Pieter Levels

Pieter Levels

Nomad, maker of many things

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 11, 2015

Discussion

Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
I'm Pieter Levels, the maker of Nomad List which lets you find the best places to live and work. Today, I'm launching MAKE, a book about building, launching, growing and monetizing startups. You can pre-order it now. I've also made Remote OK to help people find remote jobs, Taylor, an A.I.-based assistant that helps you while you're traveling and recently, Startup Retreats a platform to find and book remote work retreats. You might know me from my challenge to do 12 startups in 12 months12 months. That taught me a lot about how to get over my procrastination, get press and actually ship stuff. I've been traveling as a digital nomad for over 2 years now and it's been an amazing time, full of ups and downs (mostly ups though). I make everything myself from the backend coding, to the front-end design, to the marketing. I also always work alone, to avoid getting into arguments about things as I'm extremely stubborn about how I want things to look/feel. I'm a terrible programmer and I don't follow the typical standards of how you should make things. I don't use hip new languages or frameworks. Everything I make is hand-written in raw code. It's because I like to develop fast. You can ask me questions about anything, but in particular I can probably tell you about digital nomads, remote work, overcoming procrastination, getting press, building startups with constraints (like no money, no staff, not being a great programmer/designer). I'm also one of Product Hunt's highest voted makers, so I can tell you something about how to launch on here :) Ask me anything!
Ryan Hoover
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
You always surprise me, @levelsio. 😀You've build 8 products that have been featured on Product Hunt (entirely by yourself, from my understanding) while living a romantic nomad life around the world. You epitomize two trends in technology: 1. A single person can build something useful in relatively short amount of time thanks to new programming languages, open source, and better tools. 2. You don't need to live in a tech hub like Silicon Valley to build product and a network. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on these two movements and how you see it changing the way startups and independent makers build things in 5-10 years.
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @rrhoover! You and the Product Hunt team have made a lot of this possible, without this platform I'd be nowhere right now. Thanks so much 🐯 > 1. A single person can build something useful in relatively short amount of time thanks to new programming languages, open source, and better tools. Yes, absolutely! I think "making" in the broad sense is quickly being democratized by the internet. It's happened to art, culture, music and now finally software too. It's great because it lets more people express themselves creatively and that means there's more ideas going around. And to me software is the defining form of expression right now, it combines all the senses and with the internet we literally have the potential to reach most of the world's population soon. That's insane to think about and mostly positive I think. As you mention, it's become so much easier to build stuff without being a great programmer (as I'm a good example of, I'm pretty bad!). That will only continue. With more simple tools, it'll be possible to build entire startups without programming. You see now that building basic MVPs has become possible with just a Typeform. That will continue into entire startups I think. And that means in the future most of our non-tech friends will be able to build stuff too. I think that's great. It's scary for us tech people though as it'll increase competition. I say, innovate or perish. > 2. You don't need to live in a tech hub like Silicon Valley to build product and a network. Also yes! If people follow me on Twitter, I might grind people's gears with my criticism of Silicon Valley. But it's mostly to provoke and let people think of alternatives. As you know (you're in the middle of it), the core of building a product is simply building it. Everything else is secondary. I think being outside of Silicon Valley is in a way an advantage in that respect. There's a lot less distraction and you don't really have any other choice than just to focus on the most important, building your product. Our "startup" subculture is the most tech-enabled in the world. Most of our day, we already communicate through the internet. So why is being in one place (like SV) still so important for us. I don't think it is any longer although SV has its merits (you know better than me as that's why you're there).
Ignacioaal
Ignacioaal@ignacioaal
@levelsio Looking at all the startups and projects you have done (from Panda Mix show back in 2009 to Nomad list) You are one of the most accomplished Makers right now, it’s admirable that you don’t have a CS background and it seems you are an excellent autodidact. Can you tell us: 1. What was your learning path? 2. What 20% of the coding/design courses/books you took gave you 80% of the results? 4. How did you stayed motivated when you where starting out and didn’t knew about coding? 5. What advice can you give to someone with similar business background that wants to start building stuff and achieve the level of expertise you have right now but doesn’t know where to start?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @allnacho! Thanks for the nice words 🎅 > 1. What was your learning path? I studied business and graduated in 2012. I knew that I didn't want to get a job in banking or management. So a few years before I scrambled to learn to code. I always played with computers a lot but I was never really able to program anything really workable. So around 2010, I started building websites (first WordPress blogs), and improving my coding with it. Mostly it was just brute force "I want this button to do that" and then Googling for nights how to learn it. I never did any coding courses. And as much as I think it's good that they're increasingly there. I have to say most people I've met that are good at something, just learned by going (autodidact as you say). Someone mentioned to me the idea of Just-In-Time learning. It means that you learn something when you need it. That's the opposite of most courses. And I think that works best as it gives you practical knowledge vs. theoretical knowledge. > 2. What 20% of the coding/design courses/books you took gave you 80% of the results? None. Just Googling questions. So in that sense Stack Overflow probably helped me most. > 4. How did you stayed motivated when you where starting out and didn’t knew about coding? I really wanted things to make things in a certain way. And so to figure out how to do that I would Google endlessly. And then I'd figured out. So the motivation was the curiosity to figure it out and wanting it to work. > 5. What advice can you give to someone with similar business background that wants to start building stuff and achieve the level of expertise you have right now but doesn’t know where to start? As much as I think coding will be less important, I'd still suggest to just start making websites/web apps/apps. Don't do courses but just build something simple. Get stuck. Continue. Get stuck again. And then finally you have something. And don't be lazy. Just work hard and ship. If you do that long enough you'll get somewhere at some point. You don't need to be "good" at it. Most programmers/designers are much much better than me, but they never ship.
Michael Oblak
Michael Oblak@michaloblak · Sheetsu.com founder
Hi @levelsio. I really appreciate your work and how you are doing it. How much do you earn on your startups, how much revenue do you have from all those projects?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@michaloblak I'll write a more detailed blog post about my revenue later. But for now it ranges from $15,000 to $25,000 per month in revenue with hardly any costs.
Michael Oblak
Michael Oblak@michaloblak · Sheetsu.com founder
@levelsio I'm waiting for the post, while coding my own projects! You are a great guy!
Nicolas Wielonsky
Nicolas Wielonsky@nicolas_wsk · Freelance Developer
@levelsio I'm also waiting for this post ! I'm really curious about how you monetize all your projects and what are your business plan in details. I really like NomadList, thank you for that !
Sung Won Cho
Sung Won Cho@mikeswcho · maker
Hi @levelsio. Paul Graham says that single founder is one of the mistakes that kill startups. But you’ve managed to build not one, but many stuffs that people love to use. How do you manage to build those awesome stuffs mostly all by yourself? And what are the challenges that you particularly faced as a one-man maker?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@mikeswcho Yes! I think about that quote a lot because I respect Paul Graham a lot. PG usually talks about funded startups and YC focuses on business that can be a billion dollar worth. I'm not there and not sure if I will be there or want to be. So I don't know if the advice is applicable. I'm definitely not an expert on billion dollar businesses haha! I think being a solo founder is extremely beneficial. I meet many startups on the road (like in coworking spaces, or when they invite me) and I see a lot of them fail because of founder drama. It'll be two or three founders and every feature has to be discussed, there's meeting, personal drama. Every night before sleeping I have a meeting with myself in my head, and I decide what feature to build next. And then I sleep and wake up and build it. That makes me very fast at shipping. Being a solo founder does exponentially increase your stress levels though. But having a great partner and friends to talk about (even better if they're non-tech) helps. It lets you relativize things,
Craig Barber
Craig Barber@craigjbarber · Craig Barber
@levelsio What a legend! Big respect to Levels and the fact he does it all himself, across multiple products is awesome. Totally agree with co-founder drama. In my experience people move too slow and there are too many issues to deal with. Case and point with how successful @levelsio has been.
Drew Meyers
Drew Meyers@drewmeyers · Founder, Horizon & Geek Estate
Have you contracted any work out for the various products you've launched over the last year?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@drewmeyers Nope, never. I've had help when my server broke down from @aikedejongste and @daniellockyer, but that's it.
kevmar08
kevmar08@kevmar08 · Mobile Engineer, Freelancer
Hi Pieter, I'm a big fan of your work and passion for the digital nomad community. As someone who has made many products to help fellow nomads, what are some of the problems that you feel hindering the effectiveness of the digital nomad community in the workplace?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@kevmar08 I think one of the challenges is that many companies still don't believe remote workers can be as effective as on-site workers. But there's lots of companies that are showing the opposite like Buffer (with 50 remote employees), Zapier and Automattic (with 400 remote employees). It's the future of work and if a company doesn't embrace it yet, it probably means it's behind in many other ways too.
Isaac Herrera
Isaac Herrera@mrisaacherrera
Hi Pieter, I really enjoyed your “How tech is shaping our future” keynote, specially your thoughts around automation. Can you share with us how you apply automation to your personal life?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Thanks @mrisaacherrera! Yes, one of the most useful automations I have is a robot that finds invoices/receipts in my Gmail, then prints them to PDF and saves them in my Dropbox with a filename like "YYYY-MM-DD - Company - Product - Price.pdf". Most of my sites have extreme amounts of automation. Nomad List collects data every minute about 500+ places in the world, like weather, humidity, places to work, places to sleep. And it does all of that without me even looking at it.
Ⓜ️:)
Ⓜ️:)@msmillie · http://earthmov.es
@levelsio that robot sounds like a dream. Care to share? Thx.
Taylor Crane
Taylor Crane@taykcrane · Product @ Hello Alfred
Hey Pieter, big fan and thanks for all the inspiration. I've got a million questions for you, but I'll just ask the most important one. What the HELL is with that damn giraffe!?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@taykcrane Haha, the best question in here. The giraffe is called G-Ruff. I've had it since 2011 and bought it at the zoo in Holland with my dad. I have another giraffe called Lucy from Bali, who recently went missing (https://twitter.com/bastionhotel...) 😢
Tim Chard
Tim Chard@timchardme · Self
Long live drum and bass ;) How do you typically organize your day/workflow? Do you usually do an hour at a time and break? Binge for 12 hours? or a set routine (say 4 hours, lunch, 4 hours)?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@timchardme Product Hunt's co-founder @andreasklinger used to throw D&B parties in Austria 😍 I usually wake up in the afternoon, then I shower, have coffee, hardly do anything for the first few hours (browse BuzzFeed, no not really, walk around outside) then my creative peak starts around 4 hours after I wake up. Then it continues in the late night. Usually when I'm making something I spent two weeks working 10 hour per day. Just work, sleep, work, sleep. And then when I ship I take like a week or two off. That concentrated work and concentrated play time is how my brain functions. I can't relax if I know I need to finish my work. But I need to relax to not get overworked.
Sung Won Cho
Sung Won Cho@mikeswcho · maker
@levelsio You don't use any impressive/hip technology or follow standard practices, but still manage to build great things. From your blog, you said: "I actually shy away from using real database systems in the 12 startups. Instead I use JSON text files". Also you mentioned that you simply FTP your app to your server rather than pushing to your remote repository or unit-testing it. 1. In the course of scaling up, what kind of challenges have you run into because of the technology stack choice you've made, and the unorthodox method of development? 2. Do you intend to learn any new languages or framework, or adopt more 'best practices' to fight scaling issues and help manage your apps in the longer term?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
>1. In the course of scaling up, what kind of challenges have you run into because of the technology stack choice you've made, and the unorthodox method of development? Oh a lot! But I've been able to overcome all of them. The JSON text files have since been converted into SQLite databases. Which if I have to scale up more can be converted into MySQL or PostgreSQL databases. The biggest challenge was that as Nomad List grew in the first 6 months, the site became very slow as it was still the MVP with stuff plugged into it. So I had to rewrite the entire codebase. That's something that usually goes wrong, but I managed to do it relatively smoothly. It did take a lot of time and work though. I still think this is the best approach for me. I only scale up things when things start to break. A recent example is Startup Retreats (http://www.producthunt.com/tech/...), which is just two PHP files (index.php and retreat.php) for the front page and the retreat page. There's no config file, no functions file etc. There will be, if it takes off. I think I'm just agressively against premature optimization. And because I have limited resources I have to be. I don't have time to optimize everything. But it's shown to work to my advantage. As I can be fast in shipping. 2. Do you intend to learn any new languages or framework, or adopt more 'best practices' to fight scaling issues and help manage your apps in the longer term? Yes, kind of. The challenge is that I keep not having the time to learn new stuff. I'd love to learn Node, React and Swift. But the issue is that it's not been necessary yet. I think PHP scales greatly, but yes Node and React etc. are more modern, so I'd love to switch. But no time yet and no immediate requirement to do so yet (except I want to build iOS apps, so Swift would be useful).
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Thanks for all the questions everyone! During this AMA, I'm launching MAKE, a book about building, launching, growing and monetizing startups. You can pre-order now at http://makebook.io and the first 250 pre-orders get a Periscope session where I'll give advice on your startup!
flystein ✈
flystein ✈@flystein
@levelsio Hi @levelsio, is the MAKE + Periscope deal is still on? Thanks!
Jonny Miller
Jonny Miller@jonnym1ller · Cofounder @Maptia
Hey @levelsio – in an early interview for the NomadList blog @simpleasthat_ asked me the question "What do you think is the weakest aspect of digital nomad community and what is the potential to improve it?" I thought it was a good one and wanted to throw it back at you ;)
Marina Janeiko
Marina Janeiko@simpleasthat_ · UX designer, founder of @WhatsitlikeApp
@jonnym1ller would love to know @levelsio perspective too ;)
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Haha nice @jonnym1ller @simpleasthat_! I think there's a few weak parts. 1. The biggest is that we're not aware of how annoying we are to our friends. We're so obsessed with our "lifestyle" and we're so proud of doing something differently that we start to get tunnel vision. And we think everyone should do it. And we overemphasize the value of it. I mean in the end it's just jumping in a plane, traveling somewhere. Just like tourists do. We stay longer, but that's it. It's not THAT special, but we think it is. I mean it can be very special and life-changing for us. But mostly other people don't really care. I've tried to only talk about DN if my friends explicitly ask about it. That took me a few years haha! 2. It's not a fix-all-cure-all option for life. Before I made Nomad List, most of the scene was blogs about "quit your 9 to 5, live a dream life on the beach". And the reason that's bad is because it's not honest and plays on people's weaknesses and desperation from having jobs they don't enjoy (studies show most people don't enjoy their job, so that's why it works). Most people that quit their unsatisfactory job, and move to the other side of the world will have a short boost of happiness. But many quickly fall into depression and isolation. You quit your job, but now you're alone on the other side of the world with nice cheap food and an infinity pool, but umm...what now? We should promote digital nomad lifestyle as more of a moderate option. Maybe people should live 3 months in their hometown, then rent out their apartment for 3 month and move to somewhere else and work from there. That's a more realistic option then the perpetual traveling which can be very isolationary (trust me, I've been there). 3. I mentioned it in another question. We think this is for everyone but most of the world isn't able to travel anywhere and work everywhere because of their passports and limited disposable income. That's changing with developing countries quickly getting richer (China, Thailand, Vietnam now have a middle-class that are starting to travel). But we should be aware not everybody can do this yet.
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Makerpad.co
Do you have a longer-term plan or are you quite a 'play-it-by-ear' type? In biz and life in general!
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Ah yes great question @bentossell! I have some personal goals where I want to leave my mark on the world, however small. I'm really proud of what I did with Nomad List, as it's the first thing in my life that really has touched lots of people. So I think I'm almost there. I have some financial goals, where I'd love to be financially independent and just be able to continue my life like this where I don't have a job, don't have clients (never had) and can choose what I want to do every day. Practically, I'd get there if I have saved about $500,000 to $1M in cash.
Julian
Julian@c00lian
Hi @levelsio I have been a fan of your work for a while. 1. Is revenue/profit something that you think of from the beginning or do you just work on creating the most valuable tool and figure out monetization later? 2. How do you stay motivated as a single founder?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @c00lian! > 1. Is revenue/profit something that you think of from the beginning or do you just work on creating the most valuable tool and figure out monetization later? In the beginning I didn't even slightly think about it, haha! That changed after awhile when I figured out it costs a lot of time to maintain projects. They break and users want you to support them. But then you're working 10 hours a day on something that never will make any money. It doesn't make sense. I now think of it as a balance. Making useful things get you attention, and if you're smart about it, you can change that attention into revenue. With Nomad List, I quickly figured out the site itself would never be able to make money. But then I added paid community features (forum, chat) and that became the main revenue source. > 2. How do you stay motivated as a single founder? I really really really want to succeed or be successful or good at things. I know that's childish maybe. But my self-esteem is connected to it. I know that's risky psychologically but it's just how I'm built. I can't be proud of who I am if I don't have something I can be proud of that I made myself.
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)
Emily Snowdon (née Hodgins)@emilyjsnowdon · Operations @ Product Hunt
What's your best advice for people working remotely?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@ems_hodge Try it! You might like it
Morgan Black
Morgan Black@atlaskids · Founder, BlueDeep Capital
Hi Pieter, I was really impressed with what you've accomplished and how you did it. I'm launching an eCommerce shop this month and I also plan to travel around the world. What challenges will I probably face when launching and traveling at the same time?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Thanks @atlaskids! I don't think the challenges will be any different than if you'd launch at home. Depending on your location you might have challenges getting fast internet connectivity. But I've made site to help you find the place with the best internet 💃
Yvo Schaap
Yvo Schaap@yvoschaap · CTO by day, hacker by night
You reached internet fame with your idea of 'Launching 12 Startups in 12 Months'. Was that something you planned a head as a marketing hook, or was it a personal goal that happened to resonate with the startup community / news authors? Love to see how your nomad niche is something that sticks, and now your focus! Are you already at a point to drop the other non-nomad related projects? Sell?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @yvoschaap! Nice to see you here 🐸 It was completely accidental. It helped me a lot though. I was writing a blog post that was called "12 Projects in 12 Months" and as a joke I backspaced and called it Startups. Within a month the press started coming. I think it was a very lucky timing where startups became increasingly popular (see the rise of Product Hunt last year too) and the fact I was traveling while doing it, which made it a romantic story. I struggled with it though as obviously they weren't all startups, more like apps. But then again, it did a lot for me. It got me a big audience, that I was able to move to my new products (like Nomad List) successfully. That's really priceless. I've slowly shut down the projects that weren't working out (like Tubelytics, GIFbook) and others are maintained automatically (GoFuckingDoIt). I haven't sold any yet. Not sure if it's worth the tediousness.
David Turner
David Turner@dturneresq · RSA Fellow
Do you see any way to make the immigration policies of the U.S. or UK more Nomad friendly? Do you believe in open borders as much as possible? What challenges did you face on your travels and do you think Technology could help make Airports more agile, or is that just a utopian dream?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @dturneresq! Great question. I think the recent refugee crisis in Europe gives us a lot to think about. The digital nomad lifestyle is a hypocritical one in many ways. We're all highly privileged, not so much in gender and race anymore as before, as I see plenty of different genders and races as DNs now. But we are in that we're still the 1% or so of the world that has the great American/European passports and the disposable income to travel. That's hard for me. You travel the world and you come back from it thinking "everyone's pretty nice, let's open the borders worldwide". Which is ideologically nice, but challenging if you know the costs involved. There's so much income inequality right now (and it's increasing), that to get to that goal of opening all borders worldwide, we need to do it progressively. I do think it's the end-goal yes. The digital nomad movement is simply a part of human evolution to try and get the species united. That's going to take a long time though.
Corley
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@levelsio thanks for joining! Two quick questions for you: 1. Given that you are a nomad - what is your favorite place in the world and why? 2. What place did you expect to enjoy, but it did not live up to your expectations?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @corleyh! Thanks for all the great work you do on Product Hunt, it helps me get my products recognized a lot! 🎅 > 1. Given that you are a nomad - what is your favorite place in the world and why? My favorite places are Hong Kong, the whole of Japan, Bangkok, Bali and Berlin. > 2. What place did you expect to enjoy, but it did not live up to your expectations? Funnily enough, Bali! It's an amazing island with so much potential. It has jungle, it has great food, it has a mix of locals and foreigners. It has it all. Except fast internet. I've tried many times, but it's just too slow and unstable. It seems stupid that that's the reason why I can't work there, but we're building internet companies here! I wish they fixed it.
Karl
Karl@therealcoelho
@levelsio Couple of questions here: 1. All your startups have REALLY great design. What is your inspiration of thought process of all your sites. All relevant links? 2. What's your average work day look like? 3. You're really popular on Twitter. How did that happen? Was it just your persistence at talking about something you like, that just resonated with a bunch of people, or was it something else? 4. Would you advise someone to start a blog from scratch like you did with levels.io or just go with something like Medium. Btw, I really like what you're doing with Nomad List, great idea, even though I don't really need it! :P
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
>1. All your startups have REALLY great design. What is your inspiration of thought process of all your sites. All relevant links? Thank you @therealcoelho! I get inspired by a lot of other sites. Actually, Product Hunt is a very big inspiration for Nomad List and I think you can see that (especially in the beginning). I really like to pick and choose things from other sites. The yellow color for Startup Retreats came from a page on Airbnb. And the green color on Nomad List came from Kickstarter. They have design departments with hundreds of people, so picking some things from them can save you lots of time. The buttons on Nomad List I think came from Beta List. I think copying is okay, if it's not extremely blatant and if your not in the same industry. Everything is built on the work of others. Product Hunt was inspired by Reddit, Reddit was inspired by Digg. I also like to keep things really simple, and that helps save time but also simplicity is often perceived as positive to people. So things that are clean and simple look prettier! 2. What's your average work day look like? I usually wake up in the afternoon, then I shower, have coffee, hardly do anything for the first few hours (browse BuzzFeed, no not really, walk around outside) then my creative peak starts around 4 hours after I wake up. Then it continues in the late night. I've always worked best at night. Then I sleep around 4 AM (or later). 3. You're really popular on Twitter. How did that happen? Was it just your persistence at talking about something you like, that just resonated with a bunch of people, or was it something else? I have no idea. My blog posted started getting posted a lot on Hacker News (starting with this post https://news.ycombinator.com/ite...) and it kept going from there. I think I struck the right timing by being a bit early with writing about traveling and working, remote work and digital nomads. And being descriptive and very honest about my experiences. Before that, it was mostly blogs trying to sell you in a lifestyle to make money on it. I never tried to sell anything with my blog.I think that was refreshing for people. It's like playing the long game, because in turn, by being honest, I was able to get revenue through my projects related to what I wrote about. But that was years later (I started writing/traveling in early 2013, and Nomad List was launched late 2014). I'm extremely opinionated and stubborn. And that works on Twitter. It also gives you a lot of haters. But that's part of it. I like Twitter as I can say things that provoke, and then learn from the reactions how things really are. It's an extremely valuable platform for me (as Product Hunt is), and I never really understand why stock traders are always so down on Twitter. If I didn't have Twitter, I don't I'd be anywhere, nor would my products be anywhere. 4. Would you advise someone to start a blog from scratch like you did with levels.io or just go with something like Medium. I think doing things yourself makes you unique. If I see a Medium post, I like it, but every post looks the same. Sometimes I forget who is actually writing it. If people go on my blog, there's some familiarity to it. http://daringfireball.net is a good example. It's not on Medium, but it has huge reach. I'm not sure though, I started blogging in 2010 just to express my thoughts. And it's not 5 years later. People spend more of their time on platforms (like Facebook, Instagram, Medium) than sites I think. I do think if you want to be unique, do it yourself.
Sung Won Cho
Sung Won Cho@mikeswcho · maker
@levelsio There are some great makers out there that can code very well, but your products arguably get more press and interests. I want to know what you do to ditch the build-it-and-they-come mindset and 'sell' what you build. 1. How do you manage to generate buzz and actually get people interested in your products? 2. How much time do you spend selling your product, compared to coding?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
> 1. How do you manage to generate buzz and actually get people interested in your products? I think I have a huge advantage that I already have an audience. So it's now easier for me. When I launch something, they carry it (e.g. by re-tweeting it, sending it to their friends). If you don't have an audience yet, it's very important that your product can create buzz intrinsically. Practically that means, let people who go to your site/app use it immediately (without signing up). Make it something that hits the current zeitgeist but adds to it (follow a big trend to do that, e.g. digital nomads, virtual reality, emerging markets, sharing economy etc.). > 2. How much time do you spend selling your product, compared to coding? 95% coding, 5% selling. As when I launch it, mostly things go organically from there. E.g. I never buy ads (I tried, hated it).
Hi @levelsio! I like your work! What's your advice for new startups, how to catch the attention of journalists and get press?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @sc3wnet! It's one of the most difficult things. I'd say learn to tell a story. People write about me because it's a somewhat romantic story, someone traveling the world (oh the freedom!), making their own stuff (no boss, more freedom!) and doing startups (everybody loves startups in 2015). It hits a few things people like to hear about. Journalists hate boring. So if you want coverage, stop being boring. Everyone has a personal story. Start telling yours.
Vincent Jo
Vincent Jo@chiwoojo · Web engineer
What do you like best about working remotely? What's your opinion on Bootcamps? I'm currently aiming to attend one to eventually be able to work remotely.
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @chiwoojo! I think it depends on what you get out of it. Most people I know that are good at something have learnt it themselves by brute force. Just Googling endlessly. I think the most important skill in life is to learn how to learn. That means, figuring things out for yourself. Because what do you do when the bootcamp ends? How do you progress? Are you going to dump another $1,000 to $10,000 in a new bootcamp? When does it stop?
Tim Wang
Tim Wang@timcrata
@levelsio Hi Pieter, ever since I found out about you, I'm become quite a fan! I think your ability to build products that people want quickly and efficiently is awesome! I am curious, what types of technologies do you use to accomplish this? I'm currently learning Meteor and would love to figure out what techs I should learn next to follow in your steps. Thanks!
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
I really don't think it's about which tools you use, @timcrata. It's about your own skills. I use PHP, but you can use anything.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Pieter! Talk more about the digital nomad live. What are some of the most common misconceptions? Who should and who shouldn't do it?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @eriktorenberg! I think the most common misconception is that it's all fun and happy times 🐸 It can be psychologically taxing, isolating and lonely. It can also be the best thing you've ever done in your life. It depends per person, and it's just ups and downs. The freedom you get from is amazing and hard to explain but think of the idea that you can go anywhere, do anything you want. That's really powerful for anyone who's been brought up in a society (well, we all are, haha) that has a structure for you to follow. You can get rid of that entire structure and lead your life exactly as you want it. However, then shortly after you figure out why there was structure in the first place. All in all, it's extremely educational. I think everyone who can should at least try it. Go live somewhere else for 3 months, and see if you like it or not. Don't move around too fast, just stick to a place on the other side of the world. Think of it like studying abroad but while you do your work. Then if you don't like it, just come back. If you do, keep doing it!
Eric Willis
Eric Willis@erictwillis · Working on something new
@levelsio Hey Peter...not going to ask you a question about programming, startups, etc. This question can sometimes be difficult to answer because you can like many places for different reasons, but which place has been your favorite city or country to visit so far and why?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@erictwillis I started my journey in Bangkok, and I still love this city! It's getting a bit too crowded recently, but it's still a great city. All the prejudice about it (like the Hangover movie), it's kinda stupid. It's not like that. It's more like a big metropolitan city like New York, Shanghai or Hong Kong. It's got everything. And it's a very REAL city. You see life in its best and worst forms. The city is poetic. It can be high-class, luxurious and it can be dirty and broken down. It's also a city that's always on the move, everyone's working hard to make their lives better. Ambition is in the air (as in many Asian cities) and it's incredibly motivating and exhilarating. Anything is possible.
Joshua Voydik
Joshua Voydik@joshvoydik · Founder, Mindful Makers
@levelsio You say you're a terrible programmer, but you've still managed to create some awesome products. I've read an excerpt from an interview you've done that 99% of people simply don't do the work. 1. Can you share a little bit more as to your process for choosing an idea, and then simply executing on it? 2. Can you provide some learning techniques, if any, on deep dives into new programming languages for rapid development? (I'm a novice). 3. What are a few of your favorite countries you've traveled to? Thanks, and I hope to connect soon!
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
> 1. Can you share a little bit more as to your process for choosing an idea, and then simply executing on it? I usually try to solve stuff that are my own problems. I've gotten criticism for it because that means I only solve privileged white people's problems. I see the point. The thing if you solve your own problems is that you're an expert on it. You don't need to interview customers, you don't need focus groups. If you're smart and you know very well what's wrong, and you can figure out how way to fix it very well, then you can succeed at it. I have a list of ideas, and I get a few ideas per week. A lot of ideas stay in my head and they kind of cook for months until they come out. A lot has to do with timing, things change rapidly, and an idea might not be ready yet until it is. > 2. Can you provide some learning techniques, if any, on deep dives into new programming languages for rapid development? (I'm a novice). Yes, Google how to make things and don't do courses. Books can be useful if they describe general ideas (like not specific programming languages, but more like abstract ideas of programming architecture.) Don't get a mentor. Just DIY. Learning how to learn is most important in anything. > 3. What are a few of your favorite countries you've traveled to? I'd say more cities, I have a special place in my heart for Hong Kong. It's just a really crazy special place. It's the West and the East merged into one. Like Bangkok, it's a city that's always moving. It's bustling. I also love Tokyo and the rest of Japan. More close to US/EU, I think Berlin is one of the best places in the world to live and work right now. You have to visit the city (and book an Airbnb, not a hotel) and stay for a month to see this. It's cheap, the people are great, it's romantic, it has great parks, and the creativity you can taste in the air. Just a very inspiring city to live.
Joshua Voydik
Joshua Voydik@joshvoydik · Founder, Mindful Makers
@levelsio Thanks dude! I really appreciate your response and information.
Pedro
Pedro@pcbo · Co-founder @ Landing.jobs
@levelsio I've been following your path since you became a digital nomad. I've got a few questions: 1. What do you think was the trigger to start nomading? Is it life history related or do you think a part of you was meant to be a digital nomad since you were born? For instance, is someone in your family some kind of a role model for you? Or do you think Dutch culture had something to do with it...? 2. Do you think you'll ever stop nomading? If yes, why and how would that "go-back-to-*normal*-life" process be like? Do you even think about this kind of stuff? 3. Do you ever feel the need to be part of a team or do you imagine yourself growing your own team after making & launching a product?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
> 1. What do you think was the trigger to start nomading? Is it life history related or do you think a part of you was meant to be a digital nomad since you were born? For instance, is someone in your family some kind of a role model for you? Or do you think Dutch culture had something to do with it...? The trigger was that I had graduated, and my life had become a bit boring. I was really comfortable and had reached the Maslow's pyramid peak, but I wasn't happy. I wrote about it here https://levels.io/reset-your-life I think Dutch culture has to do with it in a negative way. It's become an extremely conformist society and most of the progressive attitudes that used to be "par for the course" of Dutch liberal culture (e.g. 1960-2000) have since moved to places like Berlin and San Francisco. Dutch culture has significant challenges with building a startup climate (the startups that are there, e.g. Uber are there mostly for tax reasons). Dutch culture has become a risk-averse non-entrepreneurial culture that doesn't reward creativity (and there's studies on this). I love my country and that's why I'm probably it's #1 critic. I think one of the reasons I left was exactly this. I like places that are bustling and where people respect you if you do new stuff. America is a great example of that. Most of Asia is, because traditional family culture there is very business minded (see Chinese families especially). > 2. Do you think you'll ever stop nomading? If yes, why and how would that "go-back-to-*normal*-life" process be like? Do you even think about this kind of stuff? I think I can't go back to a normal life. And funnily enough, I see "normal life" quickly moving more towards what I'm doing than anything. So I probably should stick to my guns and ride this out, haha! I have slowed down my travels to 1 to 3 months everywhere instead of weeks. And I now take long breaks going back home. I think that's a more healthy approach to it. If you are away from your home culture for over 50% of the time, you become a bit....isolated. Even if you make friends elsewhere, I think it helps to come back regularly to keep you grounded. My dream was always to get 4 houses in 4 places, like Amsterdam, some Japanese village, Boulder in Colorado (because I always hear it's the best place to live) and a place on the beach (like Bali). Then I move every 3 months, and if I'm not in a house I rent it out. Not sure if I want that though because I like not having ownership. But maybe in the future. I'll definitely try to keep moving around. > 3. Do you ever feel the need to be part of a team or do you imagine yourself growing your own team after making & launching a product? I do think I need to hire people if I want to keep growing my products. The more successful stuff gets, the more time it takes up. And I do want to have personal time away from the computer to where I want to be able to know my server will stay up and I don't need to check my phone every 5 minutes :)
Pedro
Pedro@pcbo · Co-founder @ Landing.jobs
@levelsio hey Levels, just realised that I never replied – sorry. Went to my first ever nomads meetup yesterday @ London and that triggered me coming back and searching for this thread here... I don't consider myself a nomad but I guess taking +40 flights (expected) in 2016 will change that? I've moved to London recently and am working on full-remote mode from here, definitely something new for me. I think you've got an interesting point w/ losing the home culture and becoming isolated, I guess that depends from nomad to nomad. I love the 4 houses idea, love it! I'm copying that but slightly less ambitious - couple of countries only: house in Lisbon, London apartment, palace in Azores, beach house in Tavira (Algarve) :D Anyway, I've joined #nomads slack group, hopefully I can get a few good deals and learnings too :)
Conor Patrick
Conor Patrick@_conorpp · Hardware hacker
Hey @levelsio, What do you look for in a new working space when you move around? Do you ever find it's sometimes more difficult to get work done when you're moving around? Do you ever go to any conferences?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@_conorpp > What do you look for in a new working space when you move around? Do you ever find it's sometimes more difficult to get work done when you're moving around? I really need stable and fast internet. So when I book an Airbnb now, I'll ask them to send me a speed test first. Sometimes I even ask hotels/hostels to do that. If the internet is unstable, my entire productivity is gone. > Do you ever go to any conferences? I've spoken at two conferences now this year for the first time. Which was very scary! Here's a video:
I think they're fun to speak at, but I try to avoid them as a visitor at all cost. There's no direct rational benefit for me to be there and it's mostly valueless networking. The real networking happens with people that value you (and you value them) sending each other a message (over email, WhatsApp, Twitter, anything). There's no reason that a serendipitous meeting with someone at a conference will work out to your benefit. It's mostly a time suck, time waste and distraction from building your product and getting users and revenue. Also when I do have time off, I'd like to spend it as far from work as possible. Like spend it with friends (NOT talking about startups or nomads).
Daiyaan
Daiyaan@daiyaan · Founder @ Bizz.co
@levelsio Pieter, you consistently shatter what even I think is possible - especially with regards to building great startups whilst travelling the world. You're a prime example of someone living life on their terms and not following the status quo. You've inspired me to the point that I'm making my own startup a remote company with a remote team (as scary as that is). My Question: You've now had the experience of launching more products than most, and been featured on ProductHunt several times. I LOVE ProductHunt and obviously getting featured here can do a lot for a startup. However, what are some other avenues you've seen success with that startups often overlook when it comes to getting high quality, engaged customers in the beginning?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @daiyaan!!! 🐣 > what are some other avenues you've seen success with that startups often overlook when it comes to getting high quality, engaged customers in the beginning? Great question! I think a great way is to build an audience before you even ship anything. I accidentally did that by blogging about digital nomads and remote work since 2013. So when I launched Nomad List in 2014, people already knew about me for 1.5 years. That helped a lot as it made it a very authentic thing (e.g. "this person is actually doing it"). Many people call that content marketing, but I don't like calling it that because it seems so...umm...well it contains the word "marketing". It doesn't feel honest. Just writing about things (or Periscoping), and sharing your ideas, thoughts and challenges in life. That gets you an audience. And that's often overlooked. That audience can then become (paying) users later.
Daiyaan
Daiyaan@daiyaan · Founder @ Bizz.co
@levelsio thanks for the awesome answer man.
Would you consider doing client work or forming an agency?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Haha @oshmanm, I don't think so. But everyone has a price. I think if they pay $1M per year, I'd consider. That sounds extremely arrogant, but I value my freedom so much. I fought hard not be a "cog in a machine". And I'd only do client work for that price for a year or so, to put it into my savings.
Mickaël de Raëmy
Mickaël de Raëmy@mickaelderaemy · No job
Hello Pieter @levelsio :) ! You have launch many ideas in real projects, so : 1. How do you stay focus (concentration) ? --> because you make many projects ?! 2. What is your advices to make money (for roof and food) when you have little knows of coding but you don't know what to do ? Thx ;)
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @mickaelderaemy! > 1. How do you stay focus (concentration) ? --> because you make many projects ?! I switch from project to project. For example the last few months I spent a lot of time on Nomad List but I saw that Remote OK started falling apart. So the last few weeks I've spent on refreshing that site, removing bugs. The benefit with programming is that once something works, it usually keeps working (until you break it). So that gives me the advantage I can do multiple projects in parallel. > 2. What is your advices to make money (for roof and food) when you have little knows of coding but you don't know what to do ? I'd say start with a Typeform (connect it to a domain name) and use its integration with Zapier to connect it to something else. Then connect Stripe to it and add a payment box. For example, @marckohlbrugge had the idea of making a Typeform for people who need assistance when they travel. Let's say you call that TravelHelpAssistant.com, that goes to a Typeform where you enter your question and pay $10. Then you connect that Typeform to FancyHands (a virtual assistant service), where you pay $5 per task. Now you can make $5 profit, and it's all automated without writing a single line of code!
Jay
Jay@jaybroni · Developer
Hi @levelsio, What is your workflow like when developing an application? Do you use sketch? Any frameworks? And are there any other digital nomads you think are successful?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @jaybroni! I've tried Sketch and love it but I hardly use it. I usually visualize things in my head, then I make it inside Sublime Text in a plain HTML file, with the stylesheet in tags. I put my Sublime Text on the right. And my browser on the left. And then I just design in CSS and HTML. I think in a way that helps keep things simple (also the design). My designs aren't groundbreaking, but they are good enough I think. Yes there's lots of digital nomads that are successful. A lot of the bigger remote companies I respect a lot in that they are able to do it not alone, but with teams of up to 400 people. That's incredible.
Jay
Jay@jaybroni · Developer
@rrhoover any way to only see the ones he answered at this point? and possibly sort by that as well? sorry i'm new to this platform.
Ivan Jovanovic
Ivan Jovanovic@ivanjov96 · Freelance full stack developer
Hi @levelsio . I need to say that I love your works, your products and I like how you live your nomad life. I am your big fan!!! I have couple of questions. 1. Do you use framework, or you use plain PHP? 2. Will you come to Serbia? I would like to meet you :) 3. Do you design your products or you use some already made templates and customize them? Thanks, this is all. Have a nice time!!
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @ivanjov96! > 1. Do you use framework, or you use plain PHP? I only use jQuery and all plain PHP, JS, CSS that I hand write without any frameworks. 2. Will you come to Serbia? I would like to meet you :) I am actually very near in Croatia now! 3. Do you design your products or you use some already made templates and customize them? I never use templates. It's all self designed. That makes it more unique and for me more easy to modify because I know how I built it myself, instead of fighting somebody else's code in a template.
Ivan Jovanovic
Ivan Jovanovic@ivanjov96 · Freelance full stack developer
@levelsio Yes, I know that you are in Croatia, and because of that I ask, maybe your next country is Serbia :) Thanks for your answers. Wish you all the best. Take care!
Stefan Panic
Stefan Panic@stefanpanic9
Solve bigger problems that maybe take weeks and months to build a solution or rather concentrate on smaller more niche problems? Thanks 😀✌🏻️
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @stefanpanic9! Good question. I'm not an expert, but I think start with small problems. As you can grow them to solve bigger problems. If you start with something big first, you might spend a lot of time on something that doesn't get anywhere. This really depends on your industry though. If you're starting a company that wants to compete with Uber now, you can't start of small. You need to go massive immediately (that's why Uber is raising so much too). If you're trying to validate an idea or market first though (and there's not many competitors yet), it's probably best to start small and see if it's an idea worth pursuing at all.
Sarthak Pranit
Sarthak Pranit@liberosist · App Designer @Booking.com
You truly are one huge inspiration for people who like building stuff that is objective and focused without any pretence. The entire scene today is of specialisation - interaction designers stick to their prototypes, backend coders stick to their coding. You have been able to play both sides with extreme dexterity. What would your advice be for an interaction designer who wants to start with basic backend coding?
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Thanks @liberosist! That's super kind of you 👯 I think I'm an extreme generalist, which goes against most of what people tell you, you should do (e.g. think how education specializes us). I do think it's changing, you see designers learning to code (see @MengTo's work http://designcode.io). You see developers learning how to run server (e.g. DevOps). And you see many makers now build their own stuff and launch it (on here) and add "business" to their skill set. That all shows a big trend towards generalization. And I think like @rrhoover mentioned, you can thank the tools for that, that have made our workflows faster. I'd say build something basic and ship it. And keep building more and more stuff until you build an audience or userbase with it. Meanwhile Google everything to learn to figure out how to code (like literally start with "how do I make a button do something"). Which language you pick isn't important, but it's probably helpful if it's JavaScript (as that's the current zeitgeist, JS in front and backend). Good luck!
Sarthak Pranit
Sarthak Pranit@liberosist · App Designer @Booking.com
@levelsio *A fan boy scream for sometime* Thanks a lot man. It means a lot getting an objective direction from a person who has done a good deal of work. @mengto is a definite inspiration! Maybe, its time when the jack of trades gains a better scope and a definite freedom :) Will remember this advice *fan boy scream follows*
Diego Serrano
Diego Serrano@diegoserranoav · CS Engineer
@levelsio I'm not a nomad myself but I'm seriously considering on giving it a shot. Being from Latin America I have a couple of questions about the region: 1. I really haven't seen a lot of latin nomads (maybe there are and I haven't found them on Twitter). Why do you think there aren't a lot of latin nomads? Is it the culture? 2. I see a lot of potential in this region. What does a city need to grab the attention of DN? (I noticed you're going to Medellin) PS: when are you going to Medellin? :)
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hi @diegoserranoav! > 1. I really haven't seen a lot of latin nomads (maybe there are and I haven't found them on Twitter). Why do you think there aren't a lot of latin nomads? Is it the culture? I think you're right. But that's changing fast. In terms of people going to South America, there's a big community in Medellin, Florianopolis and Santiago de Chile. 2. I see a lot of potential in this region. What does a city need to grab the attention of DN? (I noticed you're going to Medellin) I think too. The challenge with South America is that it still has issues with safety. The relatively high level of safety in most of Asia makes it very suitable for nomads. The more safe South America gets, the more people will come. Another consideration is cost. There's issues with currency deflations and high prices in South America (e.g. Argentina with its blue rate). And that needs to be solved. I'll be visiting South America in 2 weeks (for the first time), so I'll report more if I have experienced more. But I agree with you, massive potential there.
Fevi Yu
Fevi Yu@feviyu · Founder & Chief Pet Sitter, Dogma.me
Hi @levelsio -- i am interested in your take on getting press! Love that you a single founder and loving it. Me too! I have owned a company for over 7 years, sold a website for 6 figures and started my startup journey 6 months ago. Having a hard time getting press so your input is appreciated. Lets have coffee if you are ever in DC? My treat.
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
Hey @feviyu! Wow that's great, congrats! I think to get press you need to tell a story. Journalists hate boring. They want to hear the story around your startup. Why did you built it. How did you built it. Be ruthlessly honest about your struggles (and blog/tweet about it). We're living in a time obsessed with reality (see reality-tv, think Kim Kardashian), use that to your advantage. The startup world is nothing different in that respect. People like real stories. And the press is people!
Fevi Yu
Fevi Yu@feviyu · Founder & Chief Pet Sitter, Dogma.me
@levelsio Absolutely agree but its hard to tell a narrative when you look different and sound different. Its difficult for the general populace to relate to a founder like me even if I have a great founders story. Ah well. That is my challenge. Onwards! Thank you for the little bit of inspiration today.
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@feviyu I see your point but I think standing out is exactly what can benefit you. Like I said, journalists hate boring. So being different makes your story more interesting.
Fevi Yu
Fevi Yu@feviyu · Founder & Chief Pet Sitter, Dogma.me
@levelsio Yes, no excuses from me. Different is good but relatable is even better. Trying to pet sit for Bo & Sunny Obama now http://www.dogma.me/pet-sit-bo-s... -- Would love to hear your thoughts.
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@feviyu I think that's a great idea, and the execution looks great. I'd say open it up to more cities ASAP, as you'll have more reach. Not sure about your traction now, but that could help. > I am Female, an Immigrant, an Asian and grew up in Zambia, Africa. I am bisexual and married to a woman. I am the prime example of diversity in the USA today. I think that makes for a great story. A publication like Inc. loves to write about entrepreneurs coming from minority backgrounds. And I think it gives you a step ahead of most people (non-minority).
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu@catatk · ⚡ Backend, Kalon
Hi @levelsio, when do you start thinking about methods to grow the user base of your new project? Is there a test phase to see if it has the organic traction you thought of? Any growth idea you really liked? LE: do you use a growth plan ?
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu@catatk · ⚡ Backend, Kalon
@levelsio do you keep a list of project ideas, if yes, how do you choose the next one you'll build?
Matthew Kay
Matthew Kay@matthewgkay
As a nomad I'd imagine it's important to carry only the most essential and versatile objects with you when traveling around. What does your go to pack list look like? I'd imagine a laptop and a smartphone are right at the top, but what else do you find that you need with you at all times? Is there a particular kind of backpack or piece(s) of luggage that you'd recommend over others? Are there certain clothes or assortments of clothes that you'd recommend if you're traveling between very different climates? Basically, I'm curious about what someone like yourself carries when hopping around the globe. I realize that this might be question you've gotten before so perhaps you've already answered this in a previous blog post, interview, or article. If this is the case could you point me in the right direction? Cheers!
Pieter Levels
Pieter Levels@levelsio
@matthewgkay I'll be writing a blog post with my packing list soon! I've minimized it again a lot recently. Here's an old blog post about getting to < 100 things: https://levels.io/the-100-thing-...
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu
⚡Cătălin Tănăsescu@catatk · ⚡ Backend, Kalon
@levelsio won't maintenance work on past projects stop you from starting new ones? Will you then consider expanding your team?