Hello, and welcome to another episode of Wannabe Entrepreneur, the podcast about what's really like to bootstrap a company. And today I have a new person in the business, a newbie in bootstrapping. His name is Pieter Levels. What's up Pieter? Everything good with you?
Pieter Levels (00:00:17):
What's up, man? Thank you for having me.
Thank you for taking the time. I think, obviously, everyone that is listening to this knows Pieter, is kind of the person that started bootstrapping. We're just chatting about it off the record and he just said that now bootstrapping is kind of mainstream and everyone speaks about it, but when he first started, everyone was more into VC and startups and shark tank. And not a lot of people were actually speaking about bootstrapping. So, is the creator of Nomad List, Remote OK, Rebase.co, and I guess another thousand cool projects. And super excited to have a chat with you. And I guess we can speak a little bit about Rebase, about Portugal, about bootstrapping. I have a lot of questions. So super excited.
Pieter Levels (00:01:09):
I always ask this to the people I'm interviewing, to introduce themselves in their own words. If you don't mind, would you do that?
Pieter Levels (00:01:20):
Yeah, sure. So my name is Pieter Levels. I'm originally from Holland, Amsterdam, I wasn't born there, but I lived there a lot and everybody knows Amsterdam. So it's easy place to say.
I love the city, man. It's such a cool city.
Pieter Levels (00:01:35):
It's beautiful, man. Especially in the summer. It's amazing. And so, I make startups, but not really billion dollar startups, but I mean, million dollar startups is good and they're indie, so I don't really raise funding for them, I just make it myself. I write code, I design, I make the logo, I do the marketing. I do pretty much everything. I make the database, I make the code and I made a lot of projects, over 70 projects, and a few became successful, like Nomad List and Remote OK, and recently, like you said, Rebase. And most of my projects now are about remote work. And it's my mission, is to promote the freedom of global movement that's enabled by remote work. And that's what I live for. That's what I want to do. And that's what I did for the last, almost eight years now, I think.
Why this motto? Why having this mission of allowing everyone to travel freely?
Pieter Levels (00:02:47):
I think it's something that... When I grew up, I didn't actually travel around the whole world. The first time I really went outside Europe was in 2009. I studied business administration in Amsterdam and they had a program, an exchange program, many people do it these days. And I went to Korea and I studied in Seoul, at Korea University. That's the name of the university. And it was life changing. I was like, "Wow, I'm on the other side of the world." And like everybody I think, I was scared of outside Europe and traveling and stuff and moving abroad, it was really scary. I was like, "What was going to happen? Is it safe and stuff?"
Especially to a different continent, right?
Pieter Levels (00:03:36):
Dude, a hundred percent. And it was so strange. It was such a culture shock arriving. We flew there with two Dutch classmates who were [foreign language 00:03:47], and still best friends, and we arrived there at the airport, and flying is already interesting, but then arriving in a place in the middle of the night, taking the bus. And we had no idea about how to get to our hotel, or our hostel I think it was even, at a shared six people dorm. And we were just in a random neighborhood in Seoul, and with neon lights everywhere. You know Asia, all these neon lights, just like in Japan.
Pieter Levels (00:04:17):
And we were so hungry and there was only this street food. So we eat these rice cakes in red sauce and it was super spicy and we almost threw up because it was just burning our throats so much. And then we ended up in some bar called the Sam bar, because Sam means tree. And we started drinking and asking them if they could help us find our way to our home. And they did. So we drank a lot there. And then we ended up in our hostel that night. And I don't know, that first night was already like, "This is so crazy." Other side of the world, so much adventures and stuff. And that expanded my whole view on the world. And everybody was really nice. Everybody was so nice to outsiders.
Europe is interesting because it's somehow its own country, a big country, because the culture is similar, right?
Pieter Levels (00:05:12):
But the moment you go, for instance, to Asia, and my only experience in India was actually in India, because when I moved to Germany, I'm from Portugal, working in Germany for six years. I met a lot of people from India and I met people from all over the world. So this was really nice, to get to know other cultures, but Asia and India, it's such a different way of living. So different that you either love it or you hate it. And I was super addictive. And I just want to go back because this was so interesting.
Pieter Levels (00:05:47):
Totally man. It's also relative. If you grow up in Asia, then you have the same vibe that we have about Asia, as with Europe. A lot of people here are dreaming about Europe and they're obsessed about Europe. And I think it's kind of similar thing. It's just like, you grew up in a culture and then you go to another culture and it's just like... It's so exhilarating, because everything is different and you learn so much and also, you're forced to go outside and talk to people just to survive, cause you need to eat, you need to somehow order food or buy food and it forced you out of your comfort zone.
Are you the kind of person that likes to fit in or to bring your culture? I feel that when you're traveling, there's two kinds of people. People that love to be tourists and they say... We have this a lot in Portugal, by the way. And sometimes with my family this happened, I'm traveling with my family and we are in a beautiful beach and it's like, "Yeah, we also have this in Portugal." Try to bring the culture there. And then there's other people, like me, that are like, "I don't want anyone to know that I'm a tourist and I want to just fit in and to learn from them." Which kind of person are you?
Pieter Levels (00:07:04):
Well, it's difficult to not look like tourist because I'm blonde and white, and that's not people in Asia. But I think it's important that you try to match the culture, local culture level. For example, in Asia you need to be much more polite and you need to be friendly and talk softer because the closer you get to the United States of America, the higher the decibel of voice. Everywhere you go you hear Americans, always, like, "Louder! Louder!" It's just so loud. And then Europe is somewhere in the middle, and then Asia just speaks soft. So you need to match the culture and you need to be respectful. And then, of course you bring your own culture, because that's you. And it's always a mix of...
Pieter Levels (00:07:56):
With COVID is very different, because it's hard to now meet people. But before COVID, it's a mix of generally you hang with locals and you hang with other foreigners in a place, and there's exceptions to that. But there's also, places like Korea don't have a lot of foreigners living there, so you hang more with locals. Places like Bali, Canggu, that's definitely a resort town. So it's mostly foreigners living there and the restaurants are ran by locals and it's good. The money flows to locals. It's probably harder to hang with locals there because it's more of a resort town. It's always a mix and everybody should do what they want to do. And if you want to be a tourist, that's fine too.
When you go back and visit your friends back home, people that didn't travel, did you feel like that there is a difference in perspectives? Can you still identify with your friends back home?
Pieter Levels (00:09:00):
A hundred percent. Honestly, the friends I had when I graduated are very different than the friends I have now. When I graduated university and then started traveling and living abroad, are very different and I still love those old friends. I don't talk to them a lot. I talk to the friends that went the same way as me. Also went traveling and remote work. I'd love to have a more diverse friend group, but it is difficult, because you change when you go abroad and people that stay in their own country also change. And people become more set in their ways.
It's funny to see that normally... This is my experience as an expat. The first one or two years, it seems that every time you go back home, nothing changed and you changed so much. But then after three, four years, I started noticing this. It seems that they moved on, they have their life. And then I feel, and it's an interesting thing now that I returned, because I have a lot of friends that I met as an expat and I really identify myself with them. And now I'm back, and my friends here, it's hard to reconnect even though I like them, but-
Pieter Levels (00:10:24):
No, it really sucks because you had a lot of shared history and there's nothing negative about them. There's also nothing negative about us. And I think it's natural that the people in your life changed throughout your life, and it's not a bad thing. It's a real challenge to have a very diverse friend group. And honestly, I think the people that go abroad the first time in [inaudible 00:10:48] and stuff, the first two or three years, they're insufferable, that's the word. They cannot stop talking about, "Oh my God, everything's amazing abroad. And oh my God, I went to Asia, and I went to Latin America and blah, blah, blah." So that's really annoying for people that stay at home. But then it's also annoying because I do think nomads and people abroad they get over it and they're like, "Okay, it's not better or worse. Just different."
It's a different lifestyle.
Pieter Levels (00:11:16):
But I do feel like maybe the people that stay at home, they do get threatened by, if you make a different life choice than them, because they want to have a cognitive confirmation that they made the right choice. Because if they made the wrong choice for them... If things work out for you abroad and they think they also could have done it, then maybe they made the wrong choice.
Pieter Levels (00:11:46):
So then, the easy way is to attack it. And that's what I do. Especially, I would say 2014, 2015, I had a lot where I would talk to people in Amsterdam at home when I was flying back and they were like, "Pieter, this doesn't work. You cannot do this. People need community. You need roots. You need to be in one place and remote work doesn't work. You need an office. You need people, colleagues and stuff," and all this stuff. And I was like, "Yeah, but also..." All my friends were doing it differently and it's going well, we're working remotely or we're building companies. It wasn't going extremely well, but we were making our own money from it and it was going okay. And then, now with COVID, everything changed. Because remote work is mainstream. Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky, just tweeted, "We're all going to become digital nomads." And suddenly it's mainstream. And there's a certain vengeance aspect to that, "Look, I was right." But also there's the realization, I think that you should be open for different ideas, but you shouldn't think that your lifestyle is better or their lifestyle's worse. I think it's good to respect everybody's lifestyle and I guess learn about it.
What did your family say when you started this life of living the digital nomad? First of all, did they want you to be an full-time entrepreneur? Or were they worried that "Okay, why don't you just get a job and get on with it?"
Pieter Levels (00:13:25):
Dude, my parents are amazing. My mom and dad are... Now I realize more and more, they're really amazing because the only thing they always said was, "Beat as long as you're happy." And I guess also don't hurt other people that were happy for you. Just do whatever makes you happy. And they never told me what to do.
Are they also entrepreneurs?
Pieter Levels (00:13:49):
No. My dad's a doctor and my mom is a lawyer, but she didn't really work. She just raise kids. My dad always wanted to become a filmer. They grew up really poor, and this was after the war in world war II. So he was born just after that, 1948. And the city he was in, Rotterdam, was completely flat bombed by the Germans, was gone and the whole country was in ruins after the war and everybody was poor. So my grandmother told my dad... My dad was like, "I want to go to film school. I want to become a film director." And my grandmother was like, "No, you're not going to become film director. You're going to become a doctor." So, I think you see this a lot with families in Asia, also where the parents tell you, "You need to become doctor, lawyer or something."
I mean everywhere, in Portugal is the same. Everyone wants you to become a lawyer or a doctor, because they make money.
Pieter Levels (00:14:44):
Or a politician.
Pieter Levels (00:14:45):
It's a way out. So it sucked because he wanted to be... And he did a lot of film. Now he's retired and he studies film history and stuff and he's doing a PhD in film history. Amazing. [inaudible 00:14:58]
You think you are an inspiration for him?
Pieter Levels (00:15:02):
No, I think he's an inspiration for me. My parents are, because... Well, I know what you mean. He always told us to do whatever we wanted to do because he was forced to become doctor. And that was a big lesson for me, this is also a point of luxury because if you grow up middle class or upper middle class, and Holland doesn't really have poverty, honestly the country has a lot of social welfare systems. So most of the country's middle class, which is really good, but my point is I had the opportunity because if I was his generation, my mom would've or my dad would've told me, "You need to become a doctor or a lawyer." So I was the second generation of that cycle. And then you have the opportunity to become whatever you want. You can also become very lazy, I guess.
So where did the inspiration come from, to become an entrepreneur? What were your idols?
Pieter Levels (00:15:59):
Man, so I come from music. First, I was doing graphic design, when I was 12 years old on the computer. Photoshop stuff and art, visual art. And I was in all these online communities. One was called Now Go Create, the other one was called Yayhooray, I think Yayhooray still exists. This was early internet, like 2003 or something, way back. And we'd always download illegal software. We download Photoshop, the warez websites. And we download Photoshop, we download other premier to make video, like After Effects. I made a lot of graphics like that, video graphics. I wanted to become really good at this art stuff. And then I went to a festival in my hometown, annual festival [foreign language 00:16:41] for this big event we have, and there was a guy with a laptop in this little, really small show. There was really big shows.
Pieter Levels (00:16:48):
Music shows, all these really small shows and this guy was doing glitch music. He's IDM, intelligent dance music, very pretentious. Anyway, he had a laptop and he was making music. I was like, "Wow, I have a computer." So I went back around the stage and I looked at his laptop, which was the software. And then my brother was like, "That's Reason." So I downloaded this program, Reason, of course I downloaded it illegally, didn't have money. And I started making music. And then first, I made IDM and then I made drum based music. And then I started DJing and my own songs, in Holland, and I started doing my own shows and stuff. And I even played in UK. I went on the radio in UK on the BBC. I was play listed with my music and it was going really well. But mostly I learned from making my own CD. Cause everyone-
Making your own music, you didn't do remixes.
Pieter Levels (00:17:45):
No, I made my own music. That was the special thing. Because most people just DJ. I made my own songs.
See, that's what I find really interesting already, because I really love music as well. I'm not a musician, but I play the guitar and I'm actually making an album, but just for fun. But I find it as the ultimate creative art. I don't know. I feel the same with coding. I started coding because I found a way to transform my ideas into reality with just a laptop. And it's the same with the guitar. You can get your thoughts into a song that makes sense and touch people. And it's really a great way to explore your creativity. Is that why you like music so much, too?
Pieter Levels (00:18:33):
Well, my dad was also very creative and he always supported us to make all this stuff. All the computer stuff was new, but he was smart enough to think, "Okay, this is the future. So let these kids play in the computer a lot, make whatever they want." My brother made 3D models, 3D animation with 3D studio max, back then, when he was a teenager. And my other brother was doing more hardware stuff, electronics and stuff, but we were always creating. And my dad and my mom always supported us to not go... We couldn't ask for PlayStation or something, but we could ask for painting tools or a guitar or something. They really, I think, purposely pushed us towards creative tools to use, and I would do the same thing, but of course music, but every expression of creativity is just pure and magical. And if it's visual art, graphic design music or writing, even, or websites, I think they're entrepreneurship. I think this is the big thing people not in entrepreneurship and not in business they really misunderstand, entrepreneurship is way closer to creativity in arts than to corporate big business. I studied business, so I studied corporate stuff.
You did an MBA, right?
Pieter Levels (00:20:00):
So my bachelor's was business administration and my master's was entrepreneurship. So, I learned both things. And I think entrepreneurship is way closer to creativity and expression than to big corporate business, because business is about wearing suits and it's management and it's also interesting in its own way, but it's more like MBA theory comes from the military actually, comes from 1950 US military management theory. And entrepreneurship comes from creativity, from arts. It's completely different.
I've been trying to find, with all the interviews I've done, I'm trying to find what is an entrepreneur? What is the core of being an entrepreneur? And one thing that I've noticed, is that most of the people I interviewed, is they want to create their own thing, and they might be really happy with the company that they are working for. But the only problem that people normally find, and I say these other times, is that it's not their company. And if you compare it with, let's say an artist, a painter, you can clearly distinguish the difference between painting someone else's painting. Someone tells you to paint something, you just do it, or painting your own art. And it's exactly the same for entrepreneur. You can have some fun working for others in the project that you believe in, but it's completely different than making your own company.
Pieter Levels (00:21:29):
A hundred percent. And I think part of it has to do with autonomy. Autonomy is a word we don't use enough, I think. Autonomy, my friend [foreign language 00:21:41], he's a Dutch writer, also makes startups now, but he writes a lot about autonomy. And the concept is that, having the power over your own decisions, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're egoistic or something, it means that you have your own authority over your own decisions and you choose. And if you choose to do things for other people, that's also autonomy. It's like, it's not egoistic. It's more like you set your own environments. You have to control
You have to control for your own life.
Pieter Levels (00:22:14):
And of course, this all comes down to philosophy. This is a choice that probably has a lot to do with individualism, hyper individualism.
And psychology too though, because I feel that there are people that are not comfortable with taking their own decisions so much and they prefer being guided. And then there's people that like the responsibility of taking their own lives in their own hands or even being a leader.
Pieter Levels (00:22:44):
Well, this is a controversial theme, but if you look at kids, when they grow up, how they're playing creatively with their toys and drawing, every kid's drawing always. They're really creative and they're really autonomous. And they are very excited about a lot of stuff. And I feel that the education system doesn't give you... Many people say this, but they removed this autonomy and this creativity out of kids at a very early age. "No, you did it wrong. No, that's not how you draw a tree. What if you draw a tree in a more interesting way?" It's like you have to follow by the rules. And rules are, of course, they decimate creativity because the best creativity is unbound. You know what I mean?
I think, we are definitely getting very philosophical here, but I would also argue that, to live in a community, you need the leaders and the creators, and then you need the people that also fall in line. So, I don't know if this is not just a survival thing, when they say, "No, this is not how we do it. We do it like this." And then-
Pieter Levels (00:23:59):
I think you make an assumption that I don't know if it's true necessarily. Because you make an assumption based on this industrialist capitalist hierarchy of a percentage of top leaders and then some followers and stuff. I don't think this is necessarily... It's just how we run things now, but if you look at the future, this is not necessarily how we run things in the future. Look at the rise of crypto and decentralization and stuff where... And again, autonomy over your own accounts, your money, stuff, accounts that get frozen. I think the trend is not towards hierarchy. The trend is towards... More people have a voice, look at YouTubers now, that get more views than media channels. Media channels were hired-
Is it more people that have a voice or different people that have a voice? I don't know, because now, if you're a YouTuber, you can get a voice and maybe before you couldn't, but still, it doesn't mean that everyone can have a voice because not everyone can become a YouTuber.
Pieter Levels (00:25:04):
No, everybody can have a voice because everybody can upload a video on YouTube.
But it doesn't mean that people will listen to it.
Pieter Levels (00:25:11):
True. But you have to define what it means having a voice, before you couldn't even get on the TV, because of the gatekeeper and now it's all open. I think that's less [inaudible 00:25:24]
The potential is there, right?
Pieter Levels (00:25:26):
Having people listen to what you say, that's never guaranteed. That shouldn't be guaranteed, but you should be able to have a voice. I think we are going away from hierarchical structures, not towards it. Of course, you're right, history is full of hierarchical structures. Looking at 12th century or something like the feudalism, people who own the land and rent it out and stuff, it's definitely of old time. You're right. But I don't think it's necessary.
This is a very interesting topic. I totally agree with you, but I tend always to question everything and understand if the reason why we're doing it in a certain way, is it the right or wrong, but in the end there's no right or wrong.
Pieter Levels (00:26:15):
It's an interesting topic.
Going back a little bit to entrepreneurship, even though I would speak about this for hours. You had your masters in business, but you also mentioned quite often that you learn most of your things by doing. And I'm very curious about what have you actually learned from your studies that it would be really hard for you to learn by just doing.
Pieter Levels (00:26:40):
Great question. So, I did my master's in business and my master's in entrepreneurship. And my bachelor's... I tweeted this whole MBA thread, some years ago, with everything I learned, all the theory and stuff. And business theory is interesting, but very limited because it's all these conceptual frameworks, like Porter's Five Forces and stuff. It's like these people, "I think we should categorize things in this way." And you cannot test these things. This is social studies. You cannot test them scientifically, like you can test in biology or chemistry. So it's all quite subjective, but I think basically [inaudible 00:27:20]. I think it's barriers to entry. Being a market with high bears to entry, so it's hard for competitors to get in. You need to differentiate as a company, as a product. That kind of stuff is interesting.
So these are concepts that you learn in your studies and are crucial for building your products as well.
Pieter Levels (00:27:42):
Well, I don't even mean crucial. I think, honestly, if I was 18, I wouldn't go to university. I would just skip it now. This was different than two years ago, I think. But now things are changing so fast. I think the only reason to go to university is to show you have the discipline to sit through four years of coursework and write a master thesis or something, or bachelor's thesis, and show that you have the discipline. I think it's a discipline test. But I just don't think the connection... I think that world changing so fast now that there's no connection necessarily. Especially with social studies like business, there's no connection with the current reality of the world and what you learn in school. It's just all outdated within a month.
So you think you could have had the same success you had with your projects without going through your studies?
Pieter Levels (00:28:36):
I think yes. When I talk with my dad about it, he's always like, "No, well, Pete, you learn a lot of integral academic fundamentals, blah blah." And I'm like, "Mm," because he's really about this academic, but I'm like... I don't don't know, man.
It's hard now because you went through it. You would need to find examples of people that didn't go through it.
Pieter Levels (00:28:54):
Well, I know from my peers. It's always good to compare yourself to your peers, my classmates and stuff. And most people didn't start a company. And most people just went to become employees and stuff. Man, the amount stuff I learned in the reality and practical from doing things in the last eight years would be... Nothing bad against my university. I think it's just all universities, but something like a thousand times more than stuff I learned in university. I know it's unpopular opinion.
Well, I totally agree. And in the end, of course, is one person that decided that for you to be called an engineer, you need to study these subjects. But in reality you need to learn much more, or just different things, depends also on what kind of engineer you want to become and so on.
Pieter Levels (00:29:46):
It's the basis. And you get the time also to go in depth into things that might not be super relevant, but it's also important to know. Let's say mathematics, you probably don't use mathematics in your daily business, but knowing it, it's also important somehow, because it trains your mind to maybe think in a different way.
Pieter Levels (00:30:14):
Obviously, I had a lot of problems with mathematics, cause I'm not good at it. So, I think I got kicked out of high school for my mathematics grades was too low. And I had to get back into university by doing all these tests for statistics and mathematics. And I studied all summer, for months in the attic of my parents' house. Just learning this math stuff was so difficult, but then, honestly-
Pieter Levels (00:30:45):
No, it was just very difficult for me. Dude, integrals, [inaudible 00:30:51] formulas and integrals are insane. You need to-
Pieter Levels (00:30:54):
You need to take a formula and then expand it into what it was. It's so difficult. But I barely use that. In my coding, I do plus, some form variables. I do sometimes statistical tests, but that's just easy stuff. You just search how it works. You install library like P-test, T-test and stuff, significance.
Pieter Levels (00:31:24):
Again, it's more about discipline. It's showing that you can go through it. I think the social part of university is very important. Meeting people, dating, going on dates and stuff, parties. It's very important. It's extremely important, I think. But if you're 18 now, and I keep meeting more and more of these people that are 18 and they just skip university and you just go nomad. And I think I would do that. I would go nomad, start businesses and stuff, try a lot of stuff. That's the most exciting thing you can do now with your life. And right now, it's probably as interesting and probably more interesting than university. I wouldn't say this two years ago, but things have changed rapidly.
I totally understand an I see your point. I also think that people shouldn't rush too much to start their own company. Just now, someone was talking with me on Twitter and asking, "I'm 18. I need to start my company right now. Otherwise I'm losing time." I'm like, "What?"
Pieter Levels (00:32:26):
"Chill. There's so much to learn." And I don't think that there's a need for that stress, just out of the bat.
Pieter Levels (00:32:35):
No, but I think it's natural. I had to stress, in my twenties. And it beat at 27 or something, where I just had mental breakdown. That's also why I started traveling, but just this stress of like, "Oh my God, I'm going to be 30. I'm not successful. Blah, blah, blah, blah." And I think becoming successful and then therapy helps a lot of that.
How do you deal with that? How do you deal with this, getting 30 and not being successful? How did you overcome that?
Pieter Levels (00:33:12):
So relative, successful. Because life is already great, but when you're 27, 26 and you're from Holland and you're a middle class kid and your dream is to do startup and stuff, and then, of course, your definition of success is getting a successful startup.
But what is successful startup? It's like a million, is it a thousand?
Pieter Levels (00:33:38):
The definition is very vague. So that's why you also go into therapy. What does that mean? What does it mean success for you?
Is this something crucial that people should define before starting?
Pieter Levels (00:33:51):
No, you just go with the flow. But I think it's natural that people at late twenties have these breakdowns. Everybody has it. It's called Saturn Return, where the planet Saturn returns to the same place it was when you were born. I don't believe in astrology, but that's how they call it. And it usually happens after you graduate. And you're like, "Wow, is this it? Is this my life? I have a job now, is this it? Almost free, am I going to die... In 50 years, is this what I'm going to do?" And after 30, you become much more chilled, at least I had that. And also with my business now doing well, it really helps to become more chill.
Pieter Levels (00:34:31):
I don't need to impress people. I don't need to... I can be very autonomous. I'm much more relaxed. I was very not relaxed.
It is stupid stories of Facebook and so on. People are like, "Look at him. He created Unicorn with 22." And you only hear about this because it's the survivor bias. So you're like, "Oh my God, what am I doing? These people are so famous."
Pieter Levels (00:34:58):
And the odds of you starting building on a company are so small, but the odds of you starting... That's a good bridge towards any, but the odds of you starting a million dollar company are very reasonable, absolutely reasonable, absolutely possible. Because a million dollar company, what does that mean? It means five to 10x valuation of revenue. So a million dollar, what's that? That's 200k... Or 100k a year. That's completely in reach, to make a little app or startup or product or website.
Let's get into that. Because it seems to be in reach, because you see people doing it. But, for me, a bootstrapper that started this seven months ago and I'm making less than a hundred bucks a month. It seems very, very far. And I was a software developer before and I was making good salary, especially in Germany. And now, for me, it seems impossible to get to this salary as a bootstrapper, even though it's my purpose and I totally love it.
Pieter Levels (00:36:03):
What were you making in Germany before?
Pieter Levels (00:36:06):
That's a lot. Takes high. But that's also the problem, because the longer you wait... Is called golden handcuffs. The longer you wait, the higher your salary becomes and the harder it is to leave, because when you quit and you make your own money, it's much harder to make 5k with your own business than to do it as employee. Imagine you make 10k, it will take years to get to 10k with a startup. So it just gets hard and harder to work for yourself.
And this is actually one of the questions I had here. What should one do, should you start something as a side gig and still have your job or should you just go all in?
Pieter Levels (00:36:52):
No, I think a hundred percent side gig. I did the same thing. So, I did my music stuff and then I started uploading it to YouTube and I accidentally built a business there. I became one of the biggest electronic music channels networks on YouTube back in 2008, 2009, 2010, because nobody else was uploading music on YouTube and I was one of the first. And I got all the big DJs and artists on my channel, in drum pace, house and a lot of other genres.
But if you are making music, then you are already an entrepreneur.
Pieter Levels (00:37:24):
The thing was, I was making money with YouTube because not just my own music, but also other artists came on. I was making money with ads. So my point is, I was making $1,000, $2,000, sometimes $8,000 per month. And this gave me a side gig. This... Sorry, this gave me a main gig, so I could do side gig. So I could go travel after studying, because this YouTube channel was during my study days. And when I graduated, my friend [foreign language 00:37:51], the guy from Korea, the Dutch guy. He was like, "You can also do this remotely on the other side of the world. Why don't you go travel with your laptop and just make these YouTube videos, if you make money anyway." I'm like, "Cool. I'll do it." But the point was I had money flowing in already and that gave me... I left in April, 2014, went traveling and the first money I made was August, 2014 or something. So it took over a year get to any money.
I think you definitely need to have some savings. So, that's what I've done. I got some savings. I'm actually getting unemployment money from Germany, which is amazing.
Pieter Levels (00:38:33):
It's really nice. But I still quit any job. So I still add to my savings, I have this money coming in. But I'm doing a hundred percent because it's so much work. It's so much things that you need to learn so much things you need to try that I cannot imagine how people can do this and still have an eight hours or nine hours job on the side.
Pieter Levels (00:38:57):
That's life. Life is sacrifice. And entrepreneurship is sacrifice. So, if you want to do entrepreneurship, you need to sacrifice a lot of things. Again, this is the barrier to entry. If it would be easy to do it, everybody will be doing it. Everybody would be successful at it. So, I think entrepreneurship is one of the hardest things to do in life. I think, this is maybe biased, but I think it comes close to being a-
Definitely in the professional life, I would say.
Pieter Levels (00:39:28):
Being a Olympic professional athlete is also really hard and I think it's very similar. It takes so much of you, especially in the beginning, when things don't work and it's emotionally so exhausting that nothing that you do works. And by the way, same with artists. Again, it's the same thing. You make all this music and nobody likes it. For years, nobody likes it.
For me, being an artist is being an entrepreneur.
Pieter Levels (00:39:57):
Because again, it's the same thing. But all the other things, like a normal job, it's so different because it's not... Well, it's exhausting in a very different way, but it's not exhausting in that, nobody pays you money. You immediately get $2,000 a month, you get paid your salary from day one. It's so different. And that's why, I'd say the earlier you can get into entrepreneurship or becoming an artist or whatever, the better because you get so used to the golden handcuffs again.
You get used to-
Interesting. I didn't know that concept.
Pieter Levels (00:40:33):
Not to judge your personal choices, but I would recommend other people to not quit a job and go live on savings. Because that gives you a limited runway. I would maybe work part-time or something, and I know it's hard and you need to sacrifice. So, when I did it, I was single, I didn't have a girlfriend much of the time, so I didn't have kids for example. So my point is, there was a lot of time, like in university, there was a lot of time to work on stuff for example. University is a great time to work on stuff because you barely need to be present at these classes. I would let my classmates sign for me, so I didn't have to go to classes and you have a lot of time to work on stuff. That or having a main gig, and then working on the side, I think is recommendable, because you don't want to run out of money and then you have to go back and it's just depressing.
Definitely. And I'm in that position as well. Or I might be in the future, that I would have to go back, but I still think it was worth it, to be honest, I've learned a lot and not having a gig and having to rely on yourself only... I don't know. It's a different perspective. I don't know if you've ever heard this theory that the Vikings would burn their ships before invading new land.
Pieter Levels (00:41:56):
And I understand it doesn't work for everyone, but if you have some savings, at least for me, it worked. I also obviously agree with what you have to say.
Pieter Levels (00:42:04):
You have unemployment money, that's pretty much the main thing. How much is that? What you get?
It's a lot. It's $1,700.
Pieter Levels (00:42:14):
Perfect. Then you don't need main gig. Then you made the perfect choice. You don't need to go back. This is enough money to live on. And also, the nomad thing ties into this. A really good trick is to use this freedom to go live in a cheap place, move to somewhere where it's affordable. It could be in your own country, move somewhere more rural, small town. Because most of the day you're going to sit inside anyway on your computer, so why do you need to live in Berlin or in Amsterdam? When you can live in somewhere small.
True, true, true.
Pieter Levels (00:42:46):
You could save a lot. An Amsterdam rent would be probably 1500 euros a month now, or 2,000.
Pieter Levels (00:42:53):
Absurd. But then, a small town could maybe be 200 or 300. So, that would 5x your runway, so you could... Or something. That kind of stuff is interesting. And that's also what I did with nomading, back then, I went to check my... Where I rented the hotel room, I talked to the manager, I think I paid 200 a month for a hotel room, just very small with the bed. And the food was... It was like 50 cents or something for a rice and chicken or $1. And my spending was quite low and that gave me a lot of runway to work on stuff.
Definitely. If you get that possibility, I think it's totally worth it. And if you are willing to do it, I think, some people might not be.
Pieter Levels (00:43:43):
Sacrifice, man. Life is sacrifice. If you want one thing, you won't get the other thing.
Going back to Rebase, because it's also a bit connected with this, the possibility of helping people to move to different destinations. So how did this idea came to be?
Pieter Levels (00:44:05):
Really interesting. So, before COVID started, this was December, 2019. I was in Chiang Mai, with Daniel John from ghost. Daniel's my server guy. Andrey Asimov, the indie maker guy. A lot of my... Mark from BetaList and Whip. A lot of these famous indie people, a lot of my friends and a lot of nomads. And we were all in Chiang Mai and then COVID hits. And I think we flew to Malaysia, went to Penang. And we were in Penang and COVID was in China and was starting to spread to Malaysia, at the Thailand. And we didn't really understand, was this going to be big? Were it small? Was this nothing? People immediately started wearing masks, in Asia was really good. And I asked Twitter, should I fly home? What if this thing... Because it went exponential. What if this thing gets worse in Asia, maybe escaped to Europe. And it was like, "Yeah, go to Europe now." So I flew home, around early February and I went quarantine immediately. I went to the airport hotel in Amsterdam and I went there for 10 days and everybody was laughing at me. My parents were laughing at me. My friends were laughing me. Why would you quarantine? Man, this was before-
Are you volunteering?
Pieter Levels (00:45:26):
Quarantine didn't exist. This was nothing. We were on Telegram groups with... We knew everything. There was so much information that wasn't on mainstream. The delay from our Telegram groups about COVID and to the mainstream media was four months, it was insane, or three months.
Which groups are those?
Pieter Levels (00:45:45):
Just friend groups. And then there was specific COVID groups. Everybody already knew what was going to happen with COVID on Telegram in January, 26.
Pieter Levels (00:45:57):
No, worldwide. We already knew what was going to happen, because you could look at the statistics. It was already scientists studying everything. Anyway, my point is, back then nobody knew anything. So I flew back. I was in the quarantine hotel, and this is in the airport hotel normally, voluntarily quarantine. Then I went to my parents' house and I stayed there. I started buying food. I bought a thousand euros of food at the big supermarket, because we didn't know if this was going to be a crazy pandemic killing everybody. Or it was like... Well it turned out to be pretty bad, but still.
I did the same. Did you also buy toilet paper?
Pieter Levels (00:46:36):
No, no toilet paper. I stocked up my food, somewhere in February two or something. And my friends also did and I was wearing a mask. There was a guy who coughed at me because I was wearing a mask, February five, in the supermarket. This was all before everything.
Dude, in Netherlands, it was really hard to convince people to wear a mask. I've been there and no one was wearing a mask, even in [inaudible 00:47:02]
Pieter Levels (00:47:02):
It's horrible. Dutch people are a very interesting group of people. It took nine months for the Dutch CDC director, who's an idiot, to admit, "Okay, masks work." Like he said, "Don't wear masks." But anyway, let's skip to the stuff. So, I was in Holland for six months, close to my parents. It was also, I wanted to be near my parents because this COVID was especially more vulnerable to older people. I wanted to be close in case something happened. And I was also just paranoid. I was scared that it would get to me as well. And then, after six months, Mark and me left Holland, Mark was also back home. Mark from Whip, battle list, indie maker. And we went traveling. We went to Berlin and Prague, because I was getting really depressed. I was getting really anxious. I had a long-term relationship and she was in Korea and I was in Holland. And it was not going well cause we were far apart and we ended up breaking up after, but it was all very depressing and psychologically exhausting for everybody, it was the whole COVID lockdown and stuff.
Pieter Levels (00:48:14):
So I started driving with Mark, started feeling better again. And then, on Nomad List Lisbon was starting to rank really high. And so, Mark and we were like, "Okay, let's fly to Portugal." And we ended up living there for I think eight months or something.
Pieter Levels (00:48:29):
From September to April.
In Lisbon? You lived in Lisbon city?
Pieter Levels (00:48:35):
I lived in a coastal town, in Ericeira, but I was in Lisbon many times because there was... Lisbon was bustling, a lot of cool people. And Ericeira was really chill cause of COVID, because it was outside air. You could go for walks, Mark and me would go for walks a lot. It was COVID safe and stuff, and it was in nature.
Ericeira is super nice. I really like it too.
Pieter Levels (00:49:01):
It's magical place. It absolutely changed my life that place. The sunlight and the air, we started looking so good in the mirror. Our skin was glowing and there's something about... It's so healthy to live there. I don't know what it is, but the sea salt maybe, but we felt so good. We invited friends over and they were the same. They came from this psychologically stressed, depressed vibe from COVID and then being in Ericeira and going for walks and eating nice food and seeing the ocean and surfing, as well. So, we ended up there and I kept talking to people, foreigners there also, like nomads, and they kept saying, "Yeah, I'm now a resident in Portugal." And I'm like, "What does it mean?" They're like, "Well, I moved here and there's a lot of benefits foreigners to move here." And I was like, "Okay, interesting." But I wasn't really that interested, but it kept coming up. And then, I was looking for a place to live, as a base, also for taxes because I have a company, but I also need to be... If you're nomad, you need a legal place to have a bank account and to spend money and stuff. And so, I was like, "Okay, this kind of makes sense for me, [inaudible 00:50:22] Portugal."
A lot of people ask me this. So, what is the best legal setup for a nomad? So, you need to have a base and then you pay taxes in that country? Is that it?
Pieter Levels (00:50:34):
I think you need to talk to a lawyer. It's really personal, your own situation, but the point is, if you live somewhere over six months, you need to pay tax there. That's the concept. That's the most important concept. And if you don't live anywhere over six months, then there's an international law that usually falls back to your citizenship country. So, if you are German and you German citizen, which is different than residents. So citizen is where you're born, where your passport is. And resident is where you're registered. So, if you're German citizen and you fly around the world and you live nowhere and everywhere, then generally you're still taxable in Germany because it's a fallback rule.
Pieter Levels (00:51:20):
But if you move to Portugal and you're there, you register as a resident, you're still German citizen, but you register in Portugal. And generally, if you're there six months in a year, now you are Portuguese resident and a Portuguese taxpayer and Germany doesn't care anymore. As long as you're not making money in Germany. So, this is like a minefield, you need to really do it properly. And Portugal is very beneficial because it gives you a lot of benefits, tax benefits, but also they're very pro-foreigner, the government wants to attract foreigners. They're waiting with open arms to attract foreigners. There's no tax on crypto right now, that's, for example, interesting.
And one thing that also didn't know, there's no tax on foreign income. Really? You can make money from outside and then there's no tax on it.
Pieter Levels (00:52:07):
So there specific cases. So, again, I'm not lawyer and that's why I cannot disclose any legal information about the stuff. But you need to check your own personal situation, but there's specific cases where Portugal, once they track foreigners that have, for example, retirement money or death savings, or they have foreign dividends for example, which are then not taxed for 10 years. And the reason Portugal does this is because they want to attract foreigners to spend money in their country. So, imagine you're Portugal, which has a brain drain, which is losing population every year now. They just had largest decrease in population in 50 years-
Pieter Levels (00:52:47):
... last year. So, everybody's leaving Portugal, or a lot of people are leaving Portugal, because there's not a lot of opportunities for Portuguese. And Portuguese companies, they don't pay a lot.
Paychecks are shit in Portugal.
Pieter Levels (00:52:58):
The minimum wage or something, or the average wage, is something like 700 euros a month. If you look at the comparison with the rest of Europe, this is a East European country level.
I lived in Germany, and coming back to Portugal, that's the biggest pain , for sure.
Pieter Levels (00:53:13):
It's really bad. And there's a lot of reasons to go into why this is the case, but it comes down to that Portugal needs foreigners and the government has stated that vividly.
So, you realized that the government was... One, foreigners, there were people setting up their base in Portugal. And then, what did you decide to do, did you try to see, "Okay, I want to do the same."
Pieter Levels (00:53:39):
So I set it up too. And I was really scared. This is going to be like a legal minefield. I got a lot of lawyers, immigration advisors, tech advisors, to all go through my setup and they were all like, "Yeah, this is legal. This is good." And then, I kept getting people asking me, "Hey, I also want to do this. I also want to register Portugal. I want to move to Portugal." And I was like, "Interesting. This has a little bit to do with COVID." Because it was hard to go to Bali. It was hard to go to Asia, to all those places in where nomads normally go, like Thailand and Bali. It's hard to go there, because COVID was... All the borders were closed. So a lot of people that usually go to Bali, Asia, Thailand, they would end up in Portugal. Second, new kind of scene of nomads.
Pieter Levels (00:54:25):
So I was like, "Okay, maybe I can make a type form and try resell these services or refer my immigration advisors to these people that wanted, for some money." And made this type form, got some customers. And then, in November, I made a whole landing page for it and I launched it. Well, I accidentally launched it on Twitter. I just made a photo of my laptop, on my bed, working on it. I wrote like POV building immigration as a service startup. It went viral, and everybody suddenly signed up, and there was 500 signups in a month.
All right, so this is something that I really need to ask, because for me it's amazing. So, I understand the idea phase. So you identify a problem, a problem that you own, you have yourself. So it's much easier for you to understand the problem and how to fix and so on. And that's definitely a great way to bootstrap a project. But then the launching part is something that I don't fully understand because you add the same, for instance with digital nomad... With the-
Pieter Levels (00:55:30):
Nomad List. [inaudible 00:55:31]
With the Nomad List, you just decided to, "My website then was up because of some NGNINX config and suddenly I add thousands of people." I was like, "No, that's not how it happens to me for me." For me, I will share it with thousands, or in Reddit, everywhere. And I didn't get enough people. And I was reading your book and I can see that you focus a lot on launching. And you say that launching is overlooked. So, what is that? What is the difference between your launch and my launch? Why does it yours work so much better than mine?
Pieter Levels (00:56:04):
Well, so people say like, "Look, he already has followers." And I think it's true, but it wasn't true in the beginning. And Nomad List also went viral. So, I think it might have to do with the topic remote work and digital nomad stuff has been hot since 2014, it's an exciting topic. And so, there's this thing with, you have reality and you have things that are happening, and companies that are being made now. And then, you have people's brain, and their secrets, and their insight of their brain, what they're actually thinking. And you want to be in the time where a lot of people are sickly thinking the same thing, but they're not saying or doing it yet.
How do you know?
Pieter Levels (00:56:51):
Well, exactly. I have a lot of times where I'm in a group setting and I will be like... For example, your... Meaning, all these people, you're having dinner and stuff, but you're really tired, for example, you're tired of walking all day, but nobody says that, everybody's kind of... And then I say, "I think I'm really tired.q Maybe we should just chill somewhere or I should go sleep." And everybody's like, "Yeah, actually me too." Many times... This is really bad example, actually. Many times I feel like I think things, and because I try to do radical honesty, I try to just say what I think, it comes out and then suddenly people are like, "Yeah, I wanted to say the same thing, but I was scared." It was too crazy or something. I think, moving to Portugal, it's kind of crazy in a way. Let's move to Portugal and register Portugal and pay taxes there.
Pieter Levels (00:57:46):
And with Nomad List was same. Let's move to all these cities in the world and just go live there for a while. So I think the trick is to... Because with Nomad List, I was observing that this was happening already. I was in Chiang Mai, and I saw 20 to 30, 40 people, 40 nomads there, living there. But it was very small, now it's thousands. But I was observing that people were already doing something and I was working for them, but they were not normal people, they were a little bit weird people. They were strange. I'm strange, I think. And then, you need to observe, you need to try, is this a fringe, is the word? F-R-I-N-G-E. A fringe thing, a new thing that's frowned upon. And then many times -
This is where intuition comes in. And I know that you believe in intuition.
Pieter Levels (00:58:42):
God, intuition. Because many times when you think something, everybody else is thinking the same thing, because we're all on the internet and we're all reading the same shit. And we're all... Everybody watches porn, everybody does things we don't talk about or reads articles... Actually, we have a collective brain, but people are limited by the constraints of acceptable society. You cannot just move to Portugal. It's outrageous. You shouldn't do that.
Most people will think about it, but say, "Okay, this is impossible."
Pieter Levels (00:59:18):
Man, I would love move to Portugal, but it would be unacceptable because I have my friends here and I have my job here. How would my boss react? My boss doesn't accept that I work remotely, all these things. So thinking like this is quote, "What people do on the weekends, or what nerds or someone, do on the weekends, everybody else will be doing in the week 10 years later or something," is a quote. So, if you are doing something special, new... There's a lot of examples of this, like indie games. People that were making indie games in 2010 or something, and then it blew up. But if you're doing this, this is the problem also I see in every scene, music, start, everything. People are always doing the same everybody else is doing. And it's going to give you horrible results, because you need to be on the edge of something new.
So, you think that your edge, when you're launching something is not really your technique of launching, is more the product and the audience.
Pieter Levels (01:00:23):
No, I think it's the market. I think it's the-
Pieter Levels (01:00:26):
You need to be tapped into the vein of people's brain.
In the exact right time, as well.
Pieter Levels (01:00:33):
And obviously, that goes wrong, because I've launched over 70 projects and only three, or four, or something, worked out. So, most of the times you're wrong, but you need to try. And sometimes you're like, because I didn't expect this Rebase to blow up like this. Now it's getting like 400, 500 applicants per month. And then at this rate we will have 10% of the Portuguese immigration market. All people moving to Portugal, 10%.
You will have 10%? That's absurd.
Pieter Levels (01:01:01):
Because 60,000 or 50,000 people move to Portugal a year. So, it is crazy. So my point is-
Did the Prime Minister already reach out to you?
Pieter Levels (01:01:09):
No, everybody asked me, but these governments are so hard to reach, but it's okay. I don't care.
There's elections now, it could help.
Pieter Levels (01:01:16):
Well, I hope they don't change the rules. They would ruin my business.
That would be-
Pieter Levels (01:01:25):
TLDR. Most people are probably interesting and unique, but again, the same thing with kids in education system, it removes their creativity, same thing with people. If you say something crazy in your friend group, I had the same in Holland. I would say crazy stuff that I felt. And they're like, "Pieter, don't say that. What the fuck are you talking about? That's not normal-"
Pieter Levels (01:01:48):
"... thinking," or something. Acceptable. And you need to let your brain think things, because they are interesting and they might make great arts, they might make great businesses. Think differently is the whole concept, think differently.
Don't be afraid of think differently. And if you take also another example, which is Elon Musk, and-
Pieter Levels (01:02:15):
I know a lot of people might not like it, but-
Pieter Levels (01:02:18):
No, I love Elon Musk and I don't understand why people don't like this guy because he's going to Mars.
That's exactly it.
Pieter Levels (01:02:25):
It's a very, very, very strange side, guys, now, that people don't like Elon Musk. It's very strange, man. It's it disturbs me.
I think when you reach a certain point, you always have haters, but my point is that, he thinks, "Okay, how cool would it be to have a really nice electric car?" And everyone's like, "Yeah, that's impossible." But he thinks, "No. I mean, how cool would this be? Yeah, it's cool. Let's make it." How cool would it be to click in a button, move to Portugal. And everyone like, "This is impossible." No, it's super cool, right? Yes. Then let's build it.
Pieter Levels (01:02:57):
I didn't even know this was possible. So you need to... Man, how you explain this? So you have all these immigration advisors, and they're doing everything with emails and invoices and bank wires and stuff, and it's all really slow. And you need to have some assumption like, "I think, let's just do this through Stripe. Let's just do all the forms digital." You need to have some naive perception that this is going to work out and that these immigration advisors or some of people you work with are going to accept that you're doing all this stuff, because they live in a completely different reality. And it's just, you need to jump in the pool and try. And it will probably not work out, and sometimes it does work out. And that's also the thing with people trying any startup stuff, is they try once, they will work on a project for a year, and then of course, it doesn't work out, because the odds are like 3% or 4%, if you're doing really good.
You need to try multiple things.
Pieter Levels (01:03:56):
You need to try, man. I think you need to try 20, 30 times.
Also one thing, and from your book, we can really see this. You really know how to launch in each platform and how it works, how each platform works. Reddit is different, and Hacker News and Product Hunt and so on. So, I think it's also really crucial for people to study the platform before launching, understanding the people they are launching to. This is also [inaudible 01:04:24]
Pieter Levels (01:04:24):
Also true, but-
... but it's really crucial as well.
Pieter Levels (01:04:29):
My biggest annoyance is people that are thinking you can just write a tweet and then you can post on Instagram and you can post it on TikTok and you can post it on Reddit. This is bullshit. They're so different. Something that works in Instagram, doesn't work on Twitter, doesn't work on TikTok, doesn't work on... Reddit is completely anti-spam. So, the only way to leverage Reddit is to give value, to be a beneficial community member. And then, you might be able to get them to use your thing and asking for feedback for example, but you cannot just come in with, "Look, I launched a startup." Nobody cares you launched a startup, "Average launched a startup." Nobody cares. It's not interesting. It's annoying. It looks like spam.
It's funny, because we live too much inside of our brain and we are selfish by design. So, we think that we are... We all think that we're at the center of the world somehow. And we all think, "Everyone will care that I launch a startup," but then, put yourself in the other person's shoes. If someone says, "I just launched a startup, whatever." Would you actually care? Would you click? I try to always do this exercise, but it's very hard.
Pieter Levels (01:05:40):
This is great exercise. The best thing you learn is like that. People who say, I meet lot of those people, "I'm going to build a billion on a company." And they're so confident their own thing. [inaudible 01:05:52]
And what is the idea? I'm not telling you the idea.
Pieter Levels (01:05:55):
That stuff. And then they launch and it completely, nobody cares. And it barely goes, but this is good. This is a reality check, because everybody thinks they're actually special and it's not, you need to get stuff out the door. So, your first product will fail, probably. And your second also may fail also, but this gives you a reality check that what you make should actually be somewhat interesting, better or cheaper. Needs a better product or it needs to be cheaper products.
And can you now, better distinguish if a product will or not succeed before starting it, with your experience?
Pieter Levels (01:06:35):
I focus a little bit more on... Not necessarily, but like Rebase, I know it's a money opportunity. It could make a lot of money.
So you start thinking about monetization immediate [inaudible 01:06:47]
Pieter Levels (01:06:47):
Also, no, because I make enough money. Now it's something like two to three million a year. So I don't... Crazy amount of money, by the way.
For you, almost. You don't have a lot of expenses, right?
Pieter Levels (01:07:00):
Exactly. So, it's insane money and I barely spend it.
Pieter Levels (01:07:05):
It's all invested.
You should not say this.
Pieter Levels (01:07:08):
Well it's on the fucking Twitter. It's on my... It's open. So, it's more like a challenge to make a cool new startup that works, but I also still make projects that don't have any monetization. Airlinelist compared airlines, HoodMaps also, and recently-
This is fun because, are you afraid of flying, or not?
Pieter Levels (01:07:32):
No, but... Well, I say a little bit. I'm not really super comfortable. I'm more comfortable... I know the odds of-
Pieter Levels (01:07:42):
... crashes flying is really low, but I'm more comfortable, for my own irrational fear, if I'm in the safest airline with the safest plane.
I was super afraid, actually, now I'm much better. I kind of overcame it. But when I was super afraid, having this filter that you have in your website, like "Safe airlines, no crashes," would justly make me so much more comfortable.
Pieter Levels (01:08:05):
But it's so irrational, because I drive a motorbike here in Thailand, and it's like one in 80 or something you die. And then flying the worst airline, I think is Nepal airlines, and it's like one in 100,000.
Pieter Levels (01:08:17):
And if I go on a motorbike, I'm not scared at all. So it's completely irrational, but it's nice to fly with Singapore airlines, Emirates, Qatar, with Airbus A350. Airbus A380 is great. 777X, honestly it's not great and it's still a weird thing.
Is that the one with the crashes?
Pieter Levels (01:08:36):
And it's still, it's not... The plane doesn't fly without software. Airbus planes also not, but this whole plane is wrongly designed for eco purposes. It's just not a good plane. I don't think anybody should fly on it. Allegedly, I don't want to get sued.
So you build a website to show how to turn this.
Pieter Levels (01:09:03):
But this website is not monetized. The monetization aspect is more like... I do think more about in the concept of serious companies, like Rebase for example. But I also think about the impact. Now with Rebase, we have Venezuelan families, and Venezuela country is quite in ruins, in terms of the money and society and stuff.
I had a friend from there and it's crazy. Told me it was robbed 18 times at gunpoint.
Pieter Levels (01:09:36):
How is it possible? It's absurd.
Pieter Levels (01:09:40):
So it feels nice to be able to move people out of there, help them. And that, I think, I'm the most proud of in the last year or something. This product is... I don't know. It sounds so cliche. It sounds [inaudible 01:09:55].
But not cliche. It might be cliche, but it's really important.
Pieter Levels (01:09:59):
It feels really cool to... It's not about money anymore for me, but it feels really cool that this is a website that I made, a PHP script, index.php, is saving people from Venezuela. [inaudible 01:10:12]
That's amazing. That's the beauty of tech, I would say. I totally agree.
Pieter Levels (01:10:16):
Because you could do so many bad things with tech, look at Facebook, all this data stuff, but you can also do really good things. And you can do it alone, solo on your laptop from the bed, that's what I do, and with coffee and I'm still doing it after eight years and you can change people's lives and you can leave the world better than you found it. And that's also my mission.
Is that your mission? Is it like your purpose somehow? Life purpose.
Pieter Levels (01:10:45):
It sounds, again, so cliche. I'm also not perfect. I also make mistakes and I also... You can get rich, but then you die. You cannot bring your money into death. So it's all doesn't really make... It's not useful. Legacy is also not that useful, but... I don't know. It's a nice purpose to have, to leave the world better than you found it, and that's my role as a human.
I totally agree with you. And it's the same. I wrote something similar in Indie Hackers recently, because that's also my purpose. Are you religious?
Pieter Levels (01:11:14):
No, I guess I'm agnostic. My family's like... Well, we're not practicing, but we grew up Roman Catholic. Weirdly, I keep meeting a lot of Roman Catholic people, even in Asia, the people... The girlfriends I had were Roman Catholic, but not on purpose and the friends I have, a lot of them are Roman Catholic. And man, Roman Catholic is a minority in Christianity, most are Protestant, also in my country. So, it's something with Roman Catholic.
Is Portugal Roman Catholic? Do you know this?
Pieter Levels (01:11:45):
I think so.
I think it is, right?
Pieter Levels (01:11:47):
I think UK is Protestant, tolerance Protestant, but we were Roman Catholic. But I'm agnostic, I don't know what there is after death. I probably believe in that... Because I did mushrooms, and also the things you learn that everybody's connected and that maybe we're all one person and one consciousness. And I think that's probably true or something.
Wait, but now I didn't understand. You did mushrooms and you came up with this?
Pieter Levels (01:12:21):
The feelings you have when you do... The feelings of connectedness, but I do feel the feelings of connectedness anyway, so I really need drugs to open up so much, but... I don't know. We're all probably the same person, the same consciousness. It's sounds logical to me.
It's a very interesting video about from Kurzgesagt. I don't know if you watch it on YouTube. And they have a video just about this theory, that in the end we are all the same person. It's a very interesting theory. I've never...
Pieter Levels (01:12:51):
... think about it.
Pieter Levels (01:12:53):
Maybe we're all one person and that's God. And then, you also get to simulation theory or multidimensionalism, where-
I hate those. I don't want to speak about that. Freaks me out.
Pieter Levels (01:13:03):
Where there's infinite dimensions with different realities. Man, and if you start thinking about it, it feels kind of lonely. You're like, "I'm in my own dimensions stuck now."
You know Rick and Morty, on Netflix?
Pieter Levels (01:13:17):
It's amazing. They explore exactly this. Everything becomes pointless because there's infinite use.
Pieter Levels (01:13:25):
So you are agnostic, and you think that maybe there are some things, maybe there isn't. The reason why I ask is, again, I also very similar grown Catholic family. They don't practice that much.
Pieter Levels (01:13:39):
But I slowly lost my connections with religion. And I think that unfortunately there's nothing after, well I'm also agnostic, but I don't know... But that just gives me more purpose of actually doing something that goes beyond having money. Actually doing a little contribution to the world is something that really motivates me. And it's not cliche, actually. I think it's a great mission for life.
Pieter Levels (01:14:12):
I mean a lot of cliches are just true, I guess, because they're simple, but you need to do something with this life. You could sit in your room and do nothing.
Why do you need to?
Pieter Levels (01:14:25):
It's all meaningless if you start thinking in that way, but I get happy from being active, doing stuff. Also I go to the gym, for example, that makes me happy. I see friends. I like to be in a flow state where I work on things that makes me happy, but everything is the same value. Everything is, everything is valueless in a way, but maybe in a good way, it's all the same, money doesn't exist. You know what I mean? There's no better and worse, it's all nothing. Because entropy will destroy everything in a billion years and the sun will explode. So, nothing matters and everything you build up goes away. Every relationship you have is not permanent. Everything dies.
We are getting super dark.
Pieter Levels (01:15:21):
No, but it's also really not dark, because that shows impermanence, and impermanence, if you accept that, it's quite beautiful and you shouldn't fight it, you should just embrace it and that's reality. And that's also, I guess why people start living in a moment, because they realize impermanence. Eckhart Tolle is like Power of Now, that's it just power of now. History doesn't exist, future doesn't exist, just now, you're here. You're here now. I think, Ramdas the Buddhist or the Yogi, in India says that, "Be here now," that's it. Power of now, be here now.
Do you think that this is the mentality that also helps you succeed, because allows you to think outside of the box and say, "Okay, let's move to Portugal, because I'm doing it now or let's go-"
Pieter Levels (01:16:14):
I think in a way because if you cling to permanence and to things and to people, you cling to everything, you try to hold everything tight, so you don't lose it, you're scared of loss, fear of loss. And that's really an unhealthy thing because it's trying to give you certainty. Cling to people, cling to things, cling to buying a house, cling to all this. And it's essentially, probably your fear of death, I think, which we all have, is normal, but it's fighting impermanence. I'm going to collect all this stuff and hoard it because then I can keep it permanently, forever. So, moving to another place, you're a nomad, you learn a lot about impermanence because you cannot carry a lot of stuff. You have a backpack, you cannot buy a lot of stuff.
You understand what it's really important, this minimalist approach, right?
Pieter Levels (01:17:13):
And impermanence just like that. And it gives you more flexibility to change up your life, I guess. And I also think it gives you more healthy approach to relationships, because a lot of people are stuck in relationships or marriages which don't work anymore. And if you believe in abundance and impermanence and you're okay, you accept like, "Okay, this relationship doesn't work anymore." It's fine. It's healthy to end this.
Think people are also very afraid to leave their comfort zone.
Pieter Levels (01:17:42):
That's the whole thing.
Because you don't know what's in the other side. You leave your wife and maybe you find another wife that is better-
Pieter Levels (01:17:51):
Or husband. Or you just can be lonely forever.
Pieter Levels (01:17:57):
I think a lot of men and women, after divorce, at 60, or 70, or 50 even, they also go nomad, you meet them and they have a very healthy mindset about this stuff. Just like we just talked about, this kind of impermanent mindset. And I'm not saying you... Of course, you should be in relationship as long as you can, of course. But the fear of loss is not a good thing.
Definitely. We are running out of time here, and I think we could definitely speak about this for a long time and I think it's really interesting. I love to get more philosophical.
Pieter Levels (01:18:33):
Next time we can do three hours.
Yes, we can do this-
Pieter Levels (01:18:36):
Like Joe Rogan.
Exactly. Joe Rogan.
Pieter Levels (01:18:38):
Think about everything, but I think there's a lot of things. We got to learn more about your mindset, your philosophy. You gave some cool lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs, as well. We end up not speaking that much about the effect of Rebase in Portugal, which is something that is really interesting. So we could speak about this maybe in another session. As the last question. What are the technologies or markets that you're most excited about?
Pieter Levels (01:19:04):
I'd say, I don't think the whole decentralized stuff is interesting, like crypto. Actually, I think most of it is, but I think there's definitely fundamental concepts that really will be the future. Decentralized concepts seem... Like censorship resistance stuff. Look at social media posts being deleted everywhere and censored. Look at people's accounts being frozen and look at the overreaching arm of countries like United States that just they want to remove Russia from international banking via SWIFT and stuff. This is all not good and it shouldn't be power like that existing. And I think people... Again, autonomy, autonomy is really big trend, I think. And it also has to do with decentralization. So, I think definitely will be interesting. I really think the technology is absolutely not there yet. Bitcoin is great, it works really well, but the smart contracts are way too slow, too expensive and stuff, but it is very interesting technology and it will definitely only improve, I think. And there might be some bubbles and some bursts, but in five, 10 years, I think a lot of stuff will be decentralized.
I'm also super excited to see what is going to come up from there. Pieter, thank you so much for taking the time. I will link Rebase and I guess your Twitter profile in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time. It was really nice.
Pieter Levels (01:20:33):
Thanks for having me and see you next time for the three hour episode.
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