Tobias van Schneider, one of the most iconic (and beardy) user experience designers of our time, interviewed me for his new podcast NTMY (or Nice To Meet You). It was one of the most interesting (public) conversations I’ve had as Tobias is an extremely smart guy and doesn’t ask superficial bullshit questions, ever.
We talked about late 20s quarter-life crises, anxiety and panic attacks, procrastination and perfectionism, everything that’s wrong with the current narrative around startups and venture capital, and so so much more. It’s fun to speak to someone whose work you respect a lot and who mutually respects your work too. It adds some kind of weird instantly fun vibe to a conversation.
Nice To Meet You. That’s the name of this show. Actually this is one of the very, very first episodes of it. Today, I have a special guest and his name is Pieter Levels. He goes by the name levelsio on Twitter. I would describe him as a digital nomad, a business man, a designer and definitely an engineer. He is doing pretty much anything or everything. I’m always impressed by how much stuff he gets done.
Pieter started a project called 12 Startups in 12 Months, but is probably best known for one of his companies called Nomad List which is a website that helps you find the best places in the world to live and work. I am super excited to have Pieter on this show today. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy.
All right. Hey Pieter, thanks so much for joining the show. I’m super happy to have you.
Hey Tobias. How are you man?
Great. I’m amazing. First of all I think you are in Colombia right now. Is that correct?
Yeah. I’m in Medellin, that’s like I think the second city of Colombia.
I arrived like a week or two ago. Before that I was in Europe traveling and I’m here for like a few months.
For a few months.
I was actually hoping to kind of catch you somewhere around the world because I…
Yeah, we tried a lot but it was too difficult. We kept… We were in the same place but we kept missing each other by like weeks right.
I know. It would have been better. But we can still repeat that at some point.
There’s a ton of things that I would like to talk to you about today. Let’s just start at the very beginning. I’ve been a fan of your work. I discovered you a couple of months ago. I was just impressed by your productivity and all the things that you do.
And just your work ethics, and you’ve been… I mean right now you’ve been working on so many things. I put down a list but I wasn’t sure if I’m actually capturing all of them. You are working on Nomad List and Go Fucking Do It, Remote OK and Startup Retreats. Then you had like other things like Play My Inbox, which is a little bit older I think.
Yeah. That’s like the first project I did.
That got like press and stuff yeah.
Nomad List is definitely the main one right now. It’s what most of the time goes into.
Yeah and what most people probably know about you, and your work right.
I just want to start a little bit earlier. I know that you are originally from Amsterdam. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s right.
You studied design or engineering?
No, I studied business. I have a Master’s degree in business, with a specialization in entrepreneurship.
Before that I was making music and I wanted to do… I was doing like events and stuff. I used to be a music producer in Drum and Bass music (called Panda). I guess since you are German so you probably know Drum and Bass as well.
The Americans don’t know it a lot. That was like 10 years ago. I started making music and then I started doing events in Holland. I learned about entrepreneurship from that. It was way before all the startup I think. I felt like it would be cool to do like a business where I don’t have to have a job. I was doing a lot of Drum and Bass events in my hometown (called One) and in The Hague (called Reaktor). That was going really well.
When I quit that I kind of rolled into like internet stuff. I was doing music. I was making music and I started uploading it to YouTube back in 2008. Back then it was really weird because nobody uploaded music to YouTube. It was like really… It was like only videos. The first video on YouTube was by Chad Hurley, the CEO and Founder. He uploaded like, when he was in a zoo, like an elephant video.
I remember that yeah.
I think it was kind of like these handy camera videos right. Music was like weird on there. I think SoundCloud already existed then but I’m not sure. Music was for different websites. I uploaded up all my mixes, my DJ mixes. They got a lot of views. Then I went from Drum and Bass first, and then I just did all the electronic music genres, like different channels. They got really big. They got like a 100 million views. I got like almost 400,000 YouTube subscribers. Then suddenly YouTube asked me, do you want to make money? Do you want to be a YouTube partner? Suddenly I was like… I was in college and I was making 2000 Euros a month and then up to like, it went up to 5,000 to 8,000 euros a month. It was crazy for me.
That was all still happening while you were in college.
Yeah, that was like 2008, 2009, 2010.
I was still studying. I was really scared yeah.
That was… The channel was called Panda Mix Show. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
That was the one.
It’s still up now, yeah. It’s not updated anymore but it’s still up there.
Yeah. You started uploading remixes and stuff of music. It was not…
Mostly my own music first and then DJ mixes. In electronic music the thing is you release like your own music but you also… You want to do shows so you make kind of like demos of the music you mix. The music you mix is like different tracks, like a set right, like a one hour setsof your own music and other people’s music. You mix it into one big kind of show which is the same thing you do when you do a live show. A live show of DJ is usually a mix of their own work and other people’s work. Yeah I did get a lot of big audience.
Yeah. I didn’t know like YouTube… What was it you said? 2008?
I didn’t know that YouTube already had a pretty solid advertising program at that time.
No they just started then. They started the partner program.
It was not necessarily… It wasn’t automated yet. They just got in touch with you and it was more of a…
Yeah. They contact like the biggest channels. I was big then, like the number 6 channel in Holland overall, not only in music… It was kind of like nobody … There wasn’t a lot of people on YouTube anyway. I was like super happy and like excited that I was a top 10 channel in Holland. You slowly start dropping because you see YouTube become a mainstream and you are like oh shit, I’m actually not that special… I was just one of the early people in there. You see yourself dropping and like, ‘oh, oh shit.’ It was making solid money and it was really fun because I loved this music. Suddenly I was making money with it. I saved most of the money because when you are a student you spend like… I spent like 500 Euros a month or something. I would save 1500 or 2000 Euros a month.
That’s a big…
It was loads of money back then.
Oh yeah. I mean you didn’t have that many expenses I guess.
No, exactly yeah.
Obviously it looks like you ditched that right.
What I am wondering is at that time you… You were studying business and you were doing this YouTube channel. It was kind of like content creation and you just uploaded it. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of engineering or design of what you do right now.
So at that time did you already knew how to code… When did that happen really?
I did like a really basic. It was always that kind of basic coding but I was really, really bad. It started with the YouTube thing because a lot of the stuff… Like if you keep uploading a new video every week, and you keep adding like follow this artist or follow my channel and all these links… You want to like… You think like okay, should I just automate this and save some time.
I started slowly automating a lot of this upload thing where like the running of the of the video, uploading it to YouTube with the YouTube API. There was a lot of stuff that was manual. I could automate. I saw the whole automation thing happening already. I mean like most programmers usually see it happening pretty soon when you start learning to code. You can save a lot of time by automating stuff. By automating stuff you need to learn how to code. I just started googling how to do small stuff. That’s kind of how I learned…
It’s just pretty much scripting. You add a webpage to it like little dashboards. For example, like I would have to add like typical stuff, like the artist. For example DJ Tobias and then it would find automatically the Facebook of DJ Tobias, the sound cloud links, the Twitter links. It would send you a tweet, hey your mix is up. That kind of stuff.
This stuff saves you a lot of time. It’s like a competitive advantage versus all the other channels.
Yeah, oh absolutely. At what point, I mean it was definitely… You graduated then in 2012 I guess.
Yeah, that’s right.
At that time you were still working on… Panda Mix Show was your main project I guess.
It was paying your bills and everything.
For some reason you decided to not only leave Amsterdam but also work on something new, right kind of like…
When did you come to that realization… Because it sounds pretty good. The situations that you had there, it sounds very comfortable. I can already imagine a little bit why you… Maybe you got a little bit bored. What was the main motivation that you said, you know what, I have to leave.
Because I mean Amsterdam is pretty nice.
Yeah. It’s one of my favorite cities.
I think that… I wrote a blog about it too like that I was really bored and that was the main thing. I also… There was this thing where… This is really funny because it’s a little more deeper story. In 2012, there was this whole wave of drugs in Amsterdam and still happening. A lot of MDMA used and a lot of ecstasy that kind of stuff, Happy Pills. I am not really into drugs at all. Everyone is doing it so I would try it sometimes and it was really fun. The thing is after you do ecstasy you get this week where you are like really zoned out where everything looks like a movie you know.
This is relevant because after a while I had that… Like I was really happy in the ecstasy phase but then after you get really like you feel lonely, you feel depressed and that kind of stuff. Also, I was drinking a lot of coffee. I was buying the wrong coffee powder. You can buy normal filter coffee. This is becoming relevant in a few minutes.
I was drinking like four cups of coffee a day, add some milk, filter coffee and then its fine. Then I figured out that it was espresso powder. Actually all the coffee I was drinking was like four cups of coffee, four espresso shots per cup which was like four times four, like 16 cups of coffee a day. I was doing this for like a year right. And mixed with this weird MDMA like after trips, I suddenly got this huge panic attack in my house. It was like I think two o’clock in the morning and I was staying in my house. I lived with a roommate and it’s like a nice big apartment. He is sleeping and I’m like… Suddenly all my thoughts became… I became aware of all my thoughts in my… Like everything opened up in my head.
I don’t know it’s like some philosophical weird trip but I had to get out of my house and I was walking. I went outside and just had to catch my breath. I had to run away when you have long panic attacks. I never had a panic attack before. I was just walking until like 6 AM outside. Amsterdam is a pretty good place for walking I guess. I was having a panic attack.
I was just… I don’t know I was thinking about everything and I don’t know exactly what I was thinking about. I was just panicking about life and just the realization of everything I guess it’s so personal, it’s hard to claim but everybody who’s had like a panic attack like that kind of knows that it gets pretty deep. You have a headache.
The thing was that I was happy but I wasn’t… This panic attack was kind of like a thing where I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. Kind of like very early on mid-life crisis.
Yeah. I always call it a quarter life crisis.
Yeah. You see a lot of people have it and it is manifesting like anxiety and panic attacks and that kind of stuff.
I don’t think we talk as much, enough about this stuff as we should be because it’s really interesting, especially late 20s a lot of people have this stuff.
Oh yeah, very few people talk about it though.
Yeah. Friends of mine when I talk with them about it, it’s like… ‘Like oh yeah. I had something like that a few months ago but it just kind of passed.’ I’m like, ‘yeah that’s cool.’
I am just curious like because you said that you had this realization and you had this very first panic attack basically, kind of like in your mid late 20s.
When you don’t know what a panic attack is like how did you know it is a panic attack when you had it. Did you…
I mean you just figured it out after a while or did you first thought like what the hell is wrong with me. Am I sick maybe or…
No for sure it felt like a heart attack in your brain kind of, like brain attack.
Yeah. I’m just curious because it’s kind of when you have never experienced something before, like a panic attack and you experience it, usually you are not like ‘oh that’s a panic attack.’
No, exactly yeah. I talked with my bother about it and he had before he’s like yeah that’s a panic attack. I was like… I always thought panic attack was like for nervous people or something or people with issues.
Yeah, who have already a lot to deal with, yeah.
Yeah. I never had issues. I was like it’s weird. I think I am really not sure but I think the drugs like MDMA. It was really good MDMA. It just triggered like a lot of… I think it just opened up stuff in my brain. You hear a lot from people who use drugs. Yeah, and that just made me think a lot about a lot of stuff. Yeah, I guess it’s a very early on crisis. Then I was like I had this quick coffee. I tried it the next day and I got a panic attack almost again just from one sip. I was like ‘okay, no coffee.’ I didn’t drink coffee for two years. I just drank tea with milk. .
Just to try and avoid that yeah.
You were drinking this like hardcore coffee which is so hard…
Exactly, which I found out later.
It’s so weird that you do that like for a year without noticing.
Exactly. I was drinking Lavazza espresso powder, extremely strong which is ridiculous. It was nice coffee dope, but yeah…
Do you drink again now? Coffee is fine?
Yeah. I drink today yeah. I drink like a few cups and its fine. I still… This is a funny thing, I still, I can feel if I get close to that level of like you can feel it in your chest.
Yeah, you feel the… Yeah. You have the pressure. I know it…
It’s like [heavy breathing]
You are short of breath. It’s nowhere near what I had back then.
Yeah. You are much more sensible now and you are a little bit more, which is great because you feel like you maybe know your body a little bit more. Now you can feel it when things are coming up again.
Yeah, exactly. That’s the thing with anxiety. You can train… I don’t know you feel it coming and that kind of stuff. The thing is I never had anxiety before. It was kind of like…
Shit why didn’t just, you know, why do I now have anxiety problems.
That basically was kind of like the big realization you are like, okay I need to hit the reset button. I have to leave this city.
That was the main reason. What happened after that? You went to… I was reading about that I think. You went to Thailand first.
Yeah. I was thinking like where should I go and I didn’t really have anything particular with Thailand. Like most geeks I was more interested in like East Asian cultures like Korea and Japan because they are kind of like weird and different right. I was never really interested so much in Thai culture because like the superficial praise I had about Thai culture is… It was kind of superficial and it was all about like sex industry right. It was just like a holiday or like a holiday place for western people, but not really culturally interesting for me.
I thought its cheap and I need to save money. Japan and Korea are not cheap. I had been there. I was traveling like few years before and I had been there for a week. It was like… It was safe and fun and nothing is wrong with Thailand. I was like ‘okay I’ll just go there.’ Also Bangkok is kind of like an airport hub, if you go there you can go most of… You can go to most of Asia, because it’s like such a hub.
I took a few more months. I started throwing away all my stuff. That was a weird thing because that started like a year before. 2011 I was already throwing away stuff, just… I don’t know just to… I don’t know why but I didn’t want to have stuff anymore. I just started throwing away everything and selling everything on eBay. I ended up with just a mattress on the floor, which is extremely hipster I know, a mattress on a floor.
Then I sold my big PC like a huge PC with nine fans and four hard drives and two graphic cards. I sold everything. I just had a MacBook and that’s it and an iPhone, and a mattress and some clothes. I put them in a bag. Then we left the apartment, which suck because my roommate like we rented together which was a really good apartment. It was kind of shitty for all of us. I thought I need to do something to go away from this place.
Yeah. You kind of forced yourself a little bit and cleaned up.
Got rid of all of the clutter. Because you kind of like maybe I guess after you had this… You went through this phase where you reflect on yourself and your life. You kind of… Maybe you identify all of that clutter that you have… That computer and the apartment and all of those things. You identify or connect them with your like all of those previous experiences. You kind of want to get rid of them, in order to…
Yeah, you want to go forward. You want to go into the future.
Yeah. It’s kind of like yeah just hitting the reset button.
Yeah, that just keeps you in the past, because they remind you of the past. That’s really good analysis.
Yeah, exactly. At that time… What’s very interesting… Just one thing real quick, because what’s interesting is because during your study you already had this Panda Mix Show. It was making enough money for you to pay the bills. I guess at the point where you were leaving Amsterdam, it was absolutely no option for you to look for a full-time job at all. Was that already kind of like…
No I was definitely thinking about it because I was talking to my dad. We had this dad-son talk and he doesn’t care about anything. He just wants us to be happy but I said like I really don’t want to get a job after I graduate. He’s like, ‘yeah but… Because the career paths were business people and I’m not business people so much but I just studied it… It’s management consulting or investment banking.
I was like that’s fucking bullshit. I have to wear a suit and I have to go to London and then I know all my friends were now investment bankers. All they do in London is like work really long hours, and then they snort cocaine and they fuck hookers and that’s literally, like I’m very honest about it. That’s the reality of the life there. Hookers must be fun for a while but then it gets boring and lonely and you do coke a lot. I don’t know, it’s just… That’s not a nice way for me to spend my 20s personally. Other people could…
Yeah that doesn’t sound very exciting to me.
My dad said “okay but if you are not going to do that, then you can’t get that job later. You have to graduate. They only take graduates right. If you try and if you fail and you get back five years later, all the banks or management consultant companies, like ‘hey I didn’t graduate for five years, can you hire me?’ They are not going to hire you. You have a hole in your resume” he said. “You have to embrace that, take that risk.” I was like ‘okay I’ll think’ and I was really scared. Because the YouTube thing, I didn’t know how long that was going to pay money right. I was always scared that it would stop.
It was definitely sort of I mean when you left to Thailand, that’s when you made the decision to obviously not taking on a full-time job.
Yeah. I definitely wanted to build like more stuff than just the YouTube channel then. Because I knew I need more longevity. I need… 2000 Euros a month is nice but you can’t really save a lot of money unless you are in a cheap country. You need to build something up that has more income and bigger longevity. Yeah, that was definitely… The plan was kind of like go to Asia, live a little cheaper for a while and try and slowly build something that works and makes separate income yeah.
That was around that time I guess you must have come up with the idea of 12 Startups in 12 Months, which you got a lot of press for.
I think a lot of people know you probably from that project which was about two years ago now I guess.
Yeah. Its one year ago, it’s like 2014.
Is it not two years ago?
No it’s last year. It started out in around April.
Oh wow okay. You went to Thailand and then at some point you got this idea of the 12 Startups in 12 Months. I can already imagine a little bit how you came up with it or at least kind of I don’t know trying to force yourself to give yourself some goals in order to do something. Because otherwise it would be probably a little bit hard to do something. What was the main motivation behind it? How did you come up with it?
Well, I was blogging a lot. I was blogging on my travels, so my mom could read what I was doing. I would also just post some music or posted like ideas I had or quotes or thoughts. I was like blogging already about stuff I made. Then I was like okay, I’m going to… I am really procrastinating. This is actually… This started like a year after I started traveling. For a year I was just working on the YouTube stuff still. Actually I came back home for like in January 2014.
This is funny because this has again to do with anxiety. I came home and I was like the travel stuff fixed my anxiety right. I was traveling and there was so much stuff to do and food to eat and people to meet. I was completely ridden of my anxiety. Then I came home and I was like… I went to my hometown and my parents, which is Nijmegen. Nijmegen, whatever. The thing was, it was really nice there but suddenly like I left Hong Kong. I wasn’t just in Thailand, I was in all over Asia.
I was living in Hong Kong for a while and then I left and I came back home. Suddenly from a city of 7 million people I went to a city of 200,000 people. The first four days that I was there, the fourth day the house gets burgled.
I lost all my stuff. I already was a minimalist. I had like 50 things. Everything was on the table in the dinner room and they took everything I had. Suddenly I had nothing except for my clothes. That’s kind of traumatic because you are like oh shit, I’m not safe in my parents’ home anymore. What happened afterwards is I got anxiety again. I got like the problem where I didn’t really feel like I had done so much stuff during traveling and suddenly I am in this small town and I’m like it’s such a contrast to big cities.
Yeah, you feel like locked in a little bit I guess.
Yeah. Like you visit New York a lot and I guess you come from a small German town probably too.
Yeah. No I…
You come back in New York and it’s like New York vs. a small German town.
Yeah, absolutely. I can highly identify with that. It’s like just you come back to that city that you originally left and it just gives you, I don’t know it’s probably like… Because you are still like what we talked about earlier, you connect all of these with your….like anxiety or like the panic attacks that you just had like a year ago for example. That kind of freaks you out and you have to be busy. Your mind has to be constantly moving and busy in order to get rid of that anxiety which the travel really helped I guess.
Yeah. Then the problem is travel is like an escape because you can’t… It’s not a remedy. It’s a band aid.
It’s not a cure right. I guess the anxiety never left. That’s kind of interesting. That’s exactly the analysis. I was there and then I don’t know I was kind of spacing the fuck out there. I was being fed. My mom cooks dinner and I’m eating well and everything is fine. I was like okay I need to focus on work to get rid of this anxiety again. I was also, I was never finishing my projects. I was just making this YouTube statistics app like Tubelytics and that’s what I spent like months on. Nobody used it, nobody paid for it. It was like a software as a service app. I felt like a failure.
Then I felt okay, I just need to do a lot of projects in a short time. I did originally startup but I think there was definitely a vibe about that like let’s ship more stuff, let’s do more MVP-type stuff, like with Buffer, they startedwith just a button like Buy This Service. Okay, so it’s not here yet, but enter your credit card and we will tell you if we ship it. I said okay that sounds interesting. Let’s build more MVPs. I was just building smaller products, and because I did it… I had to one product a month, it was becoming smaller.
The thing is I blogged about it and I called it like 12 projects in 12 months. Because it was kind of side project. It wasn’t really a startup. But then I felt like okay, let’s just be like funny about it. Let’s just call it a startup.
Sure, it’s a much better headline.
Yeah. It would clickbait right. I didn’t even share it. I just wrote it on my blog and people started sharing it. I got an email from WIRED. They wrote a semi-positive, semi-negative article about it. Like that I was a white male. That I was doing small trivial apps that didn’t make the world better, didn’t cure cancer but then all the comments on WIRED were like “don’t hate him because at least he’s doing something”.
Tech In Asia wrote about… A lot of people wrote about it. I kind of learned okay, I guess if you name things in a certain way, you get a lot of press. I felt a little bit bad as well because it felt like a gimmick. I felt I didn’t deserve the press. You get like imposter syndrome a lot. You feel like okay I’m not… When you start meeting people at like… Even when traveling maybe sometimes you get recognized. People say ‘oh you are 12 Startups in 12 Months guy’ and it feels like you are a faker. It feels extremely fake. It feels like no you know, yeah, I’m that but it’s not what you think it is. It’s just… it’s much more basic. That took a while to get over as well.
Oh I can imagine. You mentioned that you worked on a bunch of projects but you never finished them. Then you started to kind of like shift your mindset, give yourself those like deadlines, those fake deadlines in a way of creating 12 things in 12 months for example, shipping faster. Would you say that in the beginning you were a perfectionist?
Oh absolutely ridiculously.
How much do you think you’ve changed from being that perfectionist to the one you are today.
Would you still consider yourself being a perfectionist. Do you actually think…
I think I’m a perfectionist. I just think it’s a different perfectionism where it’s more about minimalism. I think you are a fan of minimalist design too.
Yeah. I’m just curious because it’s kind of like just for myself I was always a perfectionist especially in the early years as a designer. Because I always wanted to make everything perfect and like you said I never finished anything because I always wanted to make it even more perfect. It will never be perfect especially in the medium that we are working in.
It’s in flux right. It constantly changes. You constantly… It’s so transient now like this whole time actually, everything in this culture now is so transient… Everything goesso fast that it doesn’t even make sense to put like extreme amounts of effort and perfection into one thing. It does make sense but on a minimalist scale. It’s hard to explain.
I feel like I also had this moment myself where for some reason at some point I started not being a perfectionist anymore, which is really hard. It’s not really a question that I have right now but that’s just what I am struggling with as well. You like to pride yourself as a perfectionist and doing things perfect but then you also know that a perfectionist is just shipping nothing, never right.
Yeah, exactly. I think it’s more like a prioritization thing as well where like I don’t know for example this week there was like my friend says on WhatsApp to me like hey on your #nomad website you forgot to save transparent, P&G’s transparent so this is a weird white shadow which is really ugly. I am like okay cool. Where like two years ago I would immediately change it.
Yeah, now you know.
Now it takes days to change because it doesn’t really matter so much. People are still going to use my website. It’s not about… It’s not the white shadow, it’s not the point. I think that’s literally a skill you can learn because my friend probably doesn’t know. Because he doesn’t know my project. That’s not the priority of my project. You need to have perfection in certain, in your main priorities. You can’t be at everything.
This is actually a really good point. Because I would say years ago when I started off exactly like you described right now, I think this would have been a high priority, right, to make it perfect, to get rid of that shadow. Nowadays even though I still… I mean I pride myself as a designer who likes to make things perfect. When things like these happen in my projects, I’m like, yeah whatever, which is funny though because it’s kind of… It goes against your original values in a way you know.
Yeah. I mean I’ll fix it at some point but not immediately. Because there’s a time constraint.
Absolutely, yeah. It’s very interesting to hear that. Very interesting. I want to talk real quick about your daily workflow. It seems to me like you don’t really have a regular schedule necessarily. You definitely don’t do the nine to five kind of thing.
You work on a lot of different projects, Nomad List being one of the biggest ones. How do you, first of all, how do you prioritize and how do you like schedule your day? Is it more like chaotic and you just work on whatever you just think is on your mind? Or do you have like a plan? Do you plan like a week or two ahead?
No I have some plans like long term I definitely plan. What I do like more recently is I have this big paper which is like two A4. It’s A3 so two A4 letter papers together. I just write down all my projects and then like a mind map and all the tasks that need to be completed and every task has like sub-tasks. I was using Trello before but the problem with Trello is it isn’t hierarchal. Your mind works like a mind map so for me having a to-do list like a mind map is really functional for me. The thing is I really go with the flow. Because with creativity it just happens. You wake up and you are like oh I should make this today.
Yeah, and you do that. You will allow yourself to do that?
Yeah, I do that. Yeah, I let it happen. Yeah, absolutely. Because usually these things, these bursts of creativity, they start like a flow of two weeks of creating a whole new feature or whole new product, and just letting it go is like… It’s beautiful man. It’s the same as making music and the same as graphic design and the same as arts and the same as love I think. It just happens. I love to call it like something where…
I don’t know it feels like your mind opens up and you are just a medium for I don’t know universal entity or God or whatever which controls… People call it flow right. I think it’s super like I don’t know it’s super magical. It feels really like a higher power just tells you okay, you need to okay, you need to make this and you need to… Suddenly everything falls together right, comes into… All the pieces fall together and you make something beautiful and great. You excel yourself. You could never make that if you didn’t have the flow or moment.
To let those moments happen is really very important because if you had an office and nine to five, you have this great idea and then someone is like yeah, but you have to finish that task first. It limits these creative bursts which are essential for your product if you are a startup creator or product maker. To stay competitive you need to make something cool every month, right, every two months.
You need to add something really cool new feature or shipping your products. Even for you know where you work Spotify or you work I don’t know but you need to keep shipping and make new cool shit. If you only focus on like doing a to-do list, the to-do list is by definition already updated when you write it, because you are following the past. You are following all these things that need to be done. The new stuff…
We live in a transient time so that means again you need to embrace ideas that come into your head and make them. But it needs to balanced, because like you get customer support stuff as well. You get like I guess you have people hire up to tell you like okay you really need to fix this shadow on your layout because it’s becoming a problem for millions of users. You need to do it but you need to have some kind of mix where you let the free flow happen. Google does that whole “20% of your time you can do whatever you want”. That’s not enough. It should probably be 50% where you just work and let it happen.
Yeah. I guess most of the work that we are doing, it depends what kind of product you have. Like you said a lot of the work that we are doing especially in times of email and we will talk about that later actually… Most of the work that you are doing is all like, it’s all reactive. You are just reacting to whatever is just hitting you. You are just trying to protect you. You are just fixing…
Fixing stuff yeah.
This email is coming in, you are responding. The call is coming in and you are picking it up and also and then boom. It’s like eight hours a day and you haven’t really done anything that you wanted to do. It’s not necessarily a flow right. You just kept yourself busy through those like reactive tasks.
Absolutely. That leads me actually to the next thing I really want to talk to you about is you got rid of email. This is… I think it’s fantastic. When did you start to stop doing email?
The problem was I had my email in my log which was fine. It was fine years ago. This kind of sounds super-arrogance but otherwise I can’t tell it. The more press you get press or something happens you get like a 1000 emails. If you are in hacker news, you get 1000 to 5000 emails. 90% is bullshit. It’s literally just bullshit. That’s why people are going to think I’m arrogant because I say its bullshit. You get emails like ‘hey I’m a business guy, I have a great idea. Can you… Can we make… It’s the cliché thinking, can you make it… Can we split the profits.’ Go away, its bullshit.
It’s just stuff like oh you get these, which is kind of sad, you get like paragraphs full of text and like I just, which is kind of cool… ‘I read your story, I read your article. My life has been really bad’ and they tell all their personal stuff which is great. I’m not a psychologist! I cannot help you with that. It’s great that you know my story is interesting to you but you should probably just do it then. I can not be your coach.
And this is why the coaching market is so big for like digital nomad kind of stuff and for I guess everything there’s a coaching scene which is ridiculous I think. Because a lot of people want to be helped, a lot of people want to be saved. Well, NEWS FLASH: there’s nobody in life that’s going to save you, except a medical doctor. You need to do things yourself… Active, not reactive. You need to… You cannot wait to get saved. Nobody’s going to save you in life.
You get a lot of these emails and then there’s a lot of things that are cool, like you did cool stuff, thanks so much for making it. Just that’s it. Then I’m like cool but everybody wants something from you. It’s even worse when it’s strangers that want something from you. Because they are not going to give anything back. It’s just a request. It’s such a time.
There’s a guy called Derek Sivers who has founded CB Baby. He’s like one of my idols. He has this rule where he answers every email he gets. He’s like the nicest guy. Well, for me that would be a problem because if I would do that I don’t have time to make stuff. I was like okay, I’m just going to remove my email from the website. They will get it. That removes like 90% of the emails. Then people could still figure out my email so I just close the email accounts.
I told everybody like okay, just tweet me. If you tweet me, it’s like 140 characters. Then I tried to like open up my direct message box in Twitter so everybody can direct message me. Same thing happened. ‘Can you help me start my startup?’ I was like ‘no.’ Okay, close my direct message box, and now its public tweets. The cool thing about public tweets is that if you get so many messages people will not send stupid messages because they will be embarrassed.
Then people are like oh what if a company, you know what if someone wants to buy Nomad List, how are you going to find out. How are they going to talk to you? Well, they’ll probably tweet me. They’ll probably just send me a tweet. ‘Hey let’s talk.’ I’m like, ‘what do you want to talk about,’ in public. Okay, ‘we want to buy a company’. ‘Okay cool.’ Then we’ll go to some Skype platform. Just like this happened right, you sent me a message saying, do you want to do Skype.
Then we talked. The problem is this whole thing sounds arrogant.
Yeah. I don’t think it sounds arrogant. I mean I totally identify with what you, everything that you just said. I guess for me it’s… You are one step ahead of me in that regard. Because I still have my email opened and I might be more closer to the friend that you mentioned. I’ve always tried at least prided myself to answer every single email which is impossible. I’m not going to do that anymore.
I established rules. Because like you said like oftentimes you just get this wall of text. I actually appreciate for some reason. I mean obviously people only write to you, if they want something from you. That’s like in most of the cases. The problem is that people who do that… I don’t mind that so much. The only thing is that people just don’t know how to do it. They write to you this like wall of text and like if you want something from me, just like mention it in one sentence and I can say yes or no. Because I would love to help people.
Yeah. Be specific. That’s the thing. Most emails don’t even have a question.
It’s just like a wall of text. I love to… This is maybe even more arrogant than what you are doing because when I get a very long email and a wall of text, I reply and say, I got your email, I haven’t read it. Can you please boil it down into like one single sentence and I would love to help you out.
Yeah, exactly. That’s just what I do with Twitter right, one sentence.
Yeah, I love Twitter, because it’s perfect for that.
I love Twitter yeah.
I think the problem is… I guess it’s difficult if you never had that amount of stream of emails and contact, people contacting you. It’s hard to imagine.
It doesn’t even have to be like… I mean you are talking about… We were not even talking about thousands. We are not even talking about hundreds of emails. Like essentially, like the decision that you made, there can be many other people, even if they don’t get as many emails that can come up with the same conclusion because they say you know what I… Like you value your time a lot because you take the time and you create new products right.
Yeah, that’s my most fun thing right. I love creating.
Exactly, so even if you would get let’s say 20 emails a day, that’s already too much right.
Because you can spend that time on something else. The only question is like… You mentioned that already, like how do you deal with opportunities that you actually would like to take on that usually come in via email.
The thing about this opportunity is if they are really worth it, they are going to try everything to contact you.
They are going to try LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook whatever.
Eventually they will get through.
They will find you. They will find you, don’t worry. The thing with email is that there’s… I love good information too but like I said I love creating stuff. The problem if you want to… Like I don’t have a lot of opportunities like I have one contractor helps me a lot with Nomad List stuff. If you don’t have a big organization working for you, and I don’t, then most of my time needs to go to making the products.
People are like oh you should hire people. I’m like yeah but I don’t want to hire people because I really love creating. I think I could do it if I spend most of my time creating. If I would start focusing on the email stuff then I can’t create anymore. The thing is you see a lot of startup founders. They do that. They start off like me and then they get all these emails. They will be like oh okay let’s make a course. Let’s make a startup course. Let’s do startup coaching.
Guess what, now it’s five years later, you make a lot of money, but you’re a startup coach and you are not a startup founder anymore. You are a speaker. Everybody knows you as the startup guy but you are not actually a startup guy. You are a coach. Do you still know really about running a startup? Or do you know about how to sell yourself as a startup expert, which is bullshit. I don’t want to be the bullshit guy and that’s like my biggest fear. It’s the same with fear of 12 Startups in 12 Months. I don’t want to be the bullshit guy.
Yeah absolutely. I can understand that, which leads me into another question on startups. There’s this model of this romantic dream of you know I have this idea and I just raise a bunch of money. I have no fucking idea what I’m going to do. It’s not my money. I don’t give a shit. I am in my early 20s so I have actually never dealt with that amount of money myself.
Yeah, which is going to be some bro’s hanging out, building this thing for a few years and then eventually find out how we are going to actually make money with it, which is where we exit.
Yeah. That’s kind of like this romantic startup dream. For me that was always a very, very strange thing. We are both from Europe. I didn’t grow up with that mentality. For me it was always like you have to make money from day one, otherwise it’s not a business.
Yeah. No, being European is like a huge advantage in that respect I think.
Yeah. How do you… How should I phrase that question? Would you say that a startup like the way that I described it right now is a business? I mean can it be a business if it doesn’t make money? It’s that, what’s the difference… I mean you studied business right. What do you think is the definition of a business? Does a business have to make money or be profitable at least?
I think it should be revenue but I think it’s a good question. I think… sorry to not completely answer your question, but I think the problem comes down to we believe that venture capital investment is valid for a lot of things, when it should only be valid for stuff that’s high growth, high scale like Spotify that’s a very difficult thing to do without money. You can’t bootstrap Spotify. You can’t bootstrap Uber. That’s really hard to do because you need high growth. You need to capture all these markets really quickly before competitors are there. If it’s international, it’s even more difficult.
Most of these startup ideas are not venture capital ideas necessarily. You don’t need VC money [necessarily]. The only reason [these] people want VC money is because they can’t code. They don’t have skills. Maybe they are business people or they are just general people that came into startups because it’s cool, which is fine. Everybody should come in. But you need to have a skill to run a business. You can try hire everyone [and see if it works]. You are really lucky if you get away with that. Then you spend all your time raising money and dealing with investors for an idea that might not even need any capital.
I think the problem with the startup narrative is that it’s still that thing. You get an idea. You raise capital. You hire people and you grow it. When… There’s no testing involved there. That’s why the Lean Startup got really popular, as people were sick of that, like you should test stuff before. I think the more futuristic idea of startups is that you bootstrap a company you started, you test it and you grow it until like let’s say $20,000 a month of money, of revenue, of actual profits, not just revenue, but profit. Then you are like okay, let’s get… This business model works, let’s scale it up, very simple and very logical.
Because there’s a really dark side to venture capital investment which is that most of this VC money comes from pension funds. We in Europe have very big pension funds because we are very social welfare nations. Holland has one of the biggest pension funds. It’s called ABP and it’s like one of the biggest hedge funds in general of the world, the top three. I think they have hundreds of billions of dollars of money invested. By law, and I’m not an expert on this but I think they need to invest some of their money in high risk projects, which is startups right, which is venture capital. That money is like, let’s say 5% of a 200 billion pension fund goes to startups. That’s $10 billion which goes to Silicon Valley from pension funds. The pension funds, they don’t really care. Its high risk ‘oh, we’ll lose everything.’ They don’t care.
What you see is most venture capital firms, they underperform and they lose most of their money. Only the top make a lot of money. I think we need to look at the data to see that the startup narrative is bullshit for most of these ideas. This free flow of money, it’s even more bullshit because it means… Again, this comes back to the bullshit thing where you are a startup founder but you are never going to make money and all you are doing is giving yourself a 150k salary from the VC money. You work for five years or something. I mean what did you add to the world then?
That’s the question. What do you… Okay, then the company shuts down. You gave yourself a salary. You had a great life. You are going to go clubbing and partying, drink champagne and you get a nice car. I don’t think I mean maybe this is European again. I don’t care so much for money. It should be… I care about making something cool. You want to add something to the world right, and make money. How are you going to live with yourself? Like personally I could not live with myself if I made a 150k in VC salary for five years on a startup that just couldn’t go anywhere.
Yeah. Let me just…
Unless its Spotify or it’s Uber.
I guess it’s… You want to feel valued like yourself I guess a little bit. I would feel, for some reason, I would actually get anxious just by living on someone else’s money, while being a grownup actually myself.
Unless, like you said, unless it’s a business that you know if I want to… If I’m Elon Musk and I want to fly to space, I mean, obviously I’m not going to bootstrap a rocket.
For sure, yeah. But look at Elon Musk, but a lot of this early money came from PayPal. Obviously he exited with PayPal but he invested a lot of money himself in his later companies. I think that’s really cool where you showed okay, I’m putting everything here into this, because I believe in this idea.
The startup narrative
I think we should really reset the startup narrative… I had the same idea when I started you know I started bringing revenues in 2010. I was like reading all these headlines. It said ‘okay, blah, blah, blah raises $10 million.’ I was like, ‘oh shit, $10 million. They are millionaires now. I can be a millionaire too. Like let’s do the startup thing right.’ But then the $10 million is just on the bank account of the company. You have to spend everything. Nobody says you are going to leave it or anything and then a lot of these startups they… You sell your shares in a second series B round right. You have a lot of money. You have millions of dollars in your bank but you still don’t have a successful business. I think it’s a lot of bullshit.
David Heinemeier Hansson. He writes a lot about it too. He is much smarter than me. He shows all the bullshit as well on Twitter about the VC money. I don’t think VC money is bad. I just think it should be for high growth, high skill projects. The problem is a lot of stuff these days doesn’t cost money anymore. Software is almost free to make if you have the skill yourself right. All the tools are for free. All the programming languages are free, open-source. You don’t need money to start a company anymore, if you have skills.
One more thing that I wanted to talk about in regards to that’s like startup dream and then bootstrapping your own product, the thing is… I mean of course you could ignore whatever the startup industry is doing. You have your own values and you create your own company and you build it yourself. The only thing though is I feel like… I don’t know if there’s any data on that. I feel like that the startup industry has… Because they have this large amount of money sometimes, they influence kind of like the pricing of the product a lot. They build up those wrong expectations for the public.
For example, I mean just look at how everyone is complaining about you charging $50 for something. Or even $5…
Yeah, that’s a huge thing, yeah.
Because everyone expects everything to be free.
But that’s the thing. If you build a business yourself, this thing is obviously not going to be free. Everyone hopefully understands that. If you are a startup and you are raising VC money and all of that and you are just looking at scale, you don’t care about that. You just make it free. There are so many…
Yeah. Most of them do not… Because humans do not understand this problem.
They don’t know where it comes from. In the end what happens is that I guess that’s just my view on it right now, is that most of them think everything has to be free. They don’t…
No, but it’s a huge problem. It’s gigantic.
Yeah. How do you feel… Yeah. How do you feel about that?
This is one of the biggest problems right now.
Because that’s where the startup industry in a way is you, is affecting you as a single businessman. Because you have to deal with…
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s really dark. It’s one of the darkest things coming out of VC money. I think it’s literally little bit of a joke how… If you see the free flow of money and how it’s just been thrown around, it’s just… Money doesn’t even have value anymore in Silicon Valley in San Francisco. It’s ridiculous. It has really bad effects.
I am not a socialist. I’m not for like controlling. We shouldn’t ban this stuff because it’s just economics right. It will solve itself because if you see a lot of these VC companies, VC baked startups, and they are competing with bootstrapped startups as well, you see a lot of bootstrapped startups… They are totally outperforming, outcompeting VC backed startups because there’s different pressures. Bootstrap starters, they really need high dedication and focus to a core minimalist set of features. This comes back to minimalism.
What you see with a lot of VC-backed startups is that there’s less pressure… There’s less pressure to generate money obviously. There’s also somebody like okay, let’s just hire a lot of people, okay, so now it’s not a problem. The Mythical Man-Month is a developer anecdote where if you hire more developers, they think your project is going to go fast, but actually it’s going to go slower because there’s more politics.
In the VC money, it’s in a way there’s a trend. It’s like maximalism. It’s not minimalism.
It’s just like you are just throwing bodies at the problem.
You have a lot of money. You are throwing bodies, you are throwing money at the problem. There’s no real concerted efforts. Let’s focus and bootstrapping has a really good advantage where you need to be focused. It’s almost beautiful to talk about it. It’s like… It’s this advantage from a disadvantage right. I’m competing with companies as well where they are copying what I’m doing, but they have 24 people to do that.
I’m here alone like in my kitchen literally sitting with my coffee and my Aeropress and my MacBook and my iPhone and this is it. This is my bag of clothes. This is it. This is the whole company. I’m still outcompeting them. I am the one making money. It’s not a little money either. It’s good money.
What’s the point here? I think the point is that VC money is fine but you need to really need it. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. It’s distraction. Distraction comes down to what we talk about evil… These are all distractions. Everything comes down to focus. There’s also status thing involved. The Ego thing you know raising money gives you the press. Suddenly you’re a cool guy or girl who’s got a lot of money in the bank. Then you go clubbing, you go partying. You are like ‘yeah, we are a VC backed startup. We are doing great. Let’s get some champagne.’ You are going to the Jacuzzi and it’s amazing. It’s a great time right. It doesn’t have anything to do with the business again.
Fuck ego, fuck status and only get VC money if you need it, and focus. That would be my thing. I’m not an expert. I might sound like I know everything, but I don’t know. I’m just trying to…
Yeah, we are just talking about it and see… I mean what you are saying is… Again, this is something that is very relevant for the time that we are living in right now which is… I mean 10 years ago or 15 years ago, it was not possible to do the things that you or other people are doing right now, at least not to a certain degree.
Because like now there’s… You have the big five or big six companies that provide and you don’t necessarily have to build a competitor to them. You just use their infrastructure that they set up and you don’t even have to do it yourself anymore. If you would have started like a startup 20 years ago or 15 years, you would have to deal with like…
Yeah, with servers and like maintenance. You have to code your own payment solution. You have to code your own authentication solution. Now you just hook into Facebook.
You go on to Amazon Cloud, you have Stripe or whatever pay solution you want to use.
That’s huge. That’s the biggest thing that is possible.
I mean it’s amazing actually right.
It’s amazing. Yeah. It’s absolutely amazing. You are right, like… I’ll just forget that, I’m like ‘oh it’s just because I’m, like I could have done this days ago. You are right, I couldn’t. It’s a different time. I think in a way, the VC thing hasn’t updated yet with the time. They still think there’s a lot of money necessary and there’s not.
I think people should measure more like what’s actually… How*** efficient would I be if I would be working alone or with a few people or now 25 people in my VC startup. Is it really working? Are we just putting up a show here? So much stuff is about company building, like, uh let’s create company culture, which is great, like let’s have company parties. What’s the… If you remove everything, what does it come down to right. It comes down to getting revenue, making a cool product. That’s it. Then getting the hell away from you product and going outside and spend time with your girlfriend or boyfriend and your family and have a great life right.
So much stuff about companies we just… It’s just too vague. It’s too obtruse. We don’t even think about why are we doing this company…
Here’s the thing right, I mean the current times are basically challenging the overall understanding that we had from creating a business like for example I mean you studied business. You know much, much more than I do about all of these things. When you think about making a business, right, when you are talking about it, everyone is automatically expecting from you that this is going to be a company that has a headquarters and it has at least this much amount of people.
Yes. This is what is so weird.
For some reason that’s just there. There’s no one… If you say I want to do a business, no one would think that that actually means it’s just you. Because that seems like a failure.
It’s changed so much. It’s changed… You are absolutely right. It’s changed… That’s exactly it. The scary thing is I was always scared of hiring people because I thought okay, then I need an office. It’s like I need to come in at eight. I need to get tables and chairs. I was like I can never do this. Like how am I ever going to do that, and where it’s going to be? Where’s the office going to be like? Amsterdam? Okay. I’m going to have to run… Now it’s like oh no, okay, I have a contractor that might become a full time later. She is working from Singapore. I’m in Colombia. It’s just me and my coffee and my laptop.
It works yeah.
It makes more money than most fixed businesses.
Yeah. Would you say… Do you think that because of the infrastructure that is given right now, unless your goal is to disrupt one of those five big companies, like unless your goal is ‘I want to become the next Amazon, Facebook, Google, whatsoever’, unless that’s not your goal, would you say that in the future there will be like much, much more individual like one man, one woman companies?
Because we don’t necessarily have to either… First of all you don’t have to join a full-time job anymore. You can just do it yourself.
You don’t necessarily need to hire. I mean as long as you… I guess a lot of people underestimate the power of the niche right. They always think of… Because we always hear about the numbers from Facebook and everyone. It’s like millions and billions. If you would be catering let’s say just 10,000 people which is actually quite a lot… If you would have 10,000 people and who are all paying customers, I mean you are done…
Yeah, I mean it’s huge. 10,000 people paying $10 a month that’s a $100,000 a month. That’s $1.2 million a year. It’s a million dollar business of profits. Yeah, but niches are like even if you said it were niche, they are kind of like.
Niches are being. That’s what I mean. I guess people underestimate the power.
Yeah. It feels almost the same way as like lifestyle business right. It’s another word which is kind of like, ‘oh you are a loser but you are making $1 million a year, but you are a loser.’ I was like, ‘no, he’s not a loser. He or she is doing great stuff and is making money. $1 million is huge.’ That’s the weird thing. It’s more cool to make no money or make $1 million. There’s nothing in between that’s cool. But that should be the coolest.
It should be super-cool. That’s slowly changing. You are right, I did a presentation on this because this is my hyopothesis on this, exactly what you said. You are going to have Apple, Facebook, Google or whatever big company, Uber, and they create the platforms that we use to build stuff on. I use the Amazon Web Services for example on Amazon. My hypothesis is that you get a lot of creators like you and me. We are making stuff. You get some remote employees, like some employees but I don’t think a lot because I think most of it will be automated. You get these creative people, it’s like Schumpeter’s economics theory. They are creative disrupters, they create something. It gets traction. Then as soon as possible, the entire company is automated. This is like very futuristic thinking. The company makes a regular cash flow like maybe subscription business and it takes little maintenance. It uses the platforms of these big companies.
The thing is these big companies are really good at big stuff. They are really bad at niches. Facebook literally is bad at niches.
Of course. I mean they don’t see it anymore I guess.
No, because you can’t do both. You can only do one which is you know let’s connect 6 billion people which is great, but then you forget there’s 10,000 people of digital nomads who want to be in chat group like mine who pay a lot of money. We can fill in those gaps economically, those economic gaps which big companies cannot fill because they are too big. There’s not enough return for them to go into those. That’s a lot. In think that’s enough to feed a lot of people with a lot of money.
Yeah, absolutely. Now is the time that you can actually do it. Again, like I mean you could have done it 20 years ago but it was much harder.
Now you have all the tools available.
Legality of nomads
One more question that I have in regards to… Because you are sort of like a digital nomad right. I mean that’s like the buzz word I guess. You are running a remote business which has its own challenges. What I am wondering is… I think my listeners here would love to hear about that too. If you would plan to run a remote business, how… Is it hard to set that up legally? Because essentially where do you pay the taxes?
Yeah, that’s a really good question.
Our governments are ready for digital nomads that live three months or six months maximum in each country and then they travel around. Where do they pay the taxes?
Yeah. They use these super banks. I pay taxes in Holland still which is completely stupid because it’s 52% is the brackets from like 40,000 Euros. I pay about half of my money in just state tax.
Yeah, it’s the same in Germany also which is nuts, especially if you are not even in the country.
Using the country right. Then another 21% goes in VAT. I literally, I get about 34% or something. That’s 34 cents on the dollar I actually make.
I’ve heard people like registering their business in Hong Kong.
Yeah, Hong Kong is really popular but it’s still very… The reason I haven’t done it is just because I’m really… I am not a… What do you call… Vigilante, like crazy person who is without fear of the risks involved because there’s risks involved. What if I get cancer? What if I’ve been away for five years from my country. And then I’m not a resident anymore. And then I don’t have healthcare there. Who’s going to cure my cancer?
It’s a big question. Its like ‘oh you know you are 25, you don’t get sick.’ That’s bullshit. You get sick. It doesn’t really matter if I pay like half my money to tax if I… Then I can use… I know healthcare. You can get international healthcare but it’s just… There’s something really scary about being removed from your country, like legally.
Yeah, which is funny though right, I mean in a way because there might be… I mean who knows, I don’t know maybe in 10 years there’s systems in place that… Because there’s more people traveling right.
For sure. They will.
Right now it’s still really scary.
I think the governments have designed it like that because they want you to stay in the country to pay tax. It’s like an incentive thing. It’s for a reason. But it’s scary. Like somebody like, if you are five years away from a European country, you are… Maybe you are still a resident in Germany, but you are five years in New York, okay now you get kidnapped in Uganda.
No wait, now you get arrested in America. There’s no extradition treaty anymore because if you’ve been away five years from a European country, even if you are a resident, you are not a resident anymore. They are not going to save you. They are not going to extradite you. Now you are stuck in America or whatever country you are arrested. That kind of stuff is fucked up. Healthcare is fucked up. A lot of those things are difficult.
You are recommending right now, even if you want to run a remote business, to stick with your base country where you just pay it.
Yes, stick with your base because you never know when you are going to come back. I am very like international thinking like you are German, I’m skyping… Half my friends are international but still I mean there’s still a thing that ties me back to my country in some way. That’s why I return a lot. You don’t know how life goes. In that way it’s difficult.
The departments of the governments are not really paying a lot of attention to it. They should figure out some program. A cool program would be for example where I can live in a country for three months, pay tax, like maybe half my tax in Netherlands, half my tax in Colombia for three months right. Why not?
I mean you are using the infrastructure of Colombia. I mean it would be just fair…
I should pay for it.
You should pay for it. Then at the same time you should also be excluded from a little bit of tax in Holland.
A little bit yeah, like half or something.
For sure yeah. I think that will come. The problem is now, like I said, it’s like a vigilante thing still to… Like racing into Cayman Islands and pay 0% tax and I don’t know man. It sounds to me a little weird and it sounds scary because what if I come back to Holland and like ‘hey where did you pay tax? Oh Cayman Islands. Oh interesting.’ I don’t know, you make yourself suspects kind of.
There’s also the ethical element. I do want to pay tax. I want to pay for infrastructure. I am not some libertarian and things, ‘oh we should not have no government.’ No, somebody should pay for the street lights. Yeah, it should be a little bit more fair.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s interesting. It’s good to know. We are coming to an end almost. I don’t want to… I know right there’s too many things…
It’s too fun.
I know, I…
We could talk for hours.
Maybe we would talk some other time again. I mean we probably will. I will catch you some time at an airport.
Writing a book
One last thing I want to talk about. You are working on a new project. It’s a book. You are writing a book. You haven’t written it yet I guess.
Yeah. The thing is I hate people that write books so it’s kind of like difficult for me.
Because that’s… Can I call you Coach Pieter.
Yeah I’m Coach Pieter now. I’m a scammy eBook scammer and all.
The shit works really well though. That’s a problem. You announced that you are going to publish this book. You could pre-order. Just talk a little bit about that project. I’m definitely going to get it.
I think it has to do with the email thing as well. People ask me so many questions. I’m like okay, I can blog a lot about it. That would take a lot of time. I think my time needs to be recouped by some money at least. Okay, I’ll charge $3 for this book and then people could pre-order it. I did it very minimally where I don’t really know what to write about yet. I just have a type form where you can enter email and I give you some idea about the book. At the end of the type form, where you preorder it, you get a link to a work flow which is like a to-do list. No, just like a list app online. It’s a shared link. You can edit it. You can add like what should Pieter write about. Then I am slowly going to start writing.
I want to talk about like how to get ideas for a startup and obviously it’s going to be based kind of about blue chip startups mostly, because that’s what I do. How to get idea? How to build it? A lot of people cannot code. I’m going to ask… I’m going to think about like how can you build a startup without code like with APIs, like connecting different APIs together with web services, even stuff like connecting humans to an API. You have virtual assistant services. If you connect those to different APIs, you can literally build a company without any code, without a single line of code.
Yeah. I mean you can sell a book without even having it written yet.
Yeah. Exactly. That kind of stuff. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about launching like a product on Hacker News use that kind of stuff. Just like a book that has no bullshit. Just hopefully kind of timeless ideas about basic principles of building a company. It’s going to save people time. It costs me time to write. I have to put a price on it to recoup it as well. It’s scary for me because I don’t want to do the whole like ‘this book’s going to change your life, let’s go start up and blah, blah, blah’ and exclamation marks and big yellow buttons. I wanted to be really dry and like this is a book and there’s some information in it. You can buy it rather than just bit more modest…
Is it going to be a hard-cover book though or is it just an eBook?
Just eBook yeah. I mean I guess I can print it via some service.
I don’t know I mean that’s…
I don’t really believe in this stuff so much. It sounds like a lot of work. I mean do you care?
No, I don’t know. The thing is, I think I would care if it would be a different book. Like a book written by a digital nomad that makes like absolutely no sense. It’s like hey I’m a… It’s like, ‘I’m a digital nomad and I have something for you that puts more weight into your luggage.’ That makes no sense to me. Yeah, you are right. It feels a little bit off. If it would be a different book I would probably value it. I switched completely on to the Kindle so I would love to have it on there hopefully.
Exactly. I’m thinking of it more like the blog post kind of. Like just blog post…
Yeah, you just jump in and you don’t have to read it from the start to finish right. You just jump in.
Yeah. You see the book thing changing as well. Like the book… How people perceive books is changing as well. People are launching books which is just Medium posts. Where you pay and hat’s just a Medium post. Yeah, it’s changing.
Are there any three books that you would like to recommend here that’s like one of your favorites
I don’t read a lot of books. No, but I read one book like years ago which was about investing, like investing money. It just said like that everything is bullshit about… You know if you invest in like stocks, you are going to underperform the index which means you are going to underperform the NASDAQ or Dow Jones or New York Stock Exchange whatever. You should invest in like 20-year long ETFs which mirror the index of American stocks or Chinese stocks. That’s the entire summary of the book. I was like, this is amazing because it was based on data and it showed that I don’t need to invest in stocks and who’s going to lose money.
What’s the title?
That’s the problem, I have no idea. Haha.
That was a great book. You don’t need to buy because I’ve already told you the summary. In general, when I want to read a book, I Google the book title and then I type summary. I will read the summary which takes like five minutes. It’s very recommended.
Yeah, all the authors, they must love you. Haha.
Yeah, exactly. So much book sales. Most of the books are just introduction right. I mean they repeat their premises which is stupid.
Okay. Well, Pieter, is it Pieter or Peter. It’s just Pieter because it’s with an I, it’s IE?
This is German Pieter. Yeah, so it’s like German, like Pieter.
No it’s different. No Pieter in German has no I.
No but that’s Peter.
But it’s the same name, isn’t it?
Yeah. No you have Peter and you have Pieter. It’s just Peter in German?
No because Peter in German is Pieter, the pronunciation is Peter in English.
Yeah, exactly, yeah. So we have both. Obviously Pieter is better than Peter
Of course. Okay. Well, thank you so much Pieter for this conversation. I think we could actually have a second run and we would have enough topics to talk about.
Yeah, you should make it three hours next time. Yeah, a lot of time.
So thank you so much.
Yeah, thanks so much for having me Tobias.
It’s me again. Hey, thanks so much for listening to this very first episode. I had a blast talking to Pieter. If you would like to let me know, send me a tweet with your feedback. Any recommendations are always welcome. I am looking forward to share the next episode with you. There are a bunch more coming. I just… I really can’t wait to share them with you. Thanks so much for listening.
P.S. I'm writing a book on bootstrapping startups called MAKE, which you can pre-order now. And I'm now on Instagram and Twitter too if you'd like to follow more of my adventures. I don't use email so tweet me your questions.
Tobias van Schneider interviewed me about everything