Building our startup as digital nomads

· 4 min read
Building our startup as digital nomads

Two of my goals in life:

  1. Start a company
    Having a problem I wanted to solve was the prerequisite. I knew starting a company would challenge me in so many ways and be really rewarding.
  1. Travel the world
    I’ve always loved traveling—leaving the familiar to experience new people and places. My feed is full of the latest flight deals and ads for travel gear.

Before pursuing these goals head on, I worked at Facebook. Andrew, my partner and co-founder, left his job at Facebook to work full-time on our passion project. A year and a half later, he had one question: Are you in or out? I had a partner that I trusted and we had a problem we wanted to tackle. I was in.

Soon after leaving my job in November last year, goal #2 re-emerged. I started having thoughts about a life outside San Francisco. We no longer had a weekly schedule or daily commute. Could we build our company while we travel? Turns out, not only is that completely doable, it’s beneficial in a lot of ways.

In a few months, I managed to infect Andrew with my travel bug. A month later, we moved out to build our startup Canny as digital nomads.

I was officially in pursuit of both goals:

  • starting a company (as promised, it’s hard)
  • traveling the world with my carry-on (it’s easy)

We’ve been in Europe for over 3 months now—and we’re loving it!

Our nomad life

Our plan is to stay in most cities long enough to soak up the culture and feel what it’s like to actually live there. We think that’s around a month. Our ideal experience in each city is 90% local, 10% tourist.

Cooking at Airbnb
Our lovely host, Annmari, in her London kitchen

We don’t really have a plan—that’s the beauty of it! Pending valid visitor visas, any country is fair game. We try to plan about a month in advance so we don’t get hit by the highest flight costs and limited selection of Airbnbs. The tradeoff is flexibility so this process may change as we go on.

The cities we’re interested in usually have:

  • A budding startup community
    • San Francisco is all about startups, all the time. It’s refreshing to meet like-minded people with completely different backgrounds.
  • Good wifi
    • Bad wifi is so frustrating but it’s definitely a perk that we can work anywhere as long as we have wifi
  • Awesome coffee shops
    • Co-working spaces are expensive. Coffee shops are great and they have food. Seems like a no-brainer. Plus, Andrew gets cranky without his daily dose of caffeine.

Our day-to-day usually consists of finding a coffee shop to work from. Thankfully, coffee is a universal indulgence so we usually have a large selection. I’m writing this from a breakfast spot in Budapest:

Nomads work from anywhere
Stika, super yummy (and affordable) breakfast food

How’s business?

We’re not contractors or freelancers, we’re entrepreneurs. We’re not on vacation, we’ve decided to build our company around the world. This means, we’re still working all the time. We’re bootstrapped as well so reaching profitability was really important for us. Now that we’ve achieved that, we can dream bigger.

Some ways traveling has been beneficial:

  • More focused
    • While we miss our friends in SF very much (hi guys!), we’re much more focused when we don’t know many people.
  • Affordable
    • Our runway is naturally extended. Coming from San Francisco and being a couple makes this even easier.
  • New connections
    • It’s been awesome to check out which of our customers are in town. Connecting in person definitely beats live chat.

We’ve already noticed that we spend too much time heads down on work. We need to be mindful and find balance between work time, personal time, and adventure time. The change of scenery helps fuel our mind and reminds us to explore. Personally, I’ve found joy in climbing, photography, and drawing. I’m still on the lookout for a cappella groups I can hang out with in each city.

Every city is different: some are small and walkable, others are sprawling and need longer commutes. Discovering its culture and quirks are all a part of the fun. Our friends have raved about our next stop, Berlin. Expectations are high!

Coming up

Andrew and I are both learning so much every day and we’re excited to start sharing more. We’ll be posting more about starting a SaaS company and becoming digital nomads. So stay tuned!

Until then:
You can find me on Twitter @sarahhum and Andrew @a13n
You can follow our adventures on Instagram @carryoncode

Sarah Hum

Hey there, I'm one of the co-founders of Canny. As a founder, I dabble in pretty much everything but my expertise is in product design. Outside work, I enjoy digital illustration, a cappella, and hanging out with our dog, Emmy.

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Cheng Zheng
Cheng Zheng
October 11, 2017 5:44 am

Would you guys consider taking a Indie Hacker interview?(
love to see that

ps: I don’t work for Indie Hacker, I am just a fan of indie Hacker

Dan Page
Dan Page
October 27, 2017 4:45 am

Thanks for this. Interesting and instructional story. Congrats on making it profitable. We live in the Bay Area as well. My wife began a travel/lifestyle blog when she retired last year and it morphed a bit when I retired and joined her in February. I mostly write and she mostly takes pictures. We are not a business so have the luxury of blogging purely for fun … but we are crazy about publications schedules and metrics. 🙂 If you want a taste of home and beyond check us out at Input is always welcome. Good luck out there!

October 27, 2017 3:24 pm

For longer term stays, can you get better prices than what’s advertised on Airbnb?

February 11, 2018 2:51 am
Reply to  Jared

Are you talking about on Airbnb itself or in general?

November 12, 2019 11:26 am

How do you handle the physical address requirement for your company?

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