just like in Mexico, you have these resort towns. So it's not perfect. It's a little slightly problematic, right? If you go there, you don't want to go there. But, uh, this feeling of being with people that are creative, entrepreneurial, artistic, uh, ambitious, um, you know, active, uh, they want to do cool school stuff, want to make, and they're, they're making cool things and you can walk into them.
You can walk around, well, you can actually drive around like, there's no sidewalks and jungle, but you can walk into the coworking spaces there and meet cool people really quickly. And that's such a powerful, that's like, that's everything. I think a lot of us miss when we're not in those kinds of places. It's so difficult to do that in a big city is difficult to do in Amsterdam. It's, it's difficult to do in, in well SF actually you do have that because there's so many of those similar kinds of people, creative people, ambitious people in one spot. And I, and I think it comes down to, again, like having people in a certain subset of culture or, you know, hobby or in our case, like startups and, and creativity together, it's really, it's really fun to live, uh, on a day-to-day basis with those people in like a, like a small town.
And, and it's, it completely changes you working together, having those serendipitous connections. It's, uh, it's absolutely amazing. And yeah, I really want that. And, and I, the only place I've felt it as is, is in Changgu and Bali I've I felt it in Chiang Mai, a little bit. Uh, I know people have, you know, you said to them that kind of, those kinds of faces have it's. Um, I think if anything, that's, the places we'll see become - The Nomad Hubs now, they will probably become a remote work, hubs more. Um, if anything, that's the place where it will happen. And I think, yeah, again, I don't think it will happen in artificially built places.
Hedonic adaptation and happiness
It will happen in natural places. Yeah. Organically. That does make sense. Yeah. I saw that was one of the sort of TLDR conclusions you took from a tweet you had about a, I believe it was a Robin Hanson article, um, about remote work and its effect was these, these beach towns. Um, so, okay. So that's super interesting. Uh, another kind of big problem, I suppose, or maybe it's sometimes it's framed as a critique, uh, about nomads, but I think it's kind of, uh, just a problem in our time is sort of that many people are, um, kind of the flaming out on like, uh, chasing, uh, pleasure and adventure and, uh, sort of, uh, uh, you had this post where you posted an excerpt of this sort of Joe Rogan, Dan Bilzerian episode, where about the, the kind of head-on hedonic treadmill of chasing money and happiness and chasing the rainbow. So, uh, so w what's your take on that? How do you see what's the, what's the alternative? Where are we going with that, uh, in the sort of, uh, pleasure versus meaning?
Yeah, it's really good. It's really good question. Um, and this year, I think everybody's been thinking about this because this year has been so introspective for, you know, everybody around me, people on the internet, because it's finally time to think, because you were forced to think, uh, due to all the lock downs and you couldn't, you couldn't do many things anymore. And, um, I think it's, it's, it's bigger than nomads and traveling. It's it's Instagram right?. Instagram is this whole, um, aesthetic purpose of and pleasure. And then showing me like, look how great my life is. And, you know, nomadism as being sold like that for years, uh, as well, like, uh, you know, live, live your dream lifestyle on the beach, you know, buy the course for $3,000. Um, and it's not like that because it's, you know, you notice you go to a beach and it's pretty boring, kind of like, it's nice to see the sunset maybe, but it gets kind of boring.
Um, you know, swimming in an infinity pool in Singapore on that big hotel, that's fun, but then it's really boring as well. And a lot of these things that are, you know, that look nice, aesthetically, they're kind of boring. And it comes down to, like I said before, like the people around you, like having the right people around you, that's pretty much the only thing that's going to make you happy, I think, and meaningful work and, you know, like being healthy, like working out and stuff, but all the other stuff like buying things, um, I think somebody wrote that's materialism in millennials and generation Z is being replaced by like experientialism, but it's still the same thing. So we're like, Oh, you know, you should do experiences. That's actually makes you happy. Cause there's like studies on that. Yeah. But you know, all this endless Hedonistic travel and, uh, infinity eligibles, that's, that's also materialism pretty much, especially when you're sharing it on Instagram and that's not going to make you happy.
So again, like, I think people makes you happy, meaningful work makes you happy. Um, sports makes you happy, you know, all this other stuff like, like, uh, uh, meditation, uh, having a therapist, actually it works really good for your mental health. Of course, uh, everybody should have a therapist, I think. Um, but yeah, we are in this generation because it's, it's marketing, right? It's, it's what sells and, and our lizard brains click on things that sell, um, that look that look nice and that are like perfect looking perfect. And, and they're idealistic. And, uh, but our lizard brain cannot properly choose the things that actually is, that are actually going to make us happy. Like actually what's going to make you happy is going onto the street, talking to people, making friends, uh, you know, talking to your partner or finding a partner or something, or multiple partners who cares.
It's 2020, but, uh, those things little will make you happy and finding work that's fulfilling. You know, that gives you meaning. Um, I heard somebody say like he has a, he has a really big team and a lot of people, depending on him that do not, uh, mess up the company because they would be without a job. Right. That's like, meaning all these things are meaning and are making beautiful art, uh, that makes you gives you intrinsic intrinsic happiness while making it flow States, you know, those things. So everything we're following with our lizard brain is not going to make us happy. And I think that in terms of nomadism and remote work, uh, again, being able to move to hubs where you can find a community of people, yeah. That's going to make you happy, not the infinity pool and not the nice food or to the beaches.
So it's about getting to a place where you can find a community and finding friends that you find meaningful to and, uh, you know, enjoy spending time with. And also, but let me get, uh, you know, some more details on this, about finding meaningful work, you know, you've certainly done that. And I imagine that's why a lot of people look to you, I suppose, because you seem to, um, make these choices like, Oh, this is, this is how, you know, this is what meaningful work is like, the way you build Nomad List, and bootstrapped it. And then you sort of, uh, you live your own philosophy in a way, in a consistent way. Um, and so by the question, I suppose, you know, a lot of people are wondering about as well, because they, at the same time I have to solve the problem of making enough money. Right. So, or how so they, they find that the meaningful work thing comes, it comes, uh, after the first one. And then the first one becomes this kind of ever optimizing where they want to advance in their career. And, and then they kind of find themselves in a non meaningful work situation maybe, uh, and they're open to change. So how do you find, how did you find, you know, meaningful work and how would you recommend to others to do that?
Yeah, I know what you mean. So it's like a position of luxury, right? To say like, Oh yeah, my work is meaningful, but you should all find that it's easy to say, but you can also have an, you can also have a regular job and you can do volunteer, work on the sides, which will give you meaning there's a lot, it will, won't pay your money, but it's a very meaningful, a lot of, uh, tech people can do volunteer work, uh, even online. There's like websites where you can go and you can build a website for like a library in, I don't know, wherever, and that's going to give you meaning, um, you can do, you know, IRL, physical, uh, volunteer work, for example. So I don't think necessarily, uh, the meaningful work has to be your main job. I think that's like what everybody wants, but it's, it's, it's very difficult to attain it. Right. But there's other ways. Um, yeah. And then the second part of the question was,
Let's say you were trying to attain it, like if someone's listening to this and they want to find meaningful work as their main job, like, how do you,
Yeah. So, yeah, well, it's really difficult because, so I had a music career, right. And it worked out a little bit, like I pay my bills and stuff and especially with YouTube with pay my bills. Uh, but, um, I didn't become like a global touring, DJ producer or something working with Justin Bieber or whatever. Right. And so that didn't work out because the chance of that is so small, but for me, making music was very meaningful, meaningful work. It was like amazing. And I still like it. Right. Um, so the things you find meaningful are not always going to have a market fit. So music for me had somewhat of a market fit, but not, I wasn't good probably enough or something or whatever. It didn't work out. Um, building these different websites. I, I mostly started out trying to solve my own problems. Right.
Like where can I go next as a nomad or, uh, um, all these other projects. So I did, I guess I did, because I pick problems from my own life. They were kind of meaningful. Um, but you know, it might as well happen. That's, that's something else. Some other product took off that wasn't meaningful. So I was kind of lucky in that. So I don't know if it's, if it's, if it's, I would say it's probably luck that it's meaningful for me, that it's like, there's a remote Noman movement. It's, it's very meaningful, but, um, you might as well build something that's not meaningful for you. And that makes a lot of money. And I mean, RemoteOK for example, it's a job boards. And for me, I would say, Nomad List is way more meaningful because it's like this philosophy, philosophical, emotional, um, um, Backdrop behind Nomad List, like this changing world, right? These remote work hubs. Remote OK is way more, it's more boring, but it's, it's very, you know, necessary because people need to find remote jobs. Um, so I guess the answer is it's very difficult. It's very difficult to find markets fits with, with building stuff. It's very difficult to find jobs that are exactly, uh, what's meaningful for you. Um, so I wouldn't focus that I wouldn't focus on that in your life completely. I would focus on finding meaning, uh, first, first of all, from people it's very cliche, but it's true.
The next big thing
All right. Well, I'm mindful of the time and that's a great place to end. So I, very much appreciate everything you've done in for the sort of nomad remote work world. And, uh, very curious to see what, uh, next thing you're interested in, because I suppose, uh, as you're looking towards the future to see what the next thing is, uh, interesting to see what that is.
I haven't, I haven't worked it out yet. That's the problem, but so I need to do a lot of thinking and a lot of, uh, talking to people and figure something out. So maybe it might take five years. It might take 10 years. So yeah.
Well, the first prediction is still, uh, in the middle of coming to fruition. So, um, uh, I hope we can stay focused on that for a little while longer. Uh, there's a lot of problems to solve. Yeah. So, uh, uh, thanks a lot for joining. And what, um, what are you working right now where people can, uh, uh, where we would direct people in addition to Nomad List and Remote OK?
I would say, I would say go to those sites first, uh, figure out what's going on there. Uh, I'm building new secret projects. I cannot announce yet. I will launch, I think tomorrow or day after I've been working on secretly a little bit, uh, it's totally different. So it's not nothing with remote work. Um, but yeah, I would say go to Nomad List at nomadlist.com and check out there. And that's where pretty much the center of all this stuff is a little bit for me. Um, yeah. And thanks so much for having me and thanks also so much that SafetyWing also supports, like my websites is really cool. Uh, it's been really beneficial for me, the websites keeping them up. Yeah, super cool.
All right. Thanks a lot.
For more insights into building a successful remote company head to buildingremotely.com. There you will find episode notes, articles, and book chapters. You can also subscribe to future episodes and recommend guests, we should invite. See you in two weeks for the next episode of Building Remotely.
P.S. I'm on Twitter too if you'd like to follow more of my stories. And I wrote a book called MAKE about building startups without funding. See a list of my stories or contact me. To get an alert when I write a new blog post, you can subscribe below: