Goodbyes

A single suitcase and a violin, in the wilderness.

That’s the only painting hanging in my tiny, one room AirBnB apartment I moved to a few weeks ago. I’ve stayed there as part of becoming a digital nomad and selling most of my possessions.

In these past few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of friends and said my goodbyes. Although I’m not sure when I’ll be back (could be a few months; could be years), each time I said goodbye to a friend – it became clearer to me – your social life has a great impact on your daily life, and even if it’s friends you haven’t seen in ages, it still matters a great deal.

That’s what worries me the most about being a nomad (and especially when coast-to-coasting). More than finding work, dealing with bureaucracy, being robbed and even paying taxes. I guess I’ll have to step out of my comfort zone and find ways of making new friends. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes 😀

I’m writing this post from the airport. Hope I meet some new friends and return sooner rather than later to my friends back home.

Hit The Road

End of August.

Sell my car and most of my possessions. Leave the apartment.

Go to Burning Man.

Rent a car and travel coast to coast in the States for three months.

Move from country to country. Live abroad while working as a freelancer and building side projects.

When will I be back? Will it be a few months or a few years? Will I settle in one country or move constantly?

The answer is that I simply don’t know.

As a freelancer, I’ve been working from home for quite some time. The idea is to stay on the same course, while living in a different country. Depending on where I’ll stay, my living expenses would probably be lower (for example, I won’t be owning a vehicle).

I suspect workflow (especially from new clients) will be affected. Existing clients would probably stay on board (and I’ll probably be able to work from anywhere, using a wifi hotspot – affiliate link). What worries me more are the social and familial aspects (i.e. starting from scratch) – but that’s part of the adventure.

Living abroad was always something I wanted to experience, and as time goes by, I feel it’s getting harder for me to do this kind of thing. It’s now or never.

Exciting times are ahead.

(Note: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

Anatomy of a Bootstrapped Startup

Idea

So I had this idea for a startup I wanted to bootstrap: A different kind of experience for shopping, that is more game-like and fluid – you view one product at a time (via a mobile app), and swipe it to the left and right (like or dislike) .“Tinder for shopping”, if you will.

The site will make money from affiliating – i.e. refer visitors who click “Buy now” to external sites, where they buy the product and I get a commission from it.

I thought this would substantially increase the chances customers will buy something. I talked to a few people. Some liked it, some didn’t. However, the best way is to prove or disprove my hypothesis is by doing experiments.

Problems

So before even writing a single line of code, I wrote down what are the potential problems such a venture could have (ordered by importance and difficulty):

  1. Income – not profitable enough and needs a huge traffic volume.
  2. Conversion Rate – maybe this shopping experience doesn’t really improve conversion rates.
  3. Marketing – how will people hear about the site?
  4. Choosing the Right Market – It doesn’t fit any scenario where the customer is looking for a specific product. It could fit clothes/apparels, art, gadgets, (a “window-shopping” / casual product browsing experience)…

Solutions

First, I should note I decided to start experimenting with the women’s clothing market – this seemed like a good fit for the “window shopping” experience (afterwards, if this doesn’t seem like a good choice, I would try other markets).

Income

This was a fun task. I researched the various affiliate programs for fashion and women’s clothing and found out the following:

Average commission – 5% to 8% per sale
Average sale size (I looked at dresses) – $40 to $150
Income per sale = $60 x 7% = $4.2

The “standard” conversion rate (=percentage of visitors who buy) for e-commerce websites is around 1.5% (of course this changes greatly between successful and unsuccessful sites).

Assuming this shopping experience will deliver better results, we assume at least a 2.5% conversion rate:

10,000 visitors per month = $4.2 x 2.5% x 10,000 = $1050 / month
100,000 visitors per month = $10,500 / month
1,000,000 visitors per month = $105,000 / month

For me, as an individual running a bootstrapped startup, the sweet spot is getting 100k visitors per month. For a funded startup (especially if it’s VC funded), these numbers wouldn’t impress anyone (the VCs are looking for a “billion-dollar” market).

Getting 100k visitors a month is not an easy task, but it seems feasible (assuming this type of shopping experience works better) – of course, this relates to problem #3 (marketing).

So, problem #1 is solved.

Time spent: A few hours

Conversion Rate

For this, I’ll need to do some leg-work: Let’s design an experiment:

Two groups of 500 potential customers each – I use Facebook ads to advertise to women, aged 22-35, living in the States who liked several women’s clothing brand names (for product I offer in the website).

One group is directed to the Tinder-like website that advertises women’s dresses (but when you click the “Buy now” button, you are redirected to an external website for buying the product).

The other group is directed to a “classic” website (has a grid-like layout of products) with the same products as the other website.

For both groups we measure the following:

  • Bounce rate (how many customers immediately left the website); 
  • Average time on site
  • Number of products clicked/viewed
  • Number of times the “Buy now” button was clicked
  • Number of purchases made (in the external website) – we know this because we’re registered as an affiliate

In order to prove that this shopping experience is better, all of the above metrics must be substantially better.

However,this wasn’t simple and straightforward as I initially thought – Initial conversion rates really sucked – so I have to do several pivots on the shopping experience – will update in a separate post once I have clearer results.

Time spent: 2 days for initial website + 2 days of experimentation (note: this is the net time – it was actually stretched out over a period of around six weeks).

Marketing

Although I haven’t reached this stage yet (need to prove that this idea is viable on a smaller scale first), I still had to think about solutions to this most important problem – So after brainstorming with friends, a few nice ideas came up:

1. White label – approach shopping websites, and offer the website as a branded & exclusive shopping website, that will redirect shoppers to their website. There would be no integration since it’s an external website (but with their pre-approved theme, branding, etc.). Their responsibility would be to market the website – whether it’s by placing a link on their website, sending emails or buying ads.
Why would they agree to this? If we prove that the conversion rates are much higher (compared to “regular” shopping experience), and all they do is pay standard affiliate commissions – there’s a greater chance of them agreeing. Additionally, the statistics of how many customers liked/disliked each product could be very interesting to them.

2. Content websites (e.g. blogs) – offer an in-site widget that displays products agreed upon by the website owner, and split the revenue from the commissions with the website owner. This could provide an additional revenue stream to blog owners, etc.
The main problem with this solution is that content website owners are being approached all the time for monetization solutions and this requires more development and technical integration.

3. Social – when a user likes a few products – we offer her to compare her taste in clothes with her friends (via Facebook/Email/Twitter); or ask them for their opinions.

That’s it for now. It’s an ongoing process, so I’ll keep you posted as I progress – in the mean time, I’d love to hear what you think 🙂

 

Why should the Programmer be the CEO

“Focus on your main skill – you’re a programmer, so be the CTO”. That’s what I’ve been told plenty. I have no experience with marketing, sales, SEO, usability testing, etc. I’m just the tech guy.

However, I think every entrepreneur should have those skills – you can’t stay in your comfort zone and niche and say “I’ll just bring a partner for that”. Same goes the other way around – if you’re the business person, learn how to program (I’m not saying be an expert developer, but just get the basics).

So recently I’ve started working on a new venture, and in the process I’ve started learning those skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a noob, but I think that as a technological dude this actually helps out a lot – whether it’s writing scripts for work that I would have done manually otherwise, or thinking of things that a non-techy person wouldn’t have thought of (or wouldn’t have imagined is technically possible).

Freelancing in the Long Run

In the long run, five years from now, I wouldn’t want to remain a freelancer. I would rather have a successful online business making enough money so I wouldn’t have to work as a freelancer.

That being said, I still prefer freelancing over being an employee. Of course it’s not all golden (as I wrote in pros and cons of freelancing), but in terms of long-term outlook, there are huge benefits:

Multidisciplinary – You get exposed to a much wider range of technologies and fields; when you’re an employee, you’ll usually need to switch jobs frequently in order to get that amount of technological exposure.

Age Discrimination – IMHO, it’ll be easier for you to find gigs when you’re a 50-years-old consultant than a 50-years-old employee; simply because as a consultant, your client would only want you for your technical skills and ability to deliver on a certain project. As an employee, they’ll look at other things like company culture and how your age would fit with the rest of company.

Business Skills – You’ll also learn business skills which could benefit you in any other position, even as an employee – you’ll be better at managing people, talking to the company’s clients, evaluating projects, doing negotiations, etc.

Relative Happiness

“It was the best meal I ever had”, he told me. An overcooked schnitzel and some unsalted french fries.

After three days of being trapped in a closet-sized room, with 24/7 loudspeakers preventing you from sleeping; being beaten, cursed at and threatened – even the crappiest meal tasted like heaven. My father went through army captivity training.

Happiness, like many other things in life, is relative: I just got a promotion and have some extra cash – but my friend became a freelancer and is making tons of money. I’m a freelancer – but a college buddy of mine just sold his company for millions. I had a great weekend vacation in Europe – but my friend Bob just went skydiving in Antarctica as part of his world-wide trip.

Nowadays, comparing yourself to others is easy – just take a look at your Facebook news feed. Everyone is putting on their happy face – so the grass is always greener (no one ever posts about the mundane or bad things in their life).

Even on a daily basis, when everything is going great, small problems can easily ruin our perspective – I’m multi-million startup guy, but someone scratched up my Lamborghini – there goes my day. I have my own successful business but I’m driving three hours to work every day – I’ll be annoyed and pissed for the rest of the day.

So what’s the solution? Delete your Facebook account? Try not to compare yourself to others? Ignore every non-critical problem? That’s one option.

Another option is to write down all of the things you wish to accomplish for yourself, in all areas of life. This serves as a beacon – when things around you change, and you feel yourself being jealous or simply bummed out – there’s always something to strive for. At those times, you go through the list – and see what you’ve accomplished so far and what you can start doing – even right now.

“There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.”

– José Mujica, Uruguay’s president

Freelancing and Lifestyle Design

A few weeks ago, I saw these huge billboard ads selling pension funds: An elderly couple doing skydiving, with the text “For retirement to look like what you’ve always planned for, use <company-name>”.

This really pissed me off. Most of us go on with our lives, working our ass off for 40 years so we could save enough for retirement, and only then do what we’ve always wanted. By then many of our dreams will become irrelevant. Frankly, we’re most likely to become institutionalized – not knowing what to do on a day-to-day basis during retirement. This is what Tim Ferris calls in his book (affiliate link) “Deferred life plan”.

Lifestyle design is about pursuing your dreams and passion right now. Not in 40 years. Not grinding away hoping that some day you might have enough time and money to do what you want.

“Easier said than done”, you might say. Indeed. Especially when you have so much obligations and not enough cash. When you can’t even free up a single day a week to do what you want, since you’d simply become jobless.

This is where freelancing comes in. Simply put, freelancing allows you to have a very flexible work schedule, a lot more free time, while generating more income than you did as an employee.

Sounds like a cheap sales pitch, I know. It’s not easy getting there. And not everything is as rosy as it sounds. But you can start your journey now. Not in a few years when you’ll be more “financially stable”.

First, you need to decide what your ideal life style looks like and only then will you need to adjust your way of freelancing to support your desired lifestyle:

  • Traveling the world while working two days a week;
  • Working on a startup while freelancing until it takes off;
  • Relocating to Thailand’s Ko-Phangan while exploiting geographical arbitrage to have much lower living expenses and needing to work a lot less

So don’t wait 40 years to do skydiving. Book a skydiving lesson tomorrow.

(Note: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

Pros and Cons of Freelancing

I’ve been freelancing for almost four years, doing mostly development work (mobile/web). There is a lot to be said about freelancing – here are the pros and cons, IMHO:

Working Hours

Pros

Flexible hours – work when and where you want (works only if you work out-of-office – i.e. not in a client’s office).

Cons

There is no clear distinction between work hours and personal hours. Work is not a 9-to-5 thing anymore – Clients can call and email you during evenings, weekends, etc. (and you’ll have to answer them and work at those hours). Trying to make rules for yourself (e.g. I won’t work after 19:00) is very hard to accomplish.

Additionally, you need to spend a few hours a month dealing with bureaucracy – reporting to IRS, your accountant, etc.

Income

Pros

Mostly better pay – Although a freelancer’s hourly wage is usually much higher than an employee’s, you shouldn’t directly compare the two. A freelancer has to spend from his own dime the following: Health care, social security, pension, vacation days, sick days, down time when no work is available, etc. As a rule of thumb, you should divide your freelancing hourly wage by two to get to the equivalent employee wage.

Cons

Freelancing is not a stable thing – you may have down time, with no income (that’s why you charge more).

Also, getting paid takes time – depending on your clients, you may get paid only after the end of project (+ some extra days afterwards). So when starting to freelance, you’ll need prepare for a first few months of no income, even if you are working on projects. Sometimes you might need to act as a debt collector and chase your clients and remind them they owe you money (I once got paid seven months after a project was finished).

Work Environment

Pros

Working from home means waking up and going to bed whenever you like. Not having to work for work’s sake, or making it look like you’re working so your boss won’t bother you.

Cons

On the other hand, working from home can be hard for some – It’s hard to concentrate and not switch to Facebook every three minutes when you’re working at home in your undies. Possible solution: Rent an open space office with other freelancers.

Another downside – There’s no social interaction – no work buddies to talk to during the day and have lunch with. To mitigate this, I schedule lunch with friends (since most live and work in my area) and go out for beer every evening (while not worrying I need to get up early the next day).

Also, it can be hard sometimes to get a good wifi where you’re at (that’s why you must have a backup mobile wifi hotspot – affiliate link) – also try and make your environment more comfy – e.g. using a compact laptop stand – affiliate link.

Life Style

Pros

You can generally have more free time – if you decide not to take on a lot of projects, you can work 2-3 days a week and get a better pay than you did as an employee. You can use those 2-3 extra free days a week for hobbies, traveling, startups, etc.

Additionally, changing your life style is easier: I’ve had a routine cycle of working six months as a freelancer, then working 6-12 months full-time on a startup (did this cycle three times). As an employee, it would have been extremely hard for me to get a job after the third time (imagine what my CV would have looked like).

That’s why freelancing is ideal for this – the options are simply countless – Want to work two days a week and learn acting for the rest of the week? Much easier. Got bored after a few months of acting and want to do yoga instead? No problem.

Cons

Although you can take more vacation days (no need to go to your boss and justify yourself), you won’t always do that: You can’t always control how many projects you’re going to have at a given moment: Going away for a month or two might cripple some projects, or you might lose existing clients if they need you for a new project and you’re unavailable.

This is especially true if you’re going to start a consulting business and work with employees of your own

Working with clients

Pros

You learn the art of negotiation – Learn to value your time, negotiate with clients, evaluate projects, when to be soft and when to be hard with clients. This is a very important business skill, which will benefit you in any venture.

Cons

If you don’t like negotiating, that could be a real problem. You might consider working for consulting firms (that do that for you but take a significant commission).

Additionally, each client is actually your boss, so multiple clients = multiple bosses (lots of hassle and pressure). Some clients might think that since they pay you “a lot” (in their opinion), they own you and can boss you around. Important lesson learned: Most potential clients won’t be a good fit and you shouldn’t work with them. Whether it’s because they don’t pay well, too bossy, micro-manage you or simply because you don’t like the project.

Another problem is that you need to constantly find new projects / clients, and you might invest hours of your time emailing, calling and meeting with potential clients. As times goes by, you’ll start getting better at vetting clients, and invest less time in this process. For example, I usually bring up my pricing right at the end of the first phone call, so I wouldn’t waste my time meeting with them if they simply don’t have the budget.

That’s about it. If you have any other pros/cons I haven’t thought of – I’d love to hear them.

(Note: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

My Bucket List

Here is my bucket list – I put it on here publicly mostly for accountability (so people will pressure / ask me about it every time they see me – thus, fighting my procrastination).

Some items are done, some are a work in progress.

Note: The list is very much dynamic. I’ll add, change and remove items from it as time goes by.

If anyone wants to do any of these activities together, message me.

Experience

  • See a basketball game (live)April 2013
  • Attend Sensation White at Netherlands
  • Attend Burning ManAugust 2013. Attended at 2014/2015/2016 as well 🙂
  • Attend Tomorrowland festival in Belgium
  • See a Prodigy show – May 2014
  • See a Ludovico Einaudi concertApril 2013
  • Get interviewed for TV
  • Live abroad for a while
  • Write a book
  • Write a script for a movie
  • Direct and film a movie
  • Have a successful venture
  • Do a bungee jump – 2014/2015 US road trip
  • Tornado chasing – partly done – did a tornado chasing tour (June 2018) and saw one tornado from afar and a bunch of awesome weather phenomenon
  • Skydiving (again) – August 2014
  • Lecture in front of hundreds of people. Almost. Lectured in a Google-sponsored event (around ~150 people).
  • Get interviewed for a newspaper
  • ParaglidingDecember 2014
  • Climb a volcano – Saw the 2018 fissure eruptions, flew over it in a helicopter and did a boat tour to see the lava getting into the ocean (May 2018).
  • Go to the airport and buy a ticket without knowing where I’m going
  • Get something named after me
  • Go to space
  • Ride the Flyboard ZapataOctober 2013
  • See the Book of Mormons showApril 2013
  • Play a PC game at least once a week
  • Road trip in the US– Done – reached all 50 states (Late 2014 to 2016)
  • SXSW conference – March 2015
  • Take a trip on a large cruise ship – September 2017 (Harmony of the Seas)
  • White-water rafting – Done a level-3 tour (part of 2014/2015 US Road trip).
  • Watch Carbon Based Lifeforms live
  • Weightless Flight (Zero-G)
  • Photography exhibit (of photos from my trips, by theme)

Learn

  • Play the piano. Started learning around August 2013. Currently on hiatus due to coast-to-coast trip.
  • Play the guitar
  • Learn to cook
  • Kite surfing
  • Play the Pantam/Hang drum
  • Acting lessons
  • Learn Spanish
  • Learn French
  • Learn German
  • Make electronic music
  • Learn to DJ
  • Learn to sing
  • Learn film making
  • Learn photography
  • Vipassanā meditation
  • Take writing lessons. Took a scriptwriting course (May 2014)
  • Get back to playing ping-pong
  • Fly a plane
  • Total Immersion swimming. Took a course (May 2014). Currently don’t have enough time to practice due to coast-to-coast trip.
  • Read a book daily
  • Learn the field of AI
  • Learn the field of brain science
  • Learn about DNA and viruses
  • Do hardware hacking
  • Painting (Bob Ross technique?)
  • Model city making

Things to own

  • Pinball machine
  • TV room (large-screen LED TV with surround sound system + streamer)
  • DVD movie collection
  • Chevy Corvette StingrayAlmost. Rented a car for a day.

Travel

Middle East

  • Israel:

  • Jordan:

  • Egypt:

    • Pyramids (especially the Great Pyramid of Giza)
  • Dubai:

    • Burj Khalifa Tower

North America

  • USA:
  • Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • New Orleans – 2014/2015 US Road Trip (Mardi Gras + this tour)
  • Alaskasee the northern lights – March 2018 (Iceland)
  • NYC (again) – September 2013
  • Visit SPiN ping pong club at NYC or LA – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Grand canyon – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Hoover dam – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Flathead Lake in Montana
  • Yellowstone national park (see the Morning Glory pool as well)
  • Hamilton Pool (next to Austin, Texas) – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Redwood national parks, California (see Giant Sequoias and Coast Redwood) – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Bermuda Triangle
  • Hawaii – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Midway Atoll (Part of Midway Islands)
  • Las Vegas – Insert Coin Pub  – 2014/2015 US Road trip
  • Key West
  • Miami
  • Yosemite National Park – 2014/2015 US Road trip

Cuba

Europe

Pacific

  • Bora Bora islands
  • Fiji

South America

Central America

Asia

  • China:

  • Singapore

  • South Korea:

    • Seoul
  • Japan:

  • Vietnam:

  • Turkmenistan:

  • Russia:

    • Moscow
    • Saint Petersburg
    • Ride the Trans-Siberia train
  • Ukraine:

    • Chernobyl
    • Kiev

Africa

Australia

  • Melbourne
  • Also visit the Mana Bar
  • New Zealand

Antarctica

Making Your Own Bucket List

Most people don’t have a written bucket list.

The best outcome of sitting down and writing your bucket list is that it helps you think long term: Understand what’s important to you in the long run.

A bucket list is not just a set of one-time items (“Climb Mount Everest”) – but also items that require continuous changes (“Start working in film”, “Lose 20 pounds”). It is a way of life.

When I think of what to write in my bucket list, I use the following rule of thumb:

20 years down the road – what things will I regret NOT doing

So take a pen and paper (or a mouse and keyboard 🙂 ) and start writing – split the bucket list into the following categories:

  • Learn – hobbies (learn to play guitar, play ping-pong), education (go to film school, sign up for university courses)
  • Experience – Climb a volcano, publish a book, appear on TV, live abroad
  • Travel – local or abroad; a long or a short while
  • Health – run a marathon, lose 20 pounds

Remember, this list is dynamic – you constantly need to revisit it – add new items, cross-off completed items or even remove items (e.g. started playing guitar – didn’t really like it).

OK, everything is written down. Now what?

Choose one item from that list that doesn’t require any money (or a very small amount) and can be started with very little effort. Now write down a due date next to it. Lets say two months from now. You may also need to make the item more specific (“Play the piano” -> “Find a piano teacher; practice three times a week”).

That’s it.

You can force yourself into doing by using peer pressure – publish it on Facebook; invite your friends to a calendar event two months from now; make a bet with others; write a blog 😉

In the next post I’ll publish my bucket list, which I’ll keep updating and keep track of.

I’ll leave you with an interesting quote from a guy who sold his startup for millions:

The most interesting effect is that I thought consciously about my personal goals. I never did that before. Now I thought…. well, I can basically do anything I want. So what do I want? Not such an easy question. Surprisingly, the goals I identified were mostly goals that don’t require much money … but the most striking realization was that I could basically have done all these things with just a modest salary… and I didn’t, because I imagined I needed to work so hard and make money.