If you spend a lot of time on YouTube, the odds are that you’ve come across someone promising to teach you how you can make millions of dollars from dropshipping. 9 times out of 10, that guy lives in Bali and has social media accounts that show a life of luxury.
But this is not a conversation about dropshipping or the truth behind it. Wired covered that here.
Instead, this is a conversation with Olumide, a digital nomad who lives in Bali, Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination.
While Bali is a beautiful island, it has become popular in the last few years for digital nomads who move there to work while enjoying cheaper living costs.
Olumide is one such nomad who has taken a circuitous route to Bali. But his story starts in Nigeria.
“My father was a salesman for a company that made poultry feed.” He tells me. “I don’t remember a lot about living in Nigeria, but I remember that we were comfortable and lived in a big compound.”
His reality would soon change when his family made the move from Nigeria to the U.K. “We went from a rich Nigerian family to a struggling immigrant family. The choices we made transformed us.”
His story almost becomes a stereotype from here: the immigrant who focuses on education to try to rise above his struggles. Despite these struggles, there was a bit of traveling in his childhood.
At 13, the family moved to America, where he lived until 2016. He attended college in America, studying for an undergraduate degree in Physiology as well as a Masters degree in epidemiology and behavioral sciences.
He tells me: “I went to grad school because I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.”
Trying to figure things out is the common theme to many of Olumide’s life experiences. So, when he shares his travel experiences, he says “I went to Honduras for missionary work when I was 22,” but that was his parents idea so he’s quick to strike it out.
What he would rather talk about is deciding on moving from Columbus, Ohio to San Diego for grad school. “I bought a round trip ticket to California and the plan was to stay for two or three months. But while I was there, I got accepted to San Diego state University for a Masters degree.”
“During graduate school, I met people from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Germany and these were the people I could relate to. It was the first time I saw a mix of people different from me.”
This experience of diversity and San Diego’s warm climate meant that it saw a lot of social activity. Olumide, who already fancied himself an entrepreneur, needed a way to cash in on San Diego’s outgoing community. So he founded “The Tribe Network.”
“Setting up the network was really what got me into travel. At the time, I would organise networking events that charged $7- $10 at the door.”
Here’s one of The Tribe Network’s Facebook posts from 2018 inviting people to one such event: “Tribe Inner Circle 2.0 will be an invite only members network of millennials comprising the best of the best from every field: Art, Music, Medicine, Real Estate, Law and more.”
“I partnered with a real estate agent, rented a mansion and managed to build out a luxury networking community. It was an interesting time, I was living the life on Facebook as though I was a young millionaire.”
While the networking circuit seemed promising, he wasn’t making enough money. But there was another problem: “People who were trying to network upwards were always trying to get into the faces of upscale people to try to pitch ideas to them.”
An excerpt from an article on networking events: “From 2013 to 2016, I spent a lot of my time trying to network my way into connections. But they’re completely useless if you want to network upwards.”
“Most of the people there are value hunting so you’re at a gathering with people like you: sideways networking and downward networking.”
Today, Olumide’s perception of networking is different. “For me, networking has to be curated. You need to understand what everyone who shows up wants. You can’t mix and match groups.”
By the time this lesson was learned, Olumide was taking a gap year instead of accepting the university’s offer for a PhD place.
“After you finish your Masters program, they expect you to do a PhD. The university gives you grants to help you along the way and there’s a diversity enrichment program. But I never saw myself as a PhD Professor.”
What he saw himself as instead was a global entrepreneur, so he decided to travel. His first stop was Germany where he couch surfed with the friends he had made at grad school. He also started to tune in on opportunities in social media.
“When I was in Germany, I started to learn the value of social media. Before then, I was documenting everything I was doing on social media and growing a following. I started to earn $500/month from social media management.”
But $500 was not enough to live on in Germany and he had to subsist on government aid.
“I said no to a $100,000/year PhD track to get government aid in Germany while I was under the delusion that I was an entrepreneur.”
To make the jump from broke entrepreneur, there was some hard learning to do and mistakes along the way.
Olumide’s note: In the beginning, I was gaining clients, not getting results and losing them quickly, so I started learning by watching a lot of videos on YouTube and asking questions on Google. I didn’t pay for courses, I stitched together all the bits and pieces of free information the experts offered for free online.
There’s no magical “grass to grace” story here. From Germany, he moved to Mexico city where he lived for all of three months before seeing Bali on Instagram.
“I speak Spanish yet making useful connections in Mexico City was difficult. I was always in front of my computer working and I didn’t make a lot of friends. While I was in Mexico, I saw Bali on Instagram and you know what Bali does to people.”
Social media influencers and digital nomads in Bali
Social media influencers like Tai Lopez who market a life of affluence and teach online courses on how “you can get rich too” have made Bali popular. Think: posh villas, a garage full of cars, the whole nine yards.
“Tai Lopez was the first guy to get on the Internet to say: hey guys, I’m rich, let me tell you how to be rich too. Iman Gadzhi is another young British kid who teaches you how to put systems in your business.”
An important thing Olumide learned from online courses: One of the problems I had was that I was losing clients. I learned a system where I either charged a customer a high fee month to month or give them a discount when they paid for a three month retainer. It helped me retain clients.
After taking a few online courses on creating systems for his business, he bought a round-trip ticket to Bali.
“In Bali, tourists get a one-month visa on arrival, but what a lot of people do is a visa run. One day before the visa expires, they leave the country, get back in and get another one-month visa. Some people have been doing this for eight years.”
While tourists like this help Bali’s economy, the government is taking a harder stance on visa runs and is kicking out digital nomads who don’t have a specific type of visa. But Olumide says the government’s new stand does not affect him.
“I now have a multiple entry visa which means I don’t have to worry about being kicked out. But I have to leave every two months.”
Away from visa problems, one of the more challenging parts of moving to Bali was that his clients were now in a different timezone from him. “I was worried about my big ticket clients because I wasn’t looking to be homeless in Bali. But I did a lot of learning on how to manage a remote business before coming here.”
Unlike Germany and Mexico, Olumide says that in Bali, you get the sense of community. “Everyone in Bali is here to change the lifestyle they have. Everyone is trying to build an online business. It doesn’t mean they are wealthy, but they are building businesses.”
One of the reasons people travel halfway around the world to start an online business is the cost of living in Bali. Olumide says that in California, the rent for a basic room is at least $1500 per month. That same amount will get you a villa in Bali.
It explains why it is easy for social media influencers there to sell a vision of success to their followers.
“When I got here, I realised that there’s a difference between social media influencers and entrepreneurs. A lot of social media influencers here aren’t making money. People soon start to realise that a lot of the glamorous lifestyle is not necessarily true and the portrayal of a specific lifestyle to sell courses is definitely a problem.”
The real differentiator for him is that entrepreneurs create value. He uses the opportunity to dovetail into another lesson in creating systems for his business.
“In the first few months in Bali, when I bring in a client, I would run their Facebook and Instagram ads, monitor the analytics and sometimes get on calls. It used to feel like a full time job while living in paradise.”
But he soon learned how to leverage on the expertise of others to free up time for himself as well as deliver better value for his clients.
“If I take $1500 for a social media management job, I hire another freelancer with expertise and pay $500 per month. We work on projects together and the job becomes easier. I find most of these experts on Fiverr or Upwork and I hire them from all over the world; Pakistan, Philippines, Malaysia and Nigeria.”
Olumide’s advice for freelancers on Fiverr and Upwork: Everyone is looking for expertise, so it helps that even in a general field, you should highlight the specifics of what makes your work stand out. It’s also important to be perceived as premium: that’s the easiest way to get hired. No one really cares where you come from.
While we’re talking about making bank, you have to wonder how tourists who work from Bali receive money seeing as you can’t open a bank account with a tourist visa. The answer is digital banks.
“Most neobanks like Revolut and N26 work here, but one problem is that they will not deliver your bank card to Bali. I lost a few of my cards recently and I had them sent here through DHL. So if you’re coming here, it’s a good idea to have your cards first because your bank won’t mail it to you for free.”
Besides banking, the most important thing in an island filled with people working online has to be the internet. Yet, internet connectivity in Bali is far from great, and at some point in our conversation, Olumide turned off his video to try to make the call less choppy.
“WiFi is good, not great. Things like video conferencing can be challenging and it affects business. You never know when the internet is going to be spotty.”
He says it took some four days to upload videos from a Digital Nomads summit he hosted in June. “If you’re a copywriter or you do a lot of basic things, the internet is fine, but anything heavier can be tricky.”
Mobile data can be a good back up, as you can get up to 14GB of data for $10, a lot cheaper than the U.S. For the Wi-Fi, there’s no big worry about the cost, because it comes as part of facilities when you rent a house.
Yet, Olumide, who has bigger dreams than social media management remains undaunted. He’s currently building the digital nomads summit, to connect digital nomads around the world.
“One way to help people is to connect them to others. So, I’m connecting a community of people who are working. I started by hosting small events in Bali and then I decided to create something unique.”
Although he planned for a physical event earlier in the year, COVID-19 disrupted those plans. He took the event digital and says he used the online events platform, Hop in to host the summit which he says over a thousand people attended. His assessment of the event is cautiously optimistic.
“We had some glitches with the internet and one speaker didn’t show up but on the whole, it was great for the level we’re playing at.”
He says there will be another event in September and he hopes the borders will be open by then so a physical event will be possible for digital nomads to meet up and network. It feels like a good time to ask him who a digital nomad is, after all, he is something of an “original.”
His definition is well rounded and gives the feel that he has stated it a few times. “I believe a digital nomad is a person who can live a comfortable lifestyle traveling the world legally, live and work where they choose while giving back to the community.”
In the end, a digital nomad is only as effective as the structures or limitations of the country they work from. So, he rates the United States on a scale of 1-10 for his tech experiences, because he says the environment doesn’t support the remote work movement.
Mexico gets a 5 because the cost of living is great, even though the trade offs are traffic and noise.
Bali gets a 9 only because nowhere is perfect because, “it delivers everything a digital nomad needs.”