Pieter Levels

Nomad, maker of many things

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON September 11, 2015

Discussion

Pieter Levels@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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).
Nacho@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@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@michaloblak · Sheetsu.com founder
@levelsio I'm waiting for the post, while coding my own projects! You are a great guy!
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@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@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@drewmeyers · Co-Founder, Horizon
Have you contracted any work out for the various products you've launched over the last year?
Pieter Levels@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@drewmeyers Nope, never. I've had help when my server broke down from @aikedejongste and @daniellockyer, but that's it.
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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
>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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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
@levelsio Hi @levelsio, is the MAKE + Periscope deal is still on? Thanks!
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@simpleasthat_ · UX designer, founder of @WhatsitlikeApp
@jonnym1ller would love to know @levelsio perspective too ;)
Pieter Levels@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@bentossell · newCo
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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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 Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
What's your best advice for people working remotely?
Pieter Levels@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
@ems_hodge Try it! You might like it
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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@yvoschaap · CTO @ Teampage – https://teampa.ge
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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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@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@levelsio · 🌏 Serial maker 🏝Nomad List + et al
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.