Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

How To Live Abroad And Make Money Online Without Becoming An English Teacher And Losing Your Dignity

I get tons of emails per day and around 75% of them are questions about making money online.

Most of these come from people who decided to quit their jobs and travel the world. Some have even started blogs. 

But when it becomes apparent that writing about their experiences on some blog can barely fund a cable bill back home, some have resorted to teaching English or even freelancing for some sites in order to make ends meet.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want you to become an English teacher abroad. I want you to make good money selling awesome products and services so that you’re happy where you are and aren’t forced to cut your trip short by returning to the USA (or some other country) and begging your old boss for a job.

The biggest problem these people face is the same problem I faced when I began my online money-making journey: I had no idea what I was doing.

I once believed that I can start a blog, write a few articles and money would mysteriously fall from the sky.

That’s not quite how it works.

There are a lot of gurus out there who’ll tell you that the way to make money is to start a blog.

The truth is that they’re probably trying to sell you something.

First of all, a blog is a terrible way to make money. 

You can’t make money writing about your experiences in Mexico, Lithuania or Cambodia.

Actually, let me back up a minute. It is possible to make money doing just that, but you need a well-devised and well-executed strategy and plan.

I can certainly tell you that 99% of bloggers are not making more than $50 per month (if that) from their blogs.

The reason: they don’t have a strategy in place that comes along with treating it as a business and not a hobby.

This brings me to the first lesson: you must treat your making-money goals as a business.

Most people are super casual about it: they treat it as a hobby. 

Their blogs are hobbies.

Their websites are hobbies.

Their online stores are hobbies.

Everything in their life is a hobby.

It doesn’t work like that.

Anything that you build for the purpose of making money should be treated as a business.

You have to be super serious about it.

My ecommerce stores are businesses.

My affiliate sites are businesses.

I don’t do many niche sites, but the few which I do have are definitely businesses.

The blog you’re reading now? That’s more of a hobby and a way for me to connect with the audience, and help people anyway I can.

The important point I want to drive is that there’s a Chinese Wall that separates my businesses and my hobbies.

That means that my businesses all have super high priority because they pay the bills and fund my life.

I don’t fuck around with the businesses. 

I live in spreadsheets. I analyze every cent of the revenue, sales and profits. Everything needs to add up.

If I’m losing money somewhere, I need to find out why.

If I’m making more money than normal, I must find out way.

You will never be this serious if you just treat it as a hobby.

Look, I get it. You escaped the 9-5 job, you’re traveling around the world, you’re living in some exotic place like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or Medellin, Colombia, so why do you need to work?

Lapa, Rio de Janeiro: One of my favorite places in the world

That’s especially true if you’re living in a country with a low cost of living.

Well, that rent for your bachelor pad in Ipanema and money for your hot Carioca girlfriend isn’t going to magically appear out of nowhere. 

You still have to earn it.

The second lesson: don’t only focus on things that you’re super passionate about

This is something I notice all the time: people only choose to concentrate on things they’re extremely passionate about.

That blog you’re writing from your Rio de Janeiro apartment is your passion. After all, you love Brazil and can’t wait to tell people about the women, the beaches, the BJJ training, or how everything is just awesome 24-7.

I get it.

I’ve been there.

I love Brazil and still fondly remember my multi-year sojourn there.

There’s nothing in my life that I’m more passionate about than traveling and living abroad. 

Right now, I’m having the time of my life living in Ukraine, and I want to tell others about it.

The problem is that just because you care about it, doesn’t mean that others do as well.

And if you’re not solving other people’s problems, then you don’t really have a business.

I’ve struggled with this for a long time. That is, until I figured out that helping other people is the easiest way to put cash in your pocket.

So, I started to diversify.

Now, I run various websites that have absolutely nothing to do with this blog.

Don’t get me wrong, this blog is my passion and I will probably continue to run it forever, but it doesn’t exactly solve the most pressing problems that people have.

As it happens, there are more pressing problems in the world than figuring out how to get a Brazilian girl to like you.

Imagine that.

This blog is mostly a way for me to philosophize and connect with like-minded individuals.

For instance, here are some earnings for a site which I started fairly recently.

Those aren’t exactly life-changing numbers, but that’s just one site of many that solves very specific problems for a laser-targeted audience.

This is not a site about a subject I’m passionate about at all. In fact, I knew nothing about the subject as little as two months ago. 

But there are many people that do care about this subject, so I needed to figure out how I can help them.

I quickly learned that when there’s a problem to solve and money to be made, one can be passionate in just about any area. Over time, I even developed interest in this particular subject area.

My e-commerce stores are pure businesses as well. I built my first one back in February of this year, and gradually added more over the year.

Some of the products we sell are loosely connected to one of my passions, but many others I have zero interest in. They just sell really well. I like money, so I roll with it.

Empathizing with other people’s problems is the difference between making enough per month to cover dinner at a sushi restaurant in Manhattan versus making enough to have a luxurious life anywhere on the planet.

The third lesson: you must work really, really hard

Let me ask you something: when was the last time you worked 16 hours per day—all week? Or two weeks? Or an entire month?

Because that’s exactly what you’ll have to do if you want your business to succeed.

I’m not afraid to admit it: I can be pretty lazy. Especially when I spend the summers in Ukraine in my awesome centrally-located apartment. I can’t get any work done.

There’s something about being surrounded by beautiful women and amazing architecture that turns off my hustling mind.

Coincidentally, it’s during those periods that I don’t make much progress and increase my income very much.

But I can also be very hungry and determined. I want to grow my businesses and build new ones.

The major reason that I’m so hungry is because I treat these activities as businesses.

I don’t know many people who spend 12-16 hours per day working on their hobbies. Maybe they exist, but I haven’t met one personally.

On the other hand, a business is different. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting in 14 hour days building a brand new business. In about three months, I expect it to easily generate several grand per month, and, if things go well, I expect it to bring in low 5-figures soon after.

There are times when you rest and times when you work. 

Right now, I need to hustle hard to make that happen. I need to work harder than I ever worked at my old 9-5 job in Silicon Valley.

I need to be obsessed with completing as much work in a single day that most people complete in one or two weeks.

All my friends who make a killing online basically live in either FB Ads dashboard, Google Ads dashboard, some SEO keyword research tool or some fancy landing page builder.

They’re obsessed with creating new products, new sites, new landing pages, new pitches, new funnels, etc.

They’re obsessed with always testing, always experimenting, always seeing what works and what doesn’t.

They all work long hours because they want to create more and make more money.

They love it.

Of course, they take vacations here and there; a good friend of mine flies to Miami from NYC every month.

It’s the work hard, play hard philosophize that I absolutely love.

So, if you’re lazy, succeeding as an entrepreneur will be an uphill battle. It requires lots of work and dedication. Much more than you ever did at your 9-5.

I honestly don’t know a single person who makes a killing but is also lazy. Never met one. I don’t know if they exist.

Remember, you make money by starting a business and by treating it like a business.

Imagine you opened a convenience store. What would happen if you show up one day on time, but then show up at 1pm the next day? 

What would happen if you don’t show up for an entire week?

You think you’re going to make money?

Of course not.

Once you begin treating something as a business, the next thing you’ll realize is that you’ve just traded one boss for another; you traded your annoying 9-5 boss for millions of perspective customers whose business you need to keep the lights on.

Some people will relish in this new environment; others will suffer and complain.

Personally, I love building and selling my own products. I couldn’t have it any other way.

I also don’t mind working 16 hour days if that means substantially increasing my income and making serious progress.

When I was a software engineer, I was fairly shy and introspective.

Building my own businesses forced me to go out and become more aggressive, breaking down some of that shyness and insecurities.

That is something you’ll have to learn to love as well.

In the end, it was a lot easier than I thought.

If not, you can always return back home and beg your old boss for a job.

How To Make Your First $1,000 Online

Earning the first $1 is infinitely harder than earning $100. After that, it gets infinitely easier to earn more money; it’s easier to go from $100 to $1,000 and even easier to go from $1,000 to $10,000.

At the start, it’s important to clarify that in order to make money, you have to sell something, either a product or a service, for which you will receive a payment in exchange. You must have something that another party deems valuable enough to give you money.

Let’s say you have no experience with making money online and are looking to make your first $1,000.

What would you do?

Well, the first step is to figure out what exactly do you want to sell.

What’s your pitch? What’s your product? What’s your hustle?

That could be something physical; for instance, a physical product that solves a particular problem to a specific audience.

That can also be an informational product that provides certain guidance or instructions for getting something done, whether it’s moving to another country or building a specific business.

As they say, information is power. Useful information that comes by way of experience can help others save enormous amounts of time and money, allowing them to accomplish something much quicker and easier as compared to if they lacked this information.

When it comes to actually building something, there are two primary ways of doing so: build an online store that sells products directly or create an information-based site that helps visitors in some way shape or form.

An example of the former is an online store that sells something like mattresses or accessories. An example of the latter is a country portal about Colombia where people can learn about the country and then pay for further assistance in specific areas (e.g., help to find apartments or get a residence visa).

Obviously, it would be a lot faster to generate a profit by selling an actual physical product that people are already searching for and can’t wait to purchase. You simply show the product and people buy it.

On the other hand, when you’re creating a custom service, the prospective customer needs time to learn more about you and trust you before partying with their money for the service you’re offering.

Should you follow your passion?

During my many years of mentoring tons and tons of people, the first question that inevitably comes up is whether they should choose an area that’s closely connected with their passion.

So, if a certain person is passionate about a topic such as dog-training, they should build a site about dog training and then figure out ways of making money from it later.

My answer is that it depends. You definitely want to work on something you have some kind of interest in—at least be somewhat interested in.

Most importantly, however, you must pick an area that already has a sizable demand of people who’re looking for a particular solution to their problem.

For instance, fitness is an area with lots of demand. Same for building a business. Lots of people want to make money online and dump the 9-5.

Even if I’m very passionate about teaching my Yorkie Terrier various tricks (I don’t have one), it’s probably not an area I would choose to pursue and build a business because it’s just too small and constricting in size and scope.

On the other hand, let’s say I’m living in Argentina, and I’m super passionate about helping others move and get settled in properly in the country. In that case, that’s something I might pursue doing because of 1) I’m super passionate about Argentina and 2) I realize there’s a sizable demand of people who are trying to do the same.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people give up because they lost interest in the topic they chose to work in. As time went on, they realized it they weren’t interested in cat knitting or building a site about a little city in Nepal as much as they thought.

Now that you decided what is it you want to work on, the next thing is to figure how to get customers to visit your site so they learn about your products and services and hopefully purchase them as well.

Getting customers to your site

The first thing you need in order to make money is people who’re willing to give you money: customers.

Generally, there are two ways to get traffic: free and paid. Free traffic comes to you via places like Google searches (organic traffic), links from other websites and things like word of mouth.

Paid traffic is traffic that you “purchase” via advertisements. Popular advertising platforms are Google Ads (Adwords), Facebook Ads, and tons of others.

I typically employ both strategies depending on my goals.

If you’re tight with money, then free traffic is ideal.

On the other hand, if you know exactly how much you’re making and how much you need to spend on traffic to either break even or turn in a profit, then paid traffic can work really well.

Monetizing customers

Once you’ve discovered ways of getting people to your door, the next step is getting them to buy something from you. This process is called monetization.

Compared to finding a steady traffic source for your products and services, monetization isn’t very difficult. If you there are people who come to your site because they’re looking for a specific solution to their problem, and you have this solution to their problem, selling it to them won’t be very difficult.

After all, they’re on your site because you promised to help them, right?

While there are tons of different offers you can create, there are two primary ways to make money: sell your own products/services or become an affiliate for someone else’s products/services.

When you sell someone else’s product, you get a cut of the transaction (commission). That’s called affiliate marketing because you’re an affiliate for the seller instead of being a seller yourself.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing one of my first huge online successes back in 2003. I was one of the largest affiliates for a particular site. If I referred someone and they signed up for the service, I received a commission. As I referred more and more people, I received bigger and bigger commissions (higher tier). As time went on, I ended up making an absolute killing in commissions.

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you don’t need to build and support the actual product. That means no need to hire web developers and no need to handle customer support. All you really need to do is promote a marketing product or service while letting the vendor handle everything else.

One of the largest marketplaces to find products to promote is ClickBank. There, you can find all kinds of products to promote all kinds of different niches (markets for different audiences). You can also sort each product by how much money is making ensuring that you’re only promoting products that are selling and not some duds that no customer would ever purchase.

For instance, let’s say you’re promoting a product and they pay you a commission of $50 whenever anyone signs up through your link. That means you need to refer 20 users who signup for the service in order to make $1,000. If you’re referring just one paying user a day, you’ll be earning $50 per day. That’s $1,500 per month, a pretty comfortable sum for living anywhere outside the West.

Of course, you also need to provide the traffic. That can be done either via free sources (Google SEO) or paid sources (Google Ads, Facebook Ads).

Dropshipping

While dropshipping is all the rage these days, I have been doing dropshipping back in 2005, so I have quite a bit of experience in this area.

Dropshipping is attributed to ecommerce. You set up a store that sells physical products. A customer visits your store and places an order. But instead of going to your own warehouse, picking out the item and shipping it, you’re asking another supplier to fulfill the order by shipping it directly to your customer.

This way you never even see and touch the product.

Dropshipping is very similar to affiliate marketing. Whereas in affiliate marketing, you’re a middleman for an informational product or service, with dropshipping you’re a middleman for a physical product.

There’s a lot of negativity about dropshipping, but these people don’t understand what dropshipping is. Dropshipping isn’t “positive” or “negative”; it’s simply a logistics model of product fulfillment. So, instead of you fulfilling your orders, someone else does it on your behave. There’s nothing inherently negative about that.

Selling physical products online (ecommerce) is one of the fastest ways to make money. The main reason is that you don’t need to sell the customer very hard on the product. The customer sees the product and they know right away whether they need this particular product or not. They know whether this product can solve their problem or not. This is different from an informational product where the customer needs to be persuaded that this particular product will solve their problems.

The business model with ecommerce is slightly different from affiliate marketing. First of all, you have the cost of the product. So, if you’re buying a product for $25 and selling it for $50, your profit is not $50: it’s $25.

There are other expenses such as the cost of ads (if you’re buying traffic and not getting free organic traffic).

Still, even with all the expenses and overhead, it’s easy to become profitable very quickly if you find a good quality product that solves a problem. And when you experiment with various products, you develop a “sixth sense” for knowing when a product will sell or not.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a product that you can source for only $5 (you get volume discounts because you’re a high volume seller). It costs you another $5 to ship the product to your customer. Then another $10 for ads. You then sell the product for $30. That means your expenses are $20, so your profit is $10.

In ecommerce, it’s very common to have profit margins of around 15-30% as opposed to 100% when you’re selling an information product that doesn’t cost you an additional amount to produce (e.g., selling another license of software or access to a course).

So, if you can sell 100 of these per month, you will make $1,000 in profit. That’s only 3 items per day, not an impossible feat by any measure.

Building and selling your own product

When you’re an affiliate, you’re getting a cut of the commission (typically 25-75%), but when you’re selling your own product, you keep the entire profit for yourself.

If you already have a certain website up and running and a steady supply of traffic that comes to your website and loves the content, then the next step is creating your own product and service. When you do that, you won’t need to split the profit with anyone else; you pocket 100% of the profit.

The disadvantage is that not only do you need to spend ample amount of time creating this product, but you’re also responsible for all kinds of customer support issues.

If someone signed up and they’re having problems, you must deal with the customer. If your server is down, you must fix it. If your product isn’t being displayed properly, you must fix it.

Unlike someone who’s a mere affiliate who sends the customer over to a third party site, as someone who owns the product, you have a lot of responsibility to handle everything.

I have tried both approaches and there are pros and cons to being an affiliate for certain products, but also creating your own products as well.

The decision comes down to expertise. If you run a website that you’re very knowledgeable about, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge to create products and services that your audience would crave. On the other hand, if you somehow have access to traffic of an audience you have nothing in common with, then it might be wiser to become an affiliate for a third party product instead of creating your own from scratch.

For instance, I have no problems building products in areas I’m an expert in such as digital marketing, making money online, dropshipping and learning foreign languages, but I would never build products in areas I know nothing about like knitting or woodworking.

The right mindset to start

The most challenging part of making your first $1000 is believing that $1000 is somehow a lot of money and making that much money would be difficult if not outright impossible. That’s the wrong mindset to have.

The right approach is to ask yourself the following question, “What can I do right now that will allow to me sell one thing to one person?”

Is it selling a physical product?

Is it helping someone obtain a second passport in Brazil?

Is it teaching someone how to bench press 2.5X their body weight or helping them lose 30 lbs before Christmas?

Is it becoming an authority in a specific area and then consulting companies via your knowledge and expertise?

Now, combine the above question with a group of people who need this problem solved. Congrats: now you have a product, an audience, and a business model.

Final thoughts

I still remember that fateful day when I made my first dollar online. That was over 15 years ago. Of course, the Internet was very different back then. Facebook Ads didn’t exist. Google was an up-coming niche search company.

Nevertheless, the principles are still the same. What worked back in 2003 still works in 2018 and will work in 2033 and beyond.

At the core, any business is really about people. It’s about forming connections. And when a useful connection occurs, money is usually exchanged.

When I think about entering a specific market, usually my first question is, “How can I add value?” or “What can I do to help a particular person or group of people” or “How can I make their lives better?”

This answer to this question usually becomes a product or service that, when combined with an enticing offer, is then presented to the prospective customer. They purchase it.

After all, people all over the world are hungry for various solutions to their problems. And, as a person who happens to have answers and solutions because of an extensive experience and knowledge, it’s your duty to solve these problems for them.

Is Dropshipping A Good Business Model?

One of my first business successes was buying cell phones from one eBay seller, adding a markup and then reselling them back on eBay for a small profit.

After finding success, I began buying phones locally in my city and then selling them on eBay. After that worked, I began selling stuff that I didn’t physically have. Right after the customer placed his order, I would ship the item out from the third party store directly to the customer.

Basically, I was dropshipping before dropshipping became a buzzword.

All of this was back in 2005 before the era of the smartphones and commoditization of the market first by the iPhone and then by Android devices.

In the past 3-5 years, dropshipping has been making a lot of waves as a method for creating a business from nothing and making money relatively quickly.

In this article, I want to talk more about the different types of dropshipping, discuss the pros and cons of the business model, talk about my personal experience and close out with some final thoughts.

Introduction

When you dropship, you sell something that you don’t physically have. Then, after the customers order this item from your store, you separately fulfill the order from another supplier (or store) who then ships the product directly to your customer.

The business model is very similar to affiliate marketing; instead of selling your own product, you’re acting as a middleman who connects the customer with the store that actually has the product and then takes a cut of the transaction.

For instance, let’s say you’re selling a widget for $30. You know you can order the widget for $10 from a supplier.

When the customer orders the product, you get paid $30 minus the $10 that you paid to your supplier.

Of course, there’s also the cost of ads that must be also factored in. But, hopefully, when everything is added up, you should have a profit.

Types of different dropshipping

There are different types of dropshipping models. They vary by their business models, the type of products they’re selling and the type of customers you’re targeting.

The first type of dropshipping is the more traditional one where you’re selling high-ticket items such as furniture on your online store. Think of it as a brick-and-mortar store that joined the Internet and built a website.

In this case, your actual supplier is in America and your customers are probably there as well.

The advantage of this model is that, because you’re selling high-ticket items, you’re making a nice profit margin on each one, therefore you only need to sell a couple of items to earn a decent living.

Another advantage is that, because you have an official agreement with your supplier (you’re an authorized dealer), you’re able to deliver the products in a very timely manner (as you’ll see below, this isn’t always the case).

This is the “traditional” model of dropshipping and has been around for at least a decade, if not more.

The Shopify/Facebook Model

Around the end of 2015, a new model of dropshipping emerged that quickly gained momentum. It was called the Shopify/FB Ads model.

In this model, you’re basically taking a product from an online catalog (usually a Chinese site), and then creating Facebook Ads for it. Then, when you have a sale, you forward the customer’s information to your supplier (usually in China), who then fulfills the order and ships it out to your customer around the world.

In this case, most of the products sold are low-ticket items. This could be anywhere from $10-60 price point. Although they are items that have been sold for much more, up to around $200.

There are several pros and cons with this model. First of all, the barrier to entry is very low. Anyone can create a Shopify store$, fill it up with random products from an Aliexpress.com (or something else) catalog, create a bunch of Facebook Ads and then start selling.

The second problem with this model is that unlike in the first case when you’re dealing with a reputable company and become their authorized dealer, here, you’re dealing with some random, no-name supplier in China.

This supplier can exist one minute and be gone the next. That can be problematic when you suddenly stumble upon a great product and sell a ton of it, then you forward the customer’s orders to the supplier and pray they’ll actually ship the item out and your customer receives it in a timely matter.

Unfortunately, this happens often and the new business you started quickly goes from “cash—money” to a nightmarish situation where customers gave you money for products you don’t have and you have zero control of actually putting those products into their hands.

Imagine, you received 100 orders from customers to your online store, just before Christmas. They might order for themselves or as gifts for others.

Then, you forward all the orders to your Chinese supplier who you know nothing about.

The supplier promises to fulfill and ship the orders to your customers, but never does or screws up and messes things up.

This is actually a pretty common situation that I’ve seen happen to many people. Nightmare is the proper word to describe the experience.

Getting a fulfillment center

A solution to this dilemma is to get a fulfillment center in China or elsewhere (America).

This means that instead of sending each order you receive to a supplier one-by-one and praying they’ll ship, you hold inventory in a warehouse and then ship right out of your own stock.

This eliminates the problems of shady suppliers and missing orders. Additionally, by buying directly from the warehouse in bulk, you can get your products at a much lower price.

My team and I actually have a warehouse in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where we store our products and then ship them out to our customers. Since we have a warehouse, we know exactly how many units we have and have complete control of the shipping and delivery to our customers.

Dropshipping and competition

One of the problems with dropshipping—especially with the low-ticket items sourced from some Chinese site—is the fact that anybody can do it.

Today, you’re selling a certain widget and making good money. Tomorrow, five new guys begin selling the same item from their stores. That would immediately affect your sales.

This is something that happened to us a few weeks ago. One of our best products was picked up by another store which then began promptly selling it.

Our sales immediately took a hit and there’s nothing we could’ve done.

This happens fairly often, so when you stumble on a great product, it’s important to scale it quickly and sell to everyone who you think might be interested.

So, if you’re a possible market of 1 million interested people, instead of selling them 5 items per day, you increase ad spend so that you’re selling 50 items per day (or more).

This way, you exhaust your market quickly before someone else shows up and steals your thunder.

Dropshipping and branding

Of course, worrying about a competitor showing up is not a stable business model. It’s not a passive income business if you can’t sleep at night because you’re afraid your sales will suddenly drop.

The solution is to build a brand. When you build a brand, you’re essentially selling an image and no longer competing on the product itself.

This means if I have a strong and widely recognizable brand, and I’m selling Widget A, and you’re a no-name store who’s also selling the same Widget A, there’s a good chance, the customer will probably buy it from me because they recognize the brand and don’t know anything about yours.

Later on, as your brand becomes stronger, you’re able to retain customers because of something called “brand loyalty”; customers will keep returning to buy new products from your store because they believe in the brand and what it stands for: solid quality, good customer experience, etc.

When you have a brand, you’re no longer selling the product itself; you’re selling everything that comes along with that brand.

The downside is that it takes some time to build up a quality brand; good brands aren’t built overnight.

Making money quickly

One of the biggest advantages of the dropshipping/ecommerce model is the fact that you can scale your sales very quickly and make a ton of money in a very short amount of time.

The reason for this is because you’re paying for customers in the first place (advertising) instead of getting them via organic traffic (free) that you get from search engines.

Once you realize you have a great product, all you have to do is increase the budget on your ads and more people will begin seeing your add. That should typically lead to more sales.

This is how a lot of people are able to make a lot of money relatively quickly, something that’s not possible via other means.

I’ve had situations where I was making something like $50 per day and, then once I realized the product is selling well, I was able to scale it to $500 per day in just a span of two days.

I know many others were making only $100 per day and then suddenly started to make $1,000 per day.

Facebook Ads challenges

On paper, dropshipping from China sounds pretty easy and straightforward.

All you have to do is find a great product, make ads for it, and then start waiting for sales to pour in.

However, one of the challenges with this model is actually in the part where you’re acquiring customers: Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads, while can be very effective, have a steep learning curve that takes a while to get going. This is the area that creates the most confusion for people because there’s no set pattern of how things should work.

In fact, many experienced people have called the system “random.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I can definitely relate. In my experience, the notion of what works varies from one week to the next, or sometimes even from one day to the next.

One week you can have absolutely amazing sales and then the next week suddenly nothing seems to be working. There are tons of different communities that discuss Facebook Ads and everyone experiences the same thing.

I once remember making $500/day pretty consistently for about two weeks. Then, Mother’s Day came along. On that day, I made like fifty bucks.

Thinking that something was wrong, I checked to make sure everything was working. There were no issues.

The next day things gradually began returning back to normal. This randomness is something you just have to get used to.

One option is to buy ads elsewhere. Many people switch over to Google Shopping network and notice a more stable return on their revenue.

But, Facebook Ads still has an important place. There are over 2B active monthly users and many of these people simply aren’t searching for specific products on Google.

Thus, whether you hate it or love it, Facebook Ads is still very lucrative for any kind of business, especially if you’re selling products that aren’t available elsewhere.

My experience with dropshipping

I started a new store in January of this year.

Initially, I was just experimenting, trying to sell different products, playing with Facebook Ads and just getting familiar with how all the pieces work.

After a few iterations and playing with different products, I was able to find a product saw immediate success and scale it fairly quickly.

I started making about $50/day, and that quickly went to $500/day. That continued until at some point were making approximately $1,000 per day.

Eventually, I added new products to the initial store. Later on, we built two more stores to cater to a different audience.

My plan is to build a couple of new stores in the next several weeks in anticipation of the end-of-year demand, which is higher than usual.

Dealing with customers

Dropshipping also exposes you to a whole array of problems, not least of which are angry or unsatisfied customers.

Unlike in affiliate marketing where you’re simply a middleman who sends traffic to an offer and aren’t responsible for any customer support because the vendor is, in dropshipping you’re the vendor and are wholly responsible for making sure the customer is happy and taken care of.

That means if the customer isn’t happy with the product they’ve received—for whatever reason—it’s your job to make it right.

If you don’t reply to their emails, all they have to do is make one call to their credit card company and the friendly representative will immediately return them the money “pending an investigation.” (Most of these investigations are won by the customer anyway).

Fortunately, most customers are reasonable (at least in my experience), it’s not difficult to work something out if it means a quick refund or an exchange.

Moreover, if you don’t want to deal with customers yourself, you can hire a virtual assistant to do that for you.

Dropshipping is not sexy

One of the biggest problems with dropshipping and e-commerce, in general, is that it’s not a very sexy business model.

I don’t know many people who would call selling furniture or mattresses online as something they’re extremely passionate about.

I know I wouldn’t.

Even, now, in one of our stores, we’re selling small niche products for a very passionate audience.

This is definitely more interesting than selling chairs or tables, but I can’t say that I’m thrilled about selling random products from China.

Of course, it’s a lot sexier to start a blog and write about your thoughts and experiences of living abroad or dating exotic women than selling random widgets and fulfilling orders.

Nevertheless, what dropshipping is, is a business in the purest form. With a blog, you need to wait years and years before you even see a minuscule return on investment (99% of bloggers don’t make any money), but when you start an online store, you’re able to make money immediately.

That’s why many bloggers I know have a blog where they philosophize about life and their place in it and a separate business where they make money and which pays the bills.

If you ask me, I believe that money is money and profit is profit. If you’re able to build something that generates you an income, then who really cares if it’s boring or not—provided it’s at least faintly connected to your interests.

And even if not, you can always outsource the menial work and then sit back and collect the profits.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the 30,000-foot view of what dropshipping is, how it works, its main challenges, my own experiences and whether it’s for you or not.

I don’t know about you, but I was initially very skeptical of the whole model. I was more interested in writing about my experiences and thoughts and getting to know people around the world than selling random products in some store.

Many of you are probably thinking along the same lines.

Nevertheless, I now view it differently. As an entrepreneur, I consider any business that makes money as a business that’s worth pursuing, regardless if it’s considered “sexy” or not.

Like my mentor once said, money is money.

What’s Working For Making Money Online In 2018 And Beyond

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is soon coming to a close and people are starting to think about what they’re going to do for New Year’s. I still vividly remember ushering in the 2018 and thinking about my plans for the year.

My main goal for this year was to try new things and expand my business empire. It’s been a year full of challenges and many ups and downs. Fortunately, I also gained experience in a bunch of new areas that I look forward to expanding and growing in the months and years ahead.

E-Commerce

The big push this year was undoubtedly ecommerce. Many of you may not know this, but ecommerce was one of my first online biz successes. Back in 2004-5, I used to hustle on eBay, selling and reselling various electronic products before opening up my online store and sourcing products directly from China.

The beautiful thing about ecommerce is that it’s a pure money-making play. Unlike a blog where you write, write, write and then, one day, hope and pray to somehow monetize it, ecommerce is about making money from day one. There’s a product, a sales page, a checkout page and, finally, my favorite part of all: the credit card input form.

In this way, you have a business from the very first day and a business is only as good as how much money it’s bringing into your pocket. If you don’t know how to sell, you need to do something else or close up shop. I really like this aspect because it forces you to be super focused. Customers either like your product or not. You either have a business or you don’t. There’s no in between.

My team and I are currently running 3 ecommerce stores. A new one is being launched next week, while another one should up and running sometime in October. They’re all selling products in different areas, serving different market segments and audiences.

Timing is key. October marks the start of Q4 (Quarter 4) which is the most profitable time of the year. Q4 includes huge shopping days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. It’s essentially a period where people are buying everything and anything in sight, either for themselves or as gifts for others.

Ecommerce forced me to understand many interesting things about selling physical products such as sourcing in China, fulfillment of orders, worldwide shipping and even a bit about manufacturing your own products, basically all the behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t even think about—although we’re not yet doing the last one.

Facebook Ads

The other thing I dove into head first at the beginning of the year was Facebook Ads. Many years ago, I used to buy Google AdWords to promote various products and services, so I’ve gotten fairly proficient at it. FB Ads, however, is an entirely different animal.

Advertising on Facebook is extremely powerful because FB knows so much about their users (usually even more than you know about yourself), that it can accurately predict whether the person it’ll show your ad will buy your product or not. As a result of such a powerful algorithm, it’s very easy to quickly see if the product or service you’re promoting will be successful.

The downside of FB Ads is that the platform itself is extremely complex. People who’ve been doing online advertising for decades believe that FB is the most complex advertising system out there right now (or ever was). It’s certainly not for a faint of heart. After several months of experimenting with different techniques (and losing a ton of money), I finally figured out a strategy that works predictably well for what I’m trying to do and makes me money while I sleep.

FB Ads has a rather steep learning curve and that’s why a lot of people start and quit soon after. Still, it’s an extremely powerful tool to reach users around the world and pitch your products/services. Even if your initial campaign or business fails, you can turn around and sell something else on the platform.

In the next several months, my team will be increasing our ad spent in anticipation for the year’s most profitable time, Q4.

Niche sites

While I’ve been building and running different blogs for many years—even before this one—I never took blogging seriously before Maverick Traveler (and even that is more of a hobby instead of a real business). However, this year I decided that I will take blogging more seriously. How? By becoming laser focused and delivering lots of value.

Back in 2016 and 2017, I experimented with building various sites in different topics geared for very specific audiences. Somewhere along the line, I lost interest in running them and they eventually languished and mostly died.

So, I took the lessons from that experience and began building a couple of more laser-targeted sites earlier this year. A few of them are up and running and others are being launched very soon. This time, however, they’re being built around areas of topics I’m super passionate about so hopefully I’ll have the motivation to run them for the foreseeable future.

Brands

The biggest problem with starting an ecommerce business—and where blogs have an upper hand—is in branding. I’ll be honest, the ecommerce stores we’re now running aren’t exactly built around a brand. They’re just products that we’re sourcing from China, putting them into our own warehouse and shipping them all over the world. Thus, it’s very easy for a competitor to come in and sell exactly what we’re selling while undercutting us in price.

The solution is branding. When you create a brand, you’re essentially selling an image. Coca-Cola may sell a black fizzy sugary drink that anyone can make, but there’s a reason it’s a multi-billionaire dollar company and it will be next to impossible for someone else make a similar drink and steal their sales. Their brand is just too strong.

In the upcoming months, the focus will be on creating stronger brands around everything we do, especially in areas where substitute products exist, such as ecommerce.

This means hiring professional photographers, videographers, and designers to create unique experiences for our products and present them in ways that truly connect with our audiences. Since others aren’t doing that, we’ll create a stronger brand and make more money.

Branding is a long-term play that won’t pay dividends immediately but should increase in value in the months and years ahead.

Information products

Thanks to assets that I’ve been building such as niche sites, ecommerce, and other properties, I have access to an audience with specific interests. That means creating more products and services that solve the audience’s problems.

Information products can be lucrative as soon as you know who your audience is and what problems they’re trying to solve. You attract the audience by delivering lots and lots of value, and then you monetize some of that value by creating products that go above and beyond what’s already available out there.

If someone has a specific problem to solve and you have the experience and/or the knowledge to solve that problem for them, they won’t hesitate to pay you for the solution, if it means saving a lot of pain and time in solving it themselves.

I’m currently planning to launch new informational products targeted to the niche sites’ audience as well as the buyers who bought products in our ecom stores.

Maverick Traveler

Last, but not least, there’s the site you’re reading now: Maverick Traveler. To be honest, this site is more of a hobby of mine and a way to give back by explaining what I learned and show you what worked or didn’t. It’s also a way for me to share my living abroad experience to show you how such a lifestyle is possible.

While I haven’t been writing much during the summer, my goal is to put out more content, most consistently. New content will be primarily in two categories: making money and travel/living abroad. I look forward to keeping you updated on my journey in both areas.

Lessons learned

This was the first year when I slowly started building a team. I have a partner on a certain piece of the ecommerce business, and he’s been pushing me to delegate a lot of what we’re doing and outsource it.

Call me a micromanager, but I’ve always been much more comfortable doing everything myself or at least controlling what everyone else is doing at all times. So, delegating and hiring people to do the important things have been challenging to say the least. This is something I need to become comfortable with in order to scale the business.

“Everything works”

When I started my online biz journey many years ago, I only stuck to the business areas and techniques that I was familiar with. I initially thought that I was capable of only making certain things work, and would automatically fail at others.

A few years ago, I realized that my thinking was incorrect. There are a lot of different techniques and methods of making the Internet spit out cold hard Benjamins, and every method and technique should have its place in your arsenal.

The point is that everything works. Everything has its place. Everything. Even if you’re only good at blogging, there’s no reason to ignore ecommerce which is seriously blowing up right now. Even if you’re an ecommerce king, there’s no reason not spin up a couple of (or a few dozen) of niche sites and enjoy free traffic from Google.

If your customers out there, you should find a way to reach them one way or another.

From now on, I’ll be trying anything and everything that even has even the slightest chance of success.

After all, if there’s one maxim I continue to live by, it’s that for all my successes and failures, one thing I still don’t know is how to create the former without the latter. 2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year.

The Two Standard Business Models Of Making Money Online

Although they’re virtually unlimited ways of making money—both offline and online—all of them can be condensed into two basic models.

The first model is the product-first model. That’s where you start with a particular product or service you want to sell. It can be pretty much anything: mattresses, power tools, toys, tables or chandeliers. It doesn’t matter if you build the product yourself or resell other people’s products. When you’re selling someone else’s product instead of your own, that’s called affiliate marketing because you’re acting as an affiliate (broker) for someone else.

The second model is the brand-first model. First, you build out a brand. Then, once you’ve established the brand and built a sizable audience, you create products/services that solve a particular problem unique to your audience. For instance, you could start a fitness blog targeted at a 40+ crowd or a finance blog targeted to millennials. You create a blog or a youtube channel (a marketing outlet), and, by producing content tied to your brand, build a sizable audience.

There are crucial differences between the two models. In the product-first model, you already know what product/service you want to sell, so marketing and selling that product is relatively straightforward. In the brand-first model, you don’t yet know what products/services you will build, so you develop a brand first and later create various products and services that will appeal to your audience.

The product-first model is more suitable for making money faster. If you’re selling a mattress or a desk lamp, visitors know immediately whether it’s something that they either want or don’t want. Either someone is in the market for a mattress or a desk lamp, or someone isn’t. Obviously, your success will hinge on your ability to target the former, which, given the advanced marketing tools at our disposal, isn’t very challenging.

The brand-first model is more of a long-term strategy. Building a successful brand typically takes years. I spent over five years building my brand (the site you’re on now) before releasing my first book and earning any money from the site. So, it’s definitely not something you can cash in overnight.

This long-term investment has important advantages. When you build a brand, you’re effectively differentiating yourself from a busy market. Products and services can be easily copied—how many fitness programs are there on the Internet?—but each brand is unique. That’s the reason why you could have a ton of fitness gurus each with a successful brand. That’s also the reason you can be successful in pretty much any niche/market if build out your brand properly. A successful brand is able to connect with its target audience in ways that no generic product can.

A brand is a good idea if you’re building a community and don’t yet know what kind of products (if any) you will have. I started this site back in 2009 from a small 1-bedroom apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil because I wanted to share my thoughts about the city and country. I was motivated to start this site because I was very curious to know if there were others doing the same thing as I was. It was an outlet to connect with others. Building and selling products was never the goal. It was only after I was able to build a brand and connect with the audience via the community, that it became perfectly clear what kind of products and services to create.

Things are very different from a user’s perspective. When a user visits a site showcasing a product, he’s in a buying mood. He’s the scouring the Internet for the best product, ready to click ‘Purchase’ with his credit card in his hand. He’s not looking to join any community or read philosophical ramblings on existentialism or the pros and cons of living in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He needs a product and he needs it now.

When a user visitors a brand, he’s not necessarily in a buying mood. It’s not yet clear what the user wants. Perhaps he’s looking for a solution to a specific problem (“How to pickup Brazilian women”). Or maybe he’s looking for an idea for a vacation. Or maybe he’s looking for ideas and advice on becoming a digital nomad. Typically, the user himself doesn’t even know exactly what he’s looking for, unlike someone who knows the product they want (and has a credit card ready).

The fact that the user isn’t in a buying mood has its own advantages. A brand is able to “capture” the user before he even decided that he even needs a particular problem or service; before he even enters the market. Think of a brand as something wide, something that encompasses various ideas, thoughts or philosophies. It’s a way to educate the audience in an interesting, even opinionated way. It’s a great way to build a community of like-minded individuals. It’s a way to nourish a relationship and even influence a visitor to take a specific action and buy a specific product at a later date.

Building an audience for your brand can be done for almost nothing. Apart from a domain name and cheap hosting fees, you don’t need to spend much money to get customers. If you’re doing it right with your content marketing channels, they will find you all on their own. I’ve spent a grand total of zero on advertising and my site easily gets over 100,000 visits per month.

On the other hand, a standalone product can’t bring in customers all on its own. Since it doesn’t have the strength of a brand behind it, it’s necessary to buy traffic from different sources. The advantage is that you’re able to laser-target users who’re looking for a specific product and are ready to buy it immediately, something that you cannot do with a brand. Marketing strategies and user acquisition work very differently for products and brands.

Brands and products solve different needs. A brand solves the psychological need for a community, acceptance and self-actualization. A product solves a more pressing need with clear goals and benefits.

If my brand is built around location-independence and living in Brazil, then I’ll be able to build a community of like-minded individuals who are interested in doing the same. Each visitor may have completely different motivations. Maybe one guy is sick of America with its politically-correct culture. Another guy is tired of the high cost of living. And, yet, another guy is simply starting to start a new life in a tropical country and learn Portuguese. Regardless of each person’s actual reason for wanting to emigrate, all of them are linked via similar interests and passions, thus forming a community.

Brands are also very versatile, so everyone can easily build one. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, your race, sex or background. If you’re living and breathing, you can build a powerful brand that represents you and your values and connects them with your target audience. My mother is the last person who you’d expect to build a brand. But, in fact, she has a pretty interesting job in the medical field, so there’s definitely potential for creating a cool and unique brand which will allow her to build a community of like-minded individuals. She can actually create a pretty cool brand.

The same cannot be said for building a product. Not everyone can (or should) create a product. In fact, many brands are perfectly fine without products. When I started this site, I had no idea what product (if any) to build. My mom, who can easily start a brand today, will probably do it for fun, not as a way to make money, and, thus, would never create any products or services.

My preference is to almost always build a brand. A brand allows you to differentiate yourself from a busy market and create something that’s truly unique, something that’s truly yours. Apart from this website, I run all kinds of different websites, each with their own unique brand. Some of these sites sell products or services, others do not. I’ve learned so much over the past ten years, that I can easily predict which brands will succeed and which brands will fail. I can also easily determine whether it’ll make more sense to build a brand or a product on a case-by-case basis.

Also, unlike a product, a brand is something that you can potentially develop and grow for a very long time. Although I sell several courses that teach you how to live life on your own terms, things that my audience has asked me to create for many years, I would still continue to write simply as a hobby. Being able to connect with like-minded individuals is its own reward. That’s one of the perks of running an interesting lifestyle brand.

Don’t worry about monetizing a brand. It’s actually very easy to monetize any successful brand. Creating products and services after building a successful brand is relatively easy and straightforward. Just the fact that you’re providing lots of value and have build a successful brand will allow you to see how to create incrementally better value that your audience will pay for.

The brand-first strategy gives you another strategic advantage: it allows you to form relationships with your audience, learn their needs and wants, and only then build a product that satisfies those needs and wants. Instead of simply locking yourself up in a. closet and then building a product that no one needs, a mistake I’ve committed on a few occasions.

Having said, I do admit that if you know the kind of product you want to sell, it’s much quicker to just market and sell the product without building a sophisticated brand around it.

The decision of which model to follow also depends on your personality and unique situation. Are you looking to sell something specific for a set price? Follow the product-first model. Are you looking to write a wide array of thoughts and ideas? Follow the brand-first model. Are you looking to build a community of like-minded individuals? Follow the brand-first model. Are you looking to make money relatively quickly? Follow the product-first model. You do not know what you’re doing? Follow the brand-first model.

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you don’t have a specific product that you want to sell. Maybe you don’t know even know if you’ll ever have a product to sell. In that case, you should start a brand. As you develop the brand, you’ll gradually discover what your audience wants and needs. This will give you time to develop a product that your audience will crave.

Besides, I can certainly tell you that there are very few things as rewarding as building a community of interesting like-minded individuals who have similar goals and aspirations as yourself.

The Complete Guide To Building A Profitable Location-Independent Business

There’s one question I get asked more than all the other questions combined. No, it’s not a question about travels, although I do get asked those fairly often, too. That question is: “James, how do you fund your travels around the world?”

It’s a great question. Obviously, as you can already guess, I don’t have a regular 9-5 job. I don’t freelance remotely. I don’t work for anyone else. I don’t have a boss that I report to.

Answer: I work for myself. I run multiple online businesses. Although you’ve learned about me through this site—Maverick Traveler—that is actually just one of the many sites/brands I run. Each of these sites provides me with certain value and sells a certain product or service, giving me a certain income every month.

The income allows me to live anywhere in the world, while pursuing my interests and passions such as practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Brazil, sunbathing out in beautiful Southern Thai beaches, or surfing on the amazing beaches in Bali.

Once upon a time this type of life was a mere dream, a fantasy, something that I thought would be impossible to achieve. Now it’s a life that I’m living every second of every hour of every day of my life. It’s very real. As real as it gets.

In order to live the life you want—an unconventional life—you must do unconventional things. That means you have switch away from the 9-5 mindset and internalize the location-independent mindset. It’s a mindset where you work as much as you need, a mindset where you’re building your own dream instead of helping someone else build theirs.

In fact, there has never been a better time to start a location-independent business. We’re living in the most open society in the history of mankind. Everyone has access to the Internet and the unlimited information and knowledge that comes with it. Everyone can register a domain on the Internet for a couple of bucks, get hosting and build out a business for free.

Starting a business shouldn’t be hard, yet people stumble on it all the time.

Okay, so how do you actually build a viable business?

The keyword is value.

Do something interesting and useful, and then package it in a way that’s useful to others. In exchange for this value, you get something called money. Everybody wins.

Of course, the above is far easier said than done. Part of that is because there’re a bunch of “minor” things I’m omitting from the discussion, things like coming up with a great idea, zeroing in on your unique value proposition (UVP), marketing, selling, user acquisition, and a bunch of other things you must master to succeed.

A profitable business is like a finely tuned engine, where all the pistons are firing perfectly and all components are working in symphony with each other.

Beyond the 9-5

This is my story. Ever since quitting my lucrative and high-paying Silicon Valley job about ten years ago, I’ve been traveling around the world full time while running a series of location independent businesses. I’ve been fortunate enough that my travels have taken me to over 85 countries. (I’m currently writing this from Kiev, Ukraine).

I failed and succeeded. Then failed again. And then ultimately succeeded. Over time, through lots and lots of trial and error, I managed to learn what works.

For the past five years, I’ve been mentoring lots of guys on building their own location-independent businesses. Each time, we sat down, focused on their experience, knowledge and passion. Then, we designed a business model that enables them to do what they love, while adding immense value to other people’s lives. It’s a win/win for everyone.

All in all, I’ve helped hundreds of guys transform their passions and interests into a viable and very profitable businesses.

The result is this course. It’s a course I started working on in the beginning of this year while living in Bali, Indonesia. I continued working on it while living in Chiang Mai, aka the Digital Nomad Capital of the World. There, I connected with many digital nomads, learned their struggles and challenges, and then integrated everything that I’ve learned back into the course.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been putting in 16-hour days, trying to finish and tidy everything up.

Maverick Entrepreneur Bootcamp Video Course

The Maverick Entrepreneur Bootcamp Video Course covers everything you need to build a location-independent business tailored to your passions and interests from scratch.

There are hours of video footage that covers stuff like: 

  • Brainstorming the perfect idea
  • Finding your unique value proposition
  • Building a bulletproof brand
  • The science of marketing to the masses
  • Building products and services that people crave
  • Monetizing those products and services
  • Selling like a pro
  • And much, much more…

Of course, there are all kinds of courses on building your independent business. This course is different. The objective of this course is to focus in on your passions and interests and leverage them towards building a viable business. It’s the complete opposite of doing anything just to make some money. That’s what your miserable 9-5 job was for, remember?

This course is an interactive video course, where each module covers a crucial part of the business-building process. At the end of each module, there’s a summary of what you’ve learned and exercises that you need to complete before you go to the next module.

This course is my most monumental work yet. It’s bigger in scope than anything I’ve done in the past. It embodies absolutely everything that I learned about running location-independent businesses while traveling the world for 10 years, right after quitting the dreaded rat race. To say that I’m extremely proud of this work would be a huge understatement.

But that’s not all…

If you sign up this weekend—to sweeten the deal—I will also include my entire life’s work absolutely free. This includes all the books I’ve ever written, plus my exclusive podcasts and content that are no longer available on the site:

  • The Sovereign Man: How To Become A Strong and Resilient Man (225 pages)
  • The Way of the Maverick: Overcome Any Obstacle and Reach Your Pinnacle (205 pages)
  • The Man In Pursuit: How To Meet and Seduce Women In The Wild (217 pages)
  • The Maverick Entrepreneur Startup Kit
  • My exclusive podcasts on game, masculinity and mindset
  • My exclusive podcast on quickly and effectively learning a foreign language
  • Access to a private community of location-independent entrepreneurs

Most comprehensive courses are usually priced anywhere from $97 to $397 (and beyond). As part of the weekend launch, the course PLUS all the bonuses is only $67. This is for lifetime access.

After the weekend, the bonuses will disappear and the price of the course jumps to $97.

Let me ask you something: how would you feel if you had the blueprint to turn your passion and interests into an extra $500/month, $1,000/month, $2,000/month or more? My students are easily making that much.

I can tell you from experience that such income is more than enough to live comfortably in many of the great places around the world such as Kiev, Ukraine; Medellin, Colombia; Bali, Indonesia; and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Not to mention many other fantastic destinations.

And earning an extra $500 or $1,000/mo is extremely doable thanks to the Internet which provides you with an insatiable audience that’s hungry for your products and services.

Did I mention that not only you’re registering for the course, but you’re also joining an entire community of entrepreneurs along with tons and tons of regularly updated content?

After joining, you will have access to a part of Maverick Traveler that few other people have.

Click Here to register for the Entrepreneur Bootcamp Video Course and join the new communit

See you inside the community.

If you have any questions, issues or concerns, feel free to shoot me an email.

Why My Seven Years Of Working As A Computer Programmer In Silicon Valley Were A Complete Waste Of Time

I spent around seven years working in various tech companies in Silicon Valley. I worked in small and large companies, including famous companies such as Yahoo!, Facebook and others. Looking back, I can say without a shadow of doubt that it was a complete waste of time.

I reflected back on this sad and confusing period of my life when a friend forwarded me an article that talked about how Google had introduced some new perk to its employees. I believe it was an on-site Thai massage for your dog or cat. If I’m not mistaking, that’s probably Google’s 2,633rd perk.

The next thought that popped into my mind was the sheer number of naive young men who’re salivating at the mere thought of working for a company like Google. And I immediately felt sorry for these misguided youths. Because I was a misguided youth like that once.

First off, if you’ve never been to Silicon Valley, let me transport you there so you can understand what it’s like. I’ll cut through the bullshit so that you don’t have any illusions. Imagine a piece of flat land. Fill it with concrete so that it resembles an enormous parking lot. Drop a bunch of nondescript, medium-sized grey buildings here and there. Dress up each building with a company logo. Then, drop a bunch of fast food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Quiznos that serve crappy food laced with chemicals. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Santa Clara

Silicon Valley is a barren, grey and depressing piece of land. There are no cities. There’s no civilization. There’s really nothing there. During the day, its population swells when vast armies of engineers arrive, go to their cubicles (or a loud open space), write code, and then go home in the evening. If you’re coming from Europe, or pretty much any other place except America or Canada, you will be underwhelmed. Guaranteed. It’s no surprise that my friends and I joked that Silicon Valley is “the armpit of America.” It’s really that soul-destroying.

But make yourself at home there because this is where you’ll be spending the majority of your waking time, toiling many hours per day. During important product launches, you’ll be working well into the night (sometimes even pulling all nighters).

Of course, there are concentrated population areas that might resemble cities (e.g., Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara). But these are only cities on paper; calling these areas cities is a an insult to any great world metropolis such as Moscow, São Paolo or Paris. At best, those are little man-made villages with one main street on which you have your typical fast food joints mixed with a couple of half decent restaurants.

(There’s also San Francisco, a nice and picturesque city where I lived for many years. But for one reason or another it has a way of draining you if you live there for a long time. It’s ridiculously expensive and ridiculously politically correct even for many of my leftist friends. For one reason or another, most of the people I know usually spend few years living there and then move somewhere else, either back home or to another city.)

But I’m not going to try to convince why you should never work there based on how it looks from the outside; for, the actual problem runs much deeper than that.

Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to work in Silicon Valley. “The Valley” holds an almost mythical appeal among the young tech-savvy crowd. Not only do they come there from remote corners of America, but they also come from places like Europe, Brazil, India and Australia. Startup and programmer message boards are always full of guys discussing ways of obtaining the coveted work visa in order to move and work there. They come to Silicon Valley for the same reason all kinds of people come to a place like New York: to pursue their dreams and make something of themselves.

Luring The Young And Inexperienced With Promises Of Riches and Greatness

church-google

Eventually I realized that, more than anything, Silicon Valley is a symbol and nothing more. Through the use of clever mass psychology, it acts like an enormous sponge, mopping up dreams and aspirations of young people everywhere. These young souls are lured to this mythical land by money, various perks and benefits, but most importantly, by the chance to work on something “great,” “life-changing” and even “world-changing.”

“Come work on our product that’s used by 5 million or 5 billion people worldwide” is usually a popular marketing slogan. And what naive young man wouldn’t want to be part of something big?

Economically speaking, most Silicon Valley companies operate on a well-known scam called the pyramid scheme. The goal is to “growth hack” the company to a level where it has many users—regardless if it ever makes a single cent in profit (who cares about money when you have a bunch of people using the product, right?).

As soon as a product or service attains a certain number of users (not even active users, just users), it provides an illusion of future profitability. It’s like buying thousands of fake Facebook likes, in order to trick visitors and customers into thinking your site or product is much more popular than it really is. It doesn’t even matter that these likes don’t even represent living and breathing humans who adore your product.

Companies with zero revenue cleverly incentivize their employees into working long hours by dangling a carrot in front of them. Apart from working on “life changing products,” that carrot is usually in the form of some paper money: stock options, employee stock purchase plan, etc. Once the army of mechanics (aka programmers) builds the actual product, the company is then taken public, making its founders and their close friends insanely rich.

If the company goes belly up, which happens quite often, founders usually walk off with millions of investor dollars and other bonuses, leaving the employees holding stock options that are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. Such examples were rampant during the last dot com boom and bust. This also happened fairly recently when a couple of well-known companies crashed and burned, and their massive valuations came vanished into thin air.

Many people think there’s another bubble happening right this moment as a result of crazy valuations (a glorified taxi service called Uber is valued at $51B-$75B) that have no basis in reality. I completely agree.

Ripping Off Those Training Wheels

Free, At Last

But let’s forget about money for a moment. There are more important things besides money. Things like your time and your life. As you know life is short. Very short. Much shorter than you think. Furthermore, your most productive years are typically your 20s and 30s, a fraction of your entire lifespan. And if you’re someone who wants to do something important with his life, spending those years as a glorified car mechanic isn’t your path to success.

Joel Spolsky, the guy who co-founded Stack Overflow—the biggest  Q&A site for programmers—used to run a very popular blog, “Joel on Software.” He’s one of the most authoritative voices on programming and software development. I personally don’t read many blogs, but I judiciously read his because Joel is a very intelligent and articulate guy. If you’re a half decent developer, you’ve probably read his blog too.

One of his articles is called “The Development Abstraction Layer.” It’s a story about a young programmer who decides to start his own software company. Eventually, things don’t work out and the company closes down. Joel says the company failed because the young programmer underestimated what it takes to run a real software business (i.e., it’s much more than just writing code). Of course, as a software company owner, it’s in Joel’s best interest to sell you on the idea that starting your own business is so damn hard that your only option is to work for another software company, much like his own.

(In programmer speak, the abstraction layer is a blueprint or a map from where things are implemented or built. The abstraction layer could be the blueprint for a building; the implementation layer is the actual physical building that got build as a result. Joel goes further and talks about all the things that make a company successful (HR, marketing, sales, support) as product of this implementation layer. When you’re a programmer who’s working for a company, you don’t have to worry about this implementation layer; when you’re starting your company, you have to build all of this out yourself.)

But Joel is wrong here. This is exactly what you don’t want. You want to break down someone else’s “implementation layer.” You want to rip down the walls that are holding you in. You want to do things your way. And you don’t want to listen to guys like Joel who tell you that you need his implementation layer. Not just in terms of programming, but in terms of life in general.

When you’re alone, you must build it all out—you really have no other choice. You’re forced to figure out how to build your own products, how to market them to an audience and how to eventually sell these products. It’s really not that hard, and you don’t even need to make a lot of money to have a comfortable lifestyle around the world.

The point is that you’re testing yourself and learning new things. You’re learning how to create value. You’re learning how to make money. You’re learning how to build your nascent business. You’re building your kingdom, brick by brick. You’re building your empire. And there’s absolutely nothing else out there that cements you as the captain of your destiny than knowing how to make money in your own terms.

Large programmer sweatshops like Silicon Valley inhibit that. They inhibit your growth. They inhibit you from realizing your true potential. They inhibit you working on your terms and traveling/living wherever you want. They’re a cleverly disguised pyramid scheme where the owners/founders get super rich on the backs of young and naive engineers who join companies based on cleverly constructed marketing slogans that promise a chance to “change the world.”

Well, you know what? I’ll be really blunt and direct with you. You’re not going to change jack shit. Nobody cares that you helped write some obtuse peace of functionality in a program like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, or a web app like Yahoo! Mail. It’s not your goddamn product. You didn’t create it. You don’t own the rights to it. It’s the company’s product. And you’re just a mere employee. A cog in a wheel. Nobody will remember you. All you’re doing is wasting your best years making someone else very, very rich. Unfortunately, by the time you realize this, it’ll be too late.

A World Without Silicon Valley?

After traveling and living around the world (more than 80 countries) for the past seven years, I spent a lot of time thinking whether the world would be better off without places like Silicon Valley. Would my life been more productive and fulfilling if I grew up in a country that didn’t have Silicon Valley? After lots of pondering, I reached the conclusion that, yes, I would’ve definitely been better off. The world as a whole would be better off without such programmer sweatshops.

Living around the world helped me see why. In Eastern Europe, where I’m originally from and where I’m living now, it seems that every other guy is hustling and making money some way or another. Many of these guys are very bright and understand technology (Eastern European software developers are one of the most highly sought-after in the world), so they can easily code and build websites. But because there isn’t a Silicon Valley in Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, they’re forced to be creative and build an actual business that actually generates money (even a little) instead of constructing a pyramid scheme only to unload on the unsuspecting masses (i.e., going public, IPO).

Instead of applying for a job at some tech company that gives you a billion benefits (while there are plenty of tech companies here, due to lack of capital investments, nothing here even comes close to Silicon Valley’s might), they build a product, build a website to market that product and learn how to reach out to their customers. Before they know it, they have a small but thriving business selling software or some other products.

These guys go from having specialized skills into ruthless businessmen because they’re forced to learn how the entire process works inside and out. They have no other choice: they must learn the entire process, from front to back, everything from making the product to marketing and sales. They must learn how to feed themselves without a dedicated marketing and sales teams that does it for them.

That’s exactly what happened to my friends back in New York. While I was working in Silicon Valley, my hustler friends in Brooklyn continued to build out their businesses. They didn’t get things right on the first and even second try—who does?—but, through trial and error, they eventually stumbled on things that worked. By the time I left California seven years later and began working on my own stuff from the tropical shores of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they already had a sizable six-figure businesses that were growing rapidly.

It’s All About You

One of my core beliefs is that everyone must become the captain of their destiny. This is what being a Maverick is all about. An integral part of that includes knowing how to make money. “Making money” is a metaphor; it isn’t so much about “making money”; it’s more about learning how to provide value by monetizing what you’re really good at. It’s about being the captain of your destiny. It’s about taking your skills and turning them into a well-oiled enterprise. Everyone must cultivate their inner entrepreneur—even if you don’t even have an inner entrepreneur and don’t consider yourself as a business person. (I’m far from a business guy, but because I need to feed myself, I run several online businesses).

It’s the fundamental skill that keeps on giving. This is what gives you freedom and allows all your dreams to come true. When you’re writing some code in some dark cubicle, you’re not cultivating any important skills. None whatsoever.

When I look back at my years of working there, I ask myself, what did I really learn? Sure, I became a better programmer. No doubt about it. I learned a couple of new languages. I learned a couple of cool frameworks. I became friends with other geeks (who are conspicuously absent from my life now). I learned how to design better software with less bugs. I learned how to use a debugger. But so what? Who cares about all that? All I learned was how to use tools that someone else built. I became a glorified mechanic and nothing else.

None of these are real world skills. None of them are. These skills don’t scale. These aren’t skills that contribute to my freedom in any way. If I were suddenly airdropped on some uninhabited island or even in the middle of Mexico or Brazil, how would these skills help me in any way? How would these skills let me live a better life? The answer: they would not help in any way whatsoever. They only have value as a component of a well-owned machine.

For seven years, I lived in a permanent bubble. I was surrounded by people whose minds were occupied 24 hours a day by some new app they were designing or building, or gossip about certain “hot” company going public. This bubble burst as soon as I moved to South America and began meeting guys who built very successful and profitable businesses using nothing but their creativity and determination. Before I left America, I had no idea such guys even existed.

These guys weren’t paper millionaires or billionaires. These guys weren’t running an elaborate pyramid scheme. And, guess what, they were also successful in other areas of lives. They had it all figured it out because they took the time to figure it out.

Can I say that those seven years were a complete waste of time. Absolutely. Without a shadow of a single doubt. Abso-fucking-lutely! If that isn’t a definition of a waste of time, I don’t know what is.

Of course, it’s not easy to do your own thing because there are no rules. There are no instruction manuals. Each of us has to leverage what we’ve got. It’s much easier to choose the path of least resistance and join an army of similarly-minded people who are already doing the kind of work you’re doing. It’s much easier to join an army than to make your own army, even if it’s a 1-person army that just includes you. It’s much easier to join the mass than to independently carve your own path.

In this sense, my biggest coup was moving as far from Silicon Valley as possible. After I left America, working for a tech company was no longer an option (there are tech companies outside America, but as a non-citizen you need to navigate lots of bureaucratic tape to get a job). This forced me to become creative and learn how to build my own things. The other option was to move back with my mother and get a job—not much of an option, at least not for me.

To reach greatness, you must make your life temporarily difficult. Like the Spanish conquistadors who arrived to the New World, you must burn all your boats. You must eradicate all paths that will make your life easier. You must destroy the “implementation” that someone else built. You must rip off and throw away those training wheels. There’s no other choice.

Because instead of spending your precious life wasting away in some nondescript, soul-sucking environment, you want to be sitting in a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or sitting on a beach in Bali, Indonesia, or working in a co-working space in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or, like me, sitting in a nice studio apartment in the center of Kiev, Ukraine. Or maybe, instead of living a nomadic lifestyle, you want to permanently live in a new country. Such freedom isn’t free; it comes with a price. And that freedom will not be found in an enormous concrete parking lot that someone, long ago, christened, “The Valley”

As one very enlightened person once said, “You’re either building your own dream or helping someone else build theirs.” Spend your time wisely.

How To Kill Your Shitty Job And Work For Yourself

In late 2007, I quit my lucrative job in Silicon Valley and handed in my two week notice. Two weeks later I was boarding a plane bound for the beautiful Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. I haven’t had an official job ever since.

In the past 8 years I’ve been on my own, trying to make a buck anyway I could. I’ve failed. I’ve succeeded. I’ve failed again. Then I bounced back.

One of the most common emails I receive is how to become location independent. So, in this article, I want to tell you everything that I learned about killing your mediocre day job and building something that you can truly call your own.

Warning: the advice below will be blunt and frank, and may hurt some feelings. Reader discretion is advised.

Focus on providing value

People keep asking: How do I start a business? What do I do? Is it hard? Is it easy? These are all wrong questions. There’s really no such thing as a “business.” All you’re doing is taking something that you know how to do well and, instead of keeping it inside, you’re offering it as a product or service to others. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate things. Forget theory and case studies. Think in concrete terms.

Can you provide me with value that’ll improve my bottom line? Can you make me richer? Can you make me more successful? Can you help me feel better about myself? Can you help me fuck hot women? Yes? Congratulations, you’ve just gotten yourself a new customer.

There are no rules

People spend countless hours reading various sites on making money. Most of these sites hold your hand and tell you exactly what to do. They force you to think along some kind of rules. They box in your mindset.

What no one tells you is that there’re no rules. The key is to be creative and think outside the box. Always think in terms of adding value. Someone out there is selling an eBook, but you don’t have to do that. Someone out there is selling a course, but you don’t have to do that. Or maybe that’s exactly what you should do. When you create an online audience by teaching them something valuable, you’ll have a better idea what kind of solutions your audience wants and is willing to pay for.

Forget what’s cool or trendy

The corollary to the above is that sometimes it’s helpful to forget what’s cool or trendy at any given time. People like writing about cool and trendy stuff because that’s what people like reading about.

But few people realize that you can make money—lots of money—selling very boring stuff, like, well, power tools. (One of my friends is doing just that and he’s making an absolute killing.) A boring solution to a pressing problem is always better than an ad-hoc solution to a fleeting problem.

Beware copying someone else’s successful idea

When people are given freedom, they tend to mimic each other. This happens subconsciously without you even knowing it. We’re all doing this to some extent. I was doing it for many years before even realizing it (I’m probably still doing it, but at least I’m more conscious about it). So, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re following a cool businessman, blogger or celebrity, and naturally structuring your future business model based on theirs.

That’s probably not going to work. The main reason is that you see a successful person, but you have absolutely no idea how they got there. Who knows, they could’ve went through a hundred different tiny iterations before finally finding their groove and succeeding—or being discovered by someone bigger.

Moreover, don’t forget that you’re a different person from the one you’re trying to emulate. The other person is leveraging his/her personality and character to attract fans and customers in ways that you cannot.

All of us are given our own set of lemons from which we must make lemonade. But your lemons and my lemons and that other guy’s lemons with 50,000 followers are completely different. It’s very crucial to learn how to make lemonade from your own lemons. You need to play with the hand you’re dealt. The good news is that the quicker you realize this, the less time you’ll waste and the quicker you’ll succeed.

A much more savvier approach would be to take what someone has done and slightly tweak it, thus creating a new angle to an existing idea that’s already successful.

Should you work on the side or build it in Argentina?

There are two ways of building your own business: you can quit your job and try to build your business full time or you can slowly build it on the side in your spare time. This really depends on your unique situation: whether you have a family to support, have other obligations, the amount of money you have in your bank account, your tolerance for risk, etc.

If you’re a young guy in his early 20s (this is also applicable to guys in their 30s), my advice is to save around $2-3k and then go live in Argentina or Thailand while trying to build your online business. In those regions of the world, you can really keep your costs down by renting an apartment or room for less than $200-300/mo, cooking your own meals and hustling the rest of the time. You’ll even have money left over to hit on women in the local bars. If I was starting out, this is the exact path I would take.

Learn marketing, branding and sales

I will tell you right off the bat that your problem will not be the nuances of your initial product. If you’re a writer who’s writing an eBook, your biggest challenge won’t be writing at such a high level so it’s good enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. If you’re a software engineer, your main problem won’t be using the latest and greatest memory allocation library (trust me on this; I’m a software engineer).

Your main problem will be finding customers; your main problem will be making sure that others know you exist. It’s a noisy world and nobody knows who the fuck you are.

Think about what you represent. Now learn how to correctly package all that in a message that someone like me will understand and become interested in. Although I’m a great programmer and can build amazing apps, I know that marketing and sales will always be the key here. No one will buy my product if they don’t even know it exists.

All else remaining constant, when it comes to making cold cash, a great marketer or salesman will always win over a great programmer or writer.

Don’t marry an idea

I’m not a huge fan of the whole “Never give up” advice. There I said it. It’s a dangerous mindset because it lets you rationalize marrying an idea and then trying to make it work—despite not having any luck with it whatsoever for the past five years of your life. This happens all the time. What most people don’t tell you is that there are good and bad ideas. And you want to avoid the latter at all costs.

The way to do that is by willing to abandon (or at least scale back efforts on) an idea if it doesn’t seem to be working. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but here’s a helpful tip: you must disconnect your identity from that idea. Just because you’re working on something that you think defines you, doesn’t make the idea automatically successful and profitable; just because you’re thinking of giving up on an idea, doesn’t mean you’re giving up on yourself. There are two entirely separate entities here: you as a person and your crappy idea.

As always, abundance mentality is very applicable. Remember, there are lots of interesting ideas that are ready to be developed and executed. Lots of things that people are impatiently waiting to pay for with their hard-earned money. From your perspective, there will be work and there will be work. If it feels like work, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Not a born businessman, either? Not a problem

My blessing (or curse) was that growing up, I happened to be surrounded by natural hustlers who lived and breathed making money anyway they could (an old friend of mine was peddling custom made t-shirts in my High School). He’s probably a millionaire know.

I’m not like my friend at all. I have an analytical mind that’s better suited for writing code, reading books, and discussing philosophical questions. A natural businessman I’m not.

So, while I never wanted to “start a business,” what I always wanted to do was travel, something that I’m obsessed about. I’d rather be sitting in an apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Barcelona or Singapore, rather than sitting in some cubicle in generic and boring Silicon Valley. This is absolutely non-negotiable.

My challenge became to figure out how to make this lifestyle possible. And that’s where making money online comes handy. Do you see what I’m getting at? For me, things happened in reverse: I wasn’t looking to become a businessman, but a businessman discovered me.

Even now, after reaching a certain level of success, I would never call myself a businessman. I’m just a hack who has—through lots and lots of trial and error—figured out how to make a few bucks online that nicely funds my travels and booze.

Nobody fucking knows anything

Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you otherwise. There’s no shortcuts in this game. There are no ways of making lots of money very quickly. If that was the case, then we’d all be rich.

Business is not a science. The outcome can’t be predicted in a lab with pinpoint accuracy. It’s nothing more than a conversation between you and other people (your prospective customers). Sometimes they like what you have to say, other times they don’t. It’s a process, not a one-time shot.

A core characteristic of successful hustlers is their willingness to be comfortable with uncertainty. Since it’s pretty rare to hit a home-run at the first (or 5th) at bat, you need to keep moving, keep testing, keep adjusting, keep improving. And then repeat the process until you get it right. I personally view it as a game and enjoy playing it. If you want to succeed, you must enjoy it as well.

If you can’t deal with uncertainty, if you can’t deal with not knowing how much money you’ll make this month or whether you’ll be able to cover next month’s rent payment, at least initially, I can tell you that you’ll have a pretty difficult time. The only way to mitigate this uncertainty is by having confidence in oneself. 

Do you think you’re capable of taking all your experience, knowledge and willpower and molding that into something provides consistent value to others? If not, there’s always a way of receiving a stable bi-weekly paycheck straight to your bank account in exchange for taking orders from someone else.

(If there’s further interest, I can continue with more money-theme posts by getting into some details of location independent businesses)

6 Reasons Why Young Men Should Not Become Programmers

My background—and one of my passions—is computer programming. I’ve been programming computers since my early teens. I can code in all the major languages for all kinds of platforms such as web, desktop, and mobile. I’ve worked for some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley, including Yahoo! and Facebook. I’ve also worked in a good number of small startups. Software development is one of my solid skills even though it’s been some time since I did it for a living.

Having said all that, quitting my lucrative job and leaving the world of programming behind was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

If I could do it all over, here’s why I would never become a programmer:

You don’t develop crucial social skills

Instead of interacting with real living and breathing human beings, programmers interact with machines made of glass, plastic, and metal. It’s a surreal way of looking at it, but that’s exactly the way it is. The more you program, the better you get with communicating with machines. You learn to type code, test it out, expect a certain response, fix what doesn’t work and try again. Do it long enough and you’ll be more comfortable dealing with machines that with real humans.

You can only do one thing at a time, so if you’re sitting and building an app, you’re not at a bar, a party, a gathering where you’re mingling with new people. If you’re already introverted, then you become even more introverted. If you have decent social skills, those skills quickly atrophy. That’s even more so if you code at work and then play video games at home.

I cannot underscore the importance of social interaction. It’s pretty much the core of any male self-improvement. Do you want to have better friends? Learn how to meet people. Do you want meet new women? Learn how to meet people. Do you want to get a job or upgrade from the shitty one you have now? Learn how to meet people.

It’s ironic that something as natural as meeting other people is now in the realm of an actual skill that can be taught and improved. That wouldn’t have been the case if you were dealing with people all day, every day. For instance, I don’t think a salesperson who makes cold calls all day and deals with endless rejections has any approach anxiety at a bar—he approaches for a living. Same goes for an aggressive real estate agent, lawyer, or advertising executive.

Moreover, the people with whom you spend most of your time are programmers just like you. They’re similarly introverted and socially awkward. They’re not going to  teach you how to behave around women. They’re not going to teach you how to conquer new lands and be real men. I can probably count on one hand how many programmers I’ve known that also happened to be very social and not awkward around others. Most were introverts who were scared of women. The most inspiring people in my life were go-getters who build businesses and not sat around and wrote Javascript closures.

You don’t develop emotional intelligence

Programming is a very logical process. Computers don’t have emotions. At the core, all computer code is made up of zeros or ones. All control statements are evaluated to true or false. A computer can’t cry, get angry or feel empathy for someone else. A computer only understands zeros or ones.

That’s what happens to your brain, too. A human mind is very elastic and can adapt to pretty much any kind of work. When you spend most of your time dealing with rational problems, your mind becomes more rigid and logical instead of more flexible and emotional.

You start seeing the world as a collection of zeros and ones; colors compress to black and white instead of beautiful shades of gray. You lose that emotional/irrational “scent” that enables you to feel a person instead of asking them a logical question and expecting a logical answer. That’s called emotional intelligence. And you lose the ability to reason emotionally when you write intricate “if” and “else” statements all day.

It’s only after I stopped communicating with a monitor and a keyboard and started dealing more with people, that I finally started building this crucial emotional intelligence. Life is much richer and more rewarding when you’re not always being introspective and breaking everything down to its logical components.

You’re giving away your best value

You know the saying that, “you’ll never get rich working for someone else?” I’m pretty sure a programmer invented it.

We’re living in a capitalistic society where people with money (capital) hire workers to do stuff for them (labor). Programming is a form of labor. When you program for a salary, you’re giving away your time and expertise in exchange for money. You’re helping to create value for the company, and all you’re getting in return is money that’s eroded by inflation and the rest eaten by taxes.

That’s not an ideal situation to be in. Capitalists get richer by hiring labor because they know that after paying their wages, they’ll still come out much more ahead.

Tech companies perfectly understand this, so they provide all kinds of perks and financial incentives (stock grants, options). Nonetheless, don’t be fooled: unless you’re one of the founders (or one of the first ten employees), the amount of value you’ll give away will be always greater than the value you’ll receive. That’s just how capitalism works.

Generally speaking, it’s a good rule to avoid situations where you’re trading your time for money. I know many guys who used to make a killing in freelancing, but have moved on and started their own companies that make money even while they’re sleeping. That’s the beauty of letting capital work for you.

Programming is not an “empire” skill

People understand the above point (that you cannot get rich while working for someone else), but they still believe that being able to code is somehow different. They think they can build an app in their basement, launch it to the world and have a $25 billion valuation tomorrow.

Well, I’m going to tell you a little secret that took me some time to figure out. You will never become rich or successful because you happen to know how to code. Unless you’re one of the best programmers in the world and Microsoft or Google are luring you with a $2M signing bonus, you’ll never really strike it big. That may sound obvious, but that’s not what I thought for a long time. I thought that because I knew how to code and build the next Facebook or Google or WhatsApp and immediately strike it big.

It doesn’t work that way. Yes, I can easily build a Facebook app. Yes, many of the founders of tech companies are engineers with tech backgrounds: Bill Gates is an engineer; Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) studied engineering in school. The founders of WhatsApp have an engineering background. Even Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is a computer nerd.

But that’s not why those companies became so successful. They became successful because the founders created a great product that was in high demand. Any programmer can build a Facebook clone (it’s actually really easy), but it takes special talent and skills—and, of course, timing—for it to be a blockbuster success. It’s no surprise that many of the founders went on to more executive and strategy roles at their own companies; they have skills that are way beyond sitting at the keyboard and writing classes and functions.

A good example of an “empire” profession is marketing and sales. Another great skill is knowing how to hustle. Figuring out what customers want and being able to deliver that to them is golden. Besides, you can always hire (cheap) programmers to build your app if you have a great idea that you think will be successful.

It’s a low barrier-to-entry job that’s rapidly becoming commoditized

Someone once said that programmers are nothing but modern day mechanics. When I heard it for the first time, it didn’t click: I’m getting paid lots of money for doing something that I enjoy, so how could I be like one of those mechanics that just changed oil in my car? I have absolutely nothing in common with a mechanic at a body shop down the street. Or do I?

Now it makes sense. Perhaps I was in denial all long. The thing about programming is that absolutely anyone can be a programmer. And I mean just about anyone. Programming is now less of a science that requires a creative and imaginative mind, but something that one can learn via a book and apply the next day. One of the reasons is because lots of new tools have been created that simplified building an app by the order of magnitude.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone can find a tutorial (there’re millions of them), learn one of the web languages like PHP, Python or Ruby and build an app. It’s one thing to learn a very simple language like PHP, but it’s another thing to master an entire framework and build a Facebook clone in an hour. That process was a lot more involved just five years ago. Not anymore.

Instead of being a niche profession for a select people who are gifted with an engineering mind, coding is now a mass-market phenomenon. There are lots of boot camps and classes for pretty much anyone and their mom that guarantee that you’ll build a “complex” app in an hour or so. And it’s not even a hyperbole. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you can build a Facebook clone in an hour or two (or much less).

That leads to commoditization of the profession. There are so many people in the world who know how to build a Facebook clone, that anyone can jump on one of the freelancer sites and hire a cheap programmer from India, Russia or China, and pay him a fraction of the money that a Western engineer would get.

It’s a poor long-term career choice

If you browse any of the development or startups forums, you’ll notice that many programmers begin to question the meaning of life (and their career choice) once they get closer to 30, 35, or older. That’s because programming is mostly a young man’s game. Kind of like being an athlete but without all the money, fame and women.

It’s not surprising that software companies love to hire people straight out of college. They send their best recruiters to the top-tier universities to pimp their companies to prospective employees. Then once they hire them, they pamper these new recruits with generous perks and amenities: campuses with full-size gyms, free food, on-site massages, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. They do that so that you don’t have any reason (and why would you?) to make the trek home.

When I was in my teens and my twenties, I loved programming. I was surrounded by other ambitious guys who thought they would build some amazing operating system. Guys that lived on pizza and noodles while coding for—what seemed like—entire weeks straight without sleeping.

But once you hit the age of 30, or even the age of 35 or get a serious girlfriend or even a wife, your output will decrease compared to some new kid out of college. You’ll no longer be able to put in all-nighters at the office before a new release because you’ll have someone waiting for you at home. There will be pressure for you to move to a higher “management” position or change career paths.

This means that a programmer’s career is comparably short. I’m not saying that you would be treated any differently if you’re, say, 40+, and are looking for a job (although it’s a dirty secret in Silicon Valley that most companies only hire young whippersnappers). But even if you did get hired, you’ll probably feel strange taking orders from some pimpled-kid who’s half your age while being surrounded by a bunch of other kids who look like they’re going through puberty.

Think bigger and wider

Most guys who get into programming but later find it unsatisfying don’t realize that programming is only a tiny fraction of endeavors they can embark on. There’s a whole plethora of other problems and challenges that’s perfectly suitable for their creative and analytical minds. The key is to think bigger and wider. Start thinking in terms of people problems instead of software problems. What kind of problems are some the people might be facing that you can help solve for them?

Starting a software company that builds and distributes software services is one. Building a freelancing business that solves specific challenges for your clients is another. What else? You decide.

Think of programming as a specific tool in your toolbox that’s designed for very specific problems. For instance, I’m very fortunate that I can easily pull up a WordPress theme and implement a new feature, or quickly customize a signup form without asking anyone for help.

But these are all small problems that are done in the context of bigger and more complex challenges. Challenges that involve building real permanent capital. Challenges that are much more ambitious and rewarding than debugging an annoying Javascript function all day.

Why I Left My Programming Career And Haven’t Looked Back

Over seven years ago, I quit my programming job at a promising startup. The decision was anything but easy and straightforward, but nevertheless ended up being the absolute right choice in the long run.

My job certainly wasn’t the worst in the world. It came with lavish perks. The office was spacious and airy; it had tall ceilings and was furnished with overpriced leather chairs. We had access to complimentary snacks and drinks. We had flexible hours. In exchange for surrendering our precious time, eyesight and youth, the company dangled carrots (stock options) in front of our faces. The best part was being compensated for writing code, a very fun and addictive hobby that I enjoyed.

After finishing a critical project that I was working for several months, I collected my overdue vacation and took a three-and-a-half weeklong trip to Central America. It was one of the first “extended” trips that I took abroad. Unlike my previous vacations, this time, instead of staying at hotels, I backpacked from country to country, staying in various hostels while mingling with other backpackers and locals.

After the trip, I flew back home and rejoined the daily grind. As I attempted to settle into my old routine, something was off. It wasn’t like all my previous vacations where getting right back on the hamster wheel was as easy as jumping off it. This time, the process of going to work became an unnatural and robotic slug. Instead of seeing my work as “important” and “life-changing” (words recruiters love to use to describe a position), I began viewing it for what it really was: driving to office, writing some computer code and going home. Since the money wasn’t a strong initial motivator, It mattered even less that I was receiving a paycheck for it. The work began to feel monotonous and repetitive.

Feeling that continuing along this path wasn’t in my best interest, I met my manager, and informed him that I would be quitting. He was disappointed but sympathetic; he assured me that the job was always mine should I change my mind down the road. We shook hands, and I left the building.

I never did return. Although, I couldn’t initially pinpoint the exact causes of my discontent, over the proceeding years the jigsaw puzzle slowly started to come together. As always, the issue was the most efficient way to spend my time.

Once the fog cleared, and I had a chance to look at things in a more objective matter, I realized that I can either spend my scarce time communicating with a lifeless computer or spend it communicating with real, breathing people. And the more time I spent telling a computer what to do, the more rusty I became when dealing with humans; by perfecting my skills of talking to a computer, I was simultaneously atrophying my skills when dealing with actual living and breathing humans.

Since it’s physically impossible to do both, I had to choose one. In economics, it’s called opportunity cost. Every additional minute that I debug an obscure bug is an additional minute that I’m not reaching out to perspective clients or business contacts. Every additional minute that I look up a vague function is an additional minute that I’m not seducing a cute girl at a coffee shop or at a bar.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it all came down to whether I wanted to interact with real, living and breathing humans or keep trying to get some device with transistors to obey my commands. In the end, I chose people.

It also doesn’t hurt that I was deserting a commodity field. Thanks to the plethora of tutorials, manuals and guides available, it’s completely possible for anyone in the world right now to learn and master the same exact skills that I have, enter the market place and begin making money — competing with guys like me in the process. These days, a person doesn’t need much beyond time, dedication and an Internet connection.

Programming is a skill without barriers and competitive advantages. More competition means less job security and lower wages, something that should be concerning to anyone who relies on a commodity skill to pay his bills. That’s a great scenario if you’re an employer but terrible if you’re an employee.

In the new globalized world, in order to matter, you have to add some kind of value. And more often than not, it means dealing with people. The very best skill in the world is the ability to deal with people, whether it’s arranging deals for a new business, or seducing that cute girl in the coffee shop.

After all, it’s the people that make the world go round. And you can’t get really good at the latter if you spend most of your waking hours staring at a computer screen trying to catch some obscure memory allocation bug.

Although I no longer code for a living, I still spend a lot of time staring at a blinking cursor on the screen. I’m using the computer to communicate, but the difference this time around is that I’m communicating via a human language (English) that’s understood by actual people, instead of toiling in some dark cubicle constructing arcane instructions that only a computer can understand.

Furthermore, it makes sense to leverage the fact that there’s a vast army of developers looking for projects and are willing to work for low wages. So, for my next project, I’ll be looking to hire a developer instead of doing it myself.

I’m more than certain that the contractor I hire will be much more capable than me; in several years my programming skills would rightly atrophy as a result of spending more and more time in front of people: arranging business partnerships, seducing women, and writing in English and other human languages instead of funneling my time on a very specialized skill that only a computer can understand and appreciate.

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