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A wild start to my indie hacker story

Tomas Vestenicky
August 9th, 2020 · 5 min read

Storytime. Back in 2018, I was stuck in Brno, Czechia creating designs and code for clients in our small agency. One day, I stumbled upon Pieter Levels building a profitable site by himself while traveling around the world. Just a laptop and a week’s worth of clothes. It sounded incredible. Amazing and terrifying at the same time. Naturally, I wanted to try it.

My girlfriend was finishing her degree and didn’t know what to do next, so it was the perfect time for both of us. We bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand, sold all our possessions, and packed the remaining essentials into a backpack.

The challenge

If you’re considering trying a digital nomad lifestyle, I advise avoiding doing it as we did. We started with savings for three months and our only plan was to build a profitable business sooner than we run out of money. That irresponsible idea had some obvious disadvantages, but one important advantage: big fire-under-ass factor.

While we were still in Brno, preparing for the journey, I picked one of many “business ideas” from my notes. Yes, it was FeedBear. I didn’t do much research, it was simply the most attractive one from the list. As I later learned, that’s not the right way to start a startup. In my defense, I was a complete beginner, totally clueless about the business side of things. I just naively wanted to create something by myself, for myself, that would sustain a comfortable lifestyle.

So with a three-month deadline and a room in Bangkok booked for a week, we jumped on a plane to start our adventure. The plan was to survive the first week, enjoy the food and the culture, and pick a location to stay for the next few months.

Life of a digital nomad

It was every bit as awesome as you think. After a bit of research about recommended places to stay and work in Thailand, we picked Ko Lanta. A tiny island near Krabi with an incredible co-working space called KoHub. They provide accommodation, coworking space, and two meals a day together as a bundle for a great price. We didn’t need to worry about where to work or where to stay for two months. Time to hustle!

By the way, we started our adventure in May, which is the “green” season in Thailand. That means occasional heavy rain, but more importantly way fewer tourists and the lowest prices. The rain was so heavy that after a minute the main road turned into a proper river. The internet and electricity connection to Ko Lanta island was already sketchy in normal conditions, so you can imagine the storms didn’t help.

However, KoHub is made like an apocalypse prepper’s dream bunker. Backup connection to the internet from a completely different provider and diesel generators ensured that even in the harshest conditions, you didn’t notice anything different. There were times when KoHub was the only building on the island with electricity and the internet. Hats off to James for building this place. Makes it very hard to come up with an excuse to stop working.

Every morning we hopped on our scooter and arrived at KoHub. Even in the rainy season, most days were simply too hot to enjoy outside. We established a routine to work 6 days a week. In the evening we drove to the beach to exercise, rest and watch the sunset. Now, you may cringe when reading the word “routine” in an article about the digital nomad lifestyle. But for us, it’s the only way to be productive and enjoy the place we’re at. It’s not a vacation after all. And we sure enjoyed the hell out of it.

The business

I was never that productive and happy at the same time in my entire life. In just two months I built a very solid (well, maybe too solid) MVP of FeedBear, managed to sell the subscription to a first paying customer, and launched on Product Hunt ending up in third place! At the same time, we spent almost every sunset on the beach and visited every corner of the island.

My girlfriend created her Etsy shop with hundreds of custom prints you can download and use to decorate your home or office (or home office, these days).

Ko Lanta

Of course, it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. It never is, but I didn’t know that. It was rare to talk about struggle and failure back then. After the first month passed, we still haven’t made a single dollar. Fire under ass was getting larger and hotter every day. I stopped building the MVP and started reaching out to potential customers. You can’t imagine how many times I heard the word “no”. I started to think FeedBear was useless and nobody actually has a problem I was trying to solve. I wrote about everything that was wrong about my approach in another article back in April.

Despite all the insecurities, I kept going. I found the first person excited about what I was building. They were looking for a solution exactly like FeedBear and bought two licenses right away. Fun fact: they are a FeedBear power user for more than two years now. Thank you, John!

That was (and still is) an incredible motivation.

The nature against us

After two beautiful months on Ko Lanta, we decided to check out Bali, the Mecca of digital nomads. Even though we managed to take our businesses off the ground, it was obvious we won’t make enough money to sustain ourselves longer than the initial budget, so we planned to stay one month. A day before we arrived, there was a serious earthquake damaging buildings and infrastructure. It was a start to a series of quakes lasting for our entire stay (and more). In Europe, the ground usually doesn’t move so it was quite a scary experience for us.

Moreover, we got a pretty bad food poisoning in Canggu that rendered us useless for a week. Lesson learned: don’t eat European food in Asia! You can imagine how all that contributed to bad productivity and slow progress in our businesses.

After a month in Bali, we decided to come back home to Brno and work on our projects on the side, while earning a regular income from a day job. That was two years ago.

Summary

FeedBear is now very much alive and this year, I want to take it from a side project to a full-time, sustainable business. There are ups and downs, but it’s going great!

I wanted to share my story to show both sides of the traveling indie hacker (digital nomad) lifestyle. It’s certainly beautiful and it can be very productive, but it’s not for everybody. It’s hard to just go travel and work on your startup without significant savings or freelance work. With the current rise in popularity of remote work, it will be easier in the future.

If nomadic lifestyle interests you, I strongly suggest you try it. Once the current situation settles, try a few months in a work-friendly area. NomadList will help you pick a place and connect with others. You may love it and keep doing it for a while, or you may hate it and come back right away. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to try to build a business and see the other side of the world at the same time.

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