Minecraft creator Markus Persson did it. Tinder-CEO Sean Rad and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel did it too. They’ve exchanged their homes or the Silicon Valley for a new place, where the sea, beach and waves are very close – in their case: Los Angeles.
Behind this is the concept of living as a digital nomad, a founder, who runs his business on the go. Technology makes it possible to work from many places in the world – and they seize the opportunity. Some of them stay for only a few days in one place, they travel constantly from one hotspot to another. Others stay for a few weeks or months wherever they want to stay.
In Germany there are about 3,000 digital nomads who travel more or less around the world and work, estimates Marcus Meurer. He is one of them. For four years he has been travelling with his girlfriend Felicia Hargarten to foreign countries, working along the way. On the road the two organized coworking camps for other digital nomads, a job board for Digital Nomads, a podcast and made the Travel Blog Travelicia. Once a year they also conduct conferences for entrepreneurs with wanderlust: the DNX-conference in Berlin and DNX conferences in Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Lisbon.
Marcus told us how he makes his living, the problems they encounter frequently and why entrepreneurs shouldn’t behave like tourists abroad.
Marcus, how do you really earn money?
We can live alone on revenues from our travel blog. On Travelicia we have about 100,000 visits a month. Some companies in the travel industry cooperate with us and we make money through affiliate marketing. We also coach founders who want to run their companies independent of location. And sometimes we are booked as speakers on the subject. We also earn through the DNX-conferences. With the coworking camps we make just enough to break even. But those we do to meet other digital nomads and to profit from their digital know-how.
How can you initiate a startup from the road?
It is important that the corporate culture and the communication are right. Each employee should know the values that the company stands for. This requires a good sense with recruitment and onboarding, which often runs completely digitally via video calls. You also need the right tools, clear briefings and processes. We have 16 freelancers in the DNX-team, all of which are distributed worldwide. We communicate with them by Slack, Trello, Skype and Google Drive.
Do you have to deal with a lot of misunderstandings, if you don’t see each other?
Once I realize that something is not clear, we make a video call. For example, with accounting we had quite a mess. Because at some point everyone in the company wanted to have a say about it, but no one really knew what to do.
What did you do then?
We brought professional support in and solved the problems step by step. Today when we have a task, we look first at the process and think about which tools we can use to address them. I only give out operational tasks when the next steps are quite clear. I had to learn that.
Would you recommend that you build a startup on site and then pull out gradually?
Yes, this is a way to eventually work on the go. However, there is a danger that you’ll get stuck in everyday business and miss the right timing. We often meet startup founders who have built their team regardless of location from the beginning. This often works well. The principle of digital nomads is to set up processes with the help of tools and to have a small but good team.
How did you become a digital nomad?
I was an online marketing manager at various startups like StepStone and DailyDeal. Motivated by the Berlin startup scene I wanted to start my own thing. Initially I thought about starting an online marketing agency. In a sabbatical in South East Asia, I then got the first projects through Xing and LinkedIn. When we were able to pay the first invoices through our work while we were in Bali, it became clear to us that there was no turning back to the conventional world of work.
Did you have any technical problems?
At that time four years ago, the infrastructure was not as good as it is today. We stayed in hostels, where many people didn’t understand why we so often sat on the computer. Today, everything is better: At the airport we get a local SIM card with a data flatrate right away, we have many great coworking spaces to choose from, and we often look on Airbnb for a place to stay. There is a lot of co-living projects for location-independent entrepreneurs, where we lack nothing.
Where do you particularly like to work?
In Brazil and Southeast Asia. In Brazil we started kitesurfing. We select our whereabouts based on the wind and sea. Bali is a hotspot for digital nomads and in Phuket I regularly train in Muay Thai. There are a bit too many tourists, but it’s a great place to do sports.
You distance yourselves from tourists?
As a digital nomad you live more like a local. We buy fresh food from the market, cook on our own and do sports with the locals. One must not make the mistake of confusing location-independent work as being on a vacation, even if you are constantly in the most beautiful places in the world – otherwise the journey becomes quite expensive, quickly.
And what about the legal work? Like taxes, visas and insurance?
We have registered our company in Germany. We pay taxes here. Digital nomads travel mostly on tourist visas, because there are no uniform rules. For the time we’re abroad, I put my private health insurance on hold and get an additional travel insurance.
How can one be successful as a digital nomad?
You should be flexible and focused. You should especially work in a structured way. When traveling, there is indeed a lot of freedom, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of work gets done. To be successful, one should plan the day well to maximize efficiency in a short time.
Has the way you travel changed over time?
We generally have become more relaxed. We travel more slowly and have places that we keep coming back to. At the beginning I had the feeling of missing out on something when I’m not in Berlin. But then I realized that nothing really changed in the meantime – we haven’t missed out on anything.
How often are you in Germany?
We visit friends and relatives about twice a year. However, most of our friends also live all over so we often meet in tropical coworking spaces around the world.
Can you imagine moving back to Berlin?
Why not? Who knows what will happen in a few years? But I don’t think that we will go back to Berlin. We’re more likely to stay where we are right on the sea – where you can kitesurf.
Thanks for the interview, Marcus!
This article was originally published on Gründerszene.