Imagine this: one day you’re watching the polar lights in Iceland, a couple of months later – you’re exploring the ancient temples in Bali, and by the end of the year – you find yourself in urban landscapes of Berlin. Pretty exciting way to spend your time, right? Well, some globetrotters actually live this way. They travel the world and work simultaneously. They are called digital nomads.
If you’re thinking there are not that many people who actually have the guts to pursue this lifestyle, think again: according to some predictions, there will be around 1 billion digital nomads by 2035!
Digital nomads said no to the traditional 9-5 job, they’ve replaced offices for vivid places from different corners of the world, and they’ve became their own bosses using only their laptops. The internet opened thousands of new possibilities so people are not tied to a desk anymore. Remote working has become our everyday. Whether one turns to freelance platforms (such as Upwork, Freelancer or PeoplePerHour), or chooses to build his own business and set a website as a personal portfolio (or as his company’s presentation) – good quality online presence is mandatory.
Once you see in detail how an actual person manages to leave home and really treat the world as his oyster – the idea of digital nomadism becomes more concrete and everything seems more possible.
We had a pleasure talking with Tony Simonovsky (stony.me), a digital nomad who has been traveling and working independently since 2012. Tony is a really cool guy with a refreshingly different mindset who was willing to share his journey with us and explain how this transition to a nomadic way of life actually happened.
Enjoy the full interview and feel free to share your thoughts in comments after reading!
You’ve decided to leave your office job in Moscow in 2012 and you’ve been living as a digital nomad ever since. What triggered this decision?
I’ve always had an idea that I want to live this kind of life. A digital nomad is actually some kind of a new notion but I had it for many years as an idea I kept to myself. I wanted to live in different places and always move from one place to another. I had an internet business, an SEO company back in Moscow since 2005, and it gave me an opportunity to travel more than most of people I knew. But still – it was just occasional travels. So, I thought I could at least give this way of life a try.
In 2010, I sold my company to a bigger one and I worked there for some time as a manager of a new department (which was created based on my company). But I was already tired and burned out. By that time, I was in the SEO business for 5 or 6 years, I was earning good money but I’ve lost positive emotions towards my work and wasn’t really happy.
It was a one day decision. You might say it was impulsive but it came as a result of accumulated emotions and it didn’t exclude planning. I was arguing with the owner of that bigger company and I just felt I’m tired from all of this.
That same day, in the evening I thought – ok, nothing really stops me from starting traveling. I had some savings, not much, but I made the plan same day. I’ve said to myself things like: ok, what are the worst case scenarios, or how much should I start earning from the beginning to make this work. And I contemplated an actual financial plan. For example, I’ve set a goal of earning 200$ in the first month, then 300$ in the next one, etc.
What was your first destination? Did you have a travel plan?
Decision was made and I was to follow it. I will go to India, to Goa, for several months and there I will understand what will I do next in my life and start developing my business. I’ve launched a startup with which I made all the possible mistakes (and spent a reasonable amount of money on) and it eventually failed. But at that moment, I wanted to focus on that startup and figure out how to start earning.
After India, I wanted to travel through Europe on a motorcycle. But when I made this decision, I had zero knowledge about motorcycles. Throughout my life, I’ve maybe had five days of experience driving a scooter, which is not the same. The first time I tried driving a scooter was in Barcelona, several years earlier. I’ve rented it and I thought to myself: wow, this is a super convenient way to go places. And this was the moment I knew I wanted to explore Europe on two wheels. Fast forward to my period in India, I’m contemplating this idea again and I thought – why not now?
How’s it like in Goa? Is it a good place for digital nomads?
In Goa, there are not many digital nomads. Thailand is another story: it has great wifi and a more developed community. India is the place where the most of the trance music appeared, a lot of festivals and music groups. Trance music was not really my cup of tea but I enjoyed calm sanctuaries which Goa is full of. Sure, you can waste yourself on parties but you can also do yoga. Everything’s pretty close: if you’re driving a scooter, everything is on 15-20 min distance. The idea was to spend 1-2 months there and then go travel by land up to Thailand.
But Goa doesn’t let you go once you arrived so if you start your journey there, it’s really hard to say goodbye. So I stayed there until February, March next year. At that time, I was actually doing my startup with several team members. We were exploring the possibilities of the startup I mentioned before, but nothing really happened yet. I was still clearing my head, my thoughts, and was reading a lot.
There are a lot of those who dream about becoming digital nomads. Do you think people are mostly talkers and not doers?
I think it’s more about fear. That day, in 2012, I made like a note in my diary. This door was always in front of me but it was fiery red and I felt it was too hot. I was frightened to just touch it, let alone open it. And then you dare to touch it and it’s not hot at all.
Tell us a bit about the transition to the nomadic way of life. What were the preparations for the venture?
When I was first leaving Moscow, I had that startup on which I was working. The idea was to create a social network for pet lovers (we called it Petwork) and then it evolved into something else. We then wanted to help finding homes for stray dogs and cats. The newest concept implied enabling people to make an online passport for their pet and actually get useful recommendations based on the information they provide (this one was called Dogument). The sad truth was – startups wouldn’t provide you money instantly and they take time to become successful.
Where does your web analytics team Good.Vertising fall into the picture?
I started to do basic things like web analytics and CRO with some of my old company clients for whom I provided SEO services same time when I first left for India. And this seemed pretty natural to me. We were doing a great job giving high positions in search engines for the sites of our clients in my previous business, but, a lot of them were not happy with the revenue, and now I understand why: their sites sucked. They had traffic but they didn’t achieve their set goals. SEO is cool, but the client also needs to think about how efficient and quality his website is. So I’ve started learning more about CRO (conversion rate optimization) and approached my clients with this new service, offering it at a really low price, just to get practice.
When I reached Moscow after India, my team and I have definitely quit Petwork, we were tired of the poor results and the absence of a clear direction. So, that is when I turned to conversion optimization and web analytics. After traveling Europe, I’ve returned to Moscow and again went to Goa. This is the moment I started focusing on getting more clients and I was still working mostly alone. I had a developer who was helping me, but it was more of a one-man band.
So, how did the Good.Vertising grow and become successful?
Before Good.Vertising, the idea for the name was Bad.Vertising. The idea was to review sites and their problems in terms of conversion rate optimization, and user experience. This way, I would draw more attention to myself and get new clients. However, it happened that I managed to get clients even without Bad.Vertising, so I gave up on it and turned to a different concept – Good.Vertising.
As I saw the demand for my services started to grow, I included more people to help me. Now, two years later, we have around 30 people working with us, we have a lot of medium sized and big clients. We all work remotely: some of the people work full time while others are project based. I’ve learned that you really need to be quality-oriented, that is the key to success. You have to always try to over-deliver, even if the client is not the nicest person you met – you have to try your best to make him happy.
Now we are actually heavily filtering clients: if we see we won’t be comfortable working with them or we won’t be able to deliver what they want, or perhaps they request something out of ignorance believing it will bring them some results – we don’t accept those clients anymore or we try hard to educate them so they know what’s good for their business. This quality orientation gave great results: just on Upwork, we had around 100 projects and from them, we only have five reviews that are lower than 5 stars.
Quality is 70% of your success but you also have to be focused on understanding the feedback from your client and respecting his emotions.
Is it hard to manage a remote team? How does your usual work day look like?
I believe nothing is hard. There is simply a way to do something and a challenge. I face a lot of challenges, some of them I’ve already managed to overcome, some I still struggle with. But it all comes down to how you treat them.
Some people cannot imagine that it is possible to handle a remote team and do some big projects. The first problems I’ve faced when I’ve eventually started hiring people: the team didn’t actually have good processes in place which were needed in order for us to be really efficient. When you’re working in an office, there is a boss who tells you everyday – do this, do that, etc. When you’re 10.000 miles away, you can also remind a person on her tasks but it seems as a waste of time. It is a whole different story if you have processes in place, although it’s not easy to force people to follow them. Using the right tools also helps. I see progress in this field: there is great teamwork and good emotions involved, and it’s all about getting joy from your work.
Clients can hire you via your stony.me website. How important do you think building online presence is for your business and for digital nomads in general?
I mean, I work like this. Without internet, there is no my business. We are getting a lot of direct clients online. When we started, most of our clients were from Upwork but we are not that focused on that platform anymore. Today, new ones come to us mostly through recommendations.
Surely, the website is a part of our content marketing but we’re not quite there yet, we’re not pushing it as strong, although we plan to change that this year. Your website helps to create your brand and it’s about being present.
The link to my site where I post articles relevant for my niche, can be found in my LinkedIn and Facebook profile and clients do perceive me as an expert in the field and a great source of useful information. They easily remember the name (stony.me) and that draws them to my website where they can request my services.
Of course, the content you write on your blog and the case studies you share give you more credibility in the industry.
Yes, this specific site stony.me started as a personal blog. I didn’t think it will be mainly used for my business. Back in the time, I thought – ok, what name should I choose?
So I thought to myself – Tony!, and my surname is Simonovsky and I was like – stony! It sounds funny! Almost none of my friends and clients asked me why stony, it sounds kind of provoking, right? But all of my clients get the link to this site and nobody asks anything about it, so they’re clearly okay with that. Stony.me is even more provoking [laughter].
Anyway, I thought it would be a good address and it’s catchy, so that’s why I chose .ME domain.
Do you think the fact that you lead such an unconventional lifestyle and the fact you share other non-business-related interests on your website (such as your love for capoeira) helped you stand out from your competition?
It really depends on the client. But in general, for people who are searching for services online – story is what sells anything. I’m networking a lot, I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook, and I always start my presentation with something personal – who I am and what do I do. People really love that approach. It’s another confirmation that story sells, even if it’s not directly connected to what you’re selling. Whether it’s interesting, nice, exciting, even sad – it reaches out to people.
What are the single pro and con of living as a digital nomad?
Hm… Never really gave it much thought. The truth is, I don’t really spend much time comparing myself to other people. In my head, it’s just a state of things. Any new place, especially if it includes a new culture – is related to stress. It’s the cultural things, it’s the stress of finding a new place where you’ll stay, finding new friends, understanding how you should act, etc.
Yes, I believe the main challenge people would face is stress. But stress can be of different nature. And stress is both a pro and a con. There are exciting things out there but it depends on how you are open to them. For example, I am currently in Brazil and there are certain things I don’t like but I can either choose to accept them or just go crazy [laughter].
Can you share your thoughts about personalization in marketing?
Of course, as our main service is CRO, for me personalization is one of the focuses to help clients reach people who they are really targeting. We base our research of qualitative and quantitative and try to understand not just why people in general don’t end up making a purchase but why the specific target group doesn’t. We aim to make the pages as personal as possible and adjust the content that will help converting visitors into buyers. Web page testing is one of the elements that make one business more successful than the other. For one of our clients, we’ve managed to double the conversions, as well as the revenue through our CRO. I will soon publish the case study about it.
Why did you choose .ME for your website?
When I first heard about this domain, I thought it’s about me, like a personalized domain. Then I found out it’s a Montenegro domain. Still, for me it was like a not-very-formal domain. It was a good fit for me because I am not a very uptight person or someone who likes corporate rules. I saw it as kind of a funky way to express myself. It was interesting, different, and I liked it!
Is there something else you wish to share with our readers?
Well, it’s something I’ve already mentioned before. Don’t be frightened by your opportunities. At least try to consider them. Of course, don’t just go forward without thinking, you need to think. But, a dream is something you think – yaaay, it can happen, and it’s cool if it does. However, once you start planning on a high level, a dream gets converted into a goal. This is the only way for it to come true.