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Weird Business Models that Work [Digital Nomads & Their Crazy Ideas]

Joseph Kennedy
Guest Contributor
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For the last four and a half years, I’ve been hunched over a laptop screen, ferociously tapping keys at the exact rate and accuracy required to have somehow become *probably* the best person-for-hire in my field.

 

I’m an Environmental Copywriting Consultant.

 

Never heard of this job title, right? That’s because I made it up to carve out my niche.

 

The name actually has three very efficient purposes:

 

  1. Environmental tells you my industry.
  2. Copywriting tells you my greatest strength.
  3. Consultant shows my evolution from freelancing.

 

So, all in all, you might think there’s no one with a job weirder than mine. Well. Not exactly.

 

Over the years, I’ve met people doing weird-er, wonderful-er, and wackier things to make a living on permanent vacation.

 

Why do their stories matter?

 

Because there’s no idea strange enough to pursue. Hesitant if your weird business model will work? Read on and find out how strange an idea can in fact work out just fine.

 

So here we go:

 

The board game guy

 

That’s Chris Backe. I start with Chris as he is the exception, in that:

 

  • I didn’t meet him in a bar,
  • I have actually never met him.

 

Perhaps in some Facebook group, our words connected and we forged a minor DN bromance. I forget. What I do know is that Chris has one of the coolest jobs in the world.

 

He designs board games. Sounds like a dream job, doesn’t it? For Chris, it’s a reality, and he even sent me some test versions of his games recently. They are epic. He also reviews board games, of course, because he’s something of an expert (warning: do not play him at board games, I assume he will destroy you, puny human).

 

Chris recently sold One Weird Globe, one of the best websites on the internet for detailed and useful DN and expat guides to a load of popular cities. He wrote most of the guides himself, and they’re brilliant. I assume this experience is what led him to write what I believe to be the best DN bible on the market, ‘Becoming a Digital Nomad’.

 

The fetishist whose name I never got and never cared

 

On a very drunken night, in a dimly lit bar somewhere in Spain, a guy overhears me speaking English and we get chatting.

 

He’s a digital nomad too, he tells me as he explains what it is exactly that he does.

 

I nod, “Mhm, I see. Yup, ok… and people actually buy them? Dude... that’s kinda gross.”

 

He was an international used women’s underwear distributor (or, in plain language: he sold used panties online to fellow pervs.)

 

I love telling this story, because for me it’s hilarious. I often add erroneous details, such as a receding hairline ponytail combo, oily skin, hairy fingers or audibly loud breathing, but the truth was, from what I remember, he was just a normal-looking creeper.

 

His fetish for used women’s underwear had spiralled out of control, and he’d ended up with stock.

 

In an attempt to rid his stock, he obviously found his fellow Panchira and Undergarment Fetishists, and built dialogues with them. He bought a ticket to Japan. He somehow managed to find dozens of women to whom he would provide a fresh pair of underwear each day, and each day they would sell it after use in a small plastic bag.

 

I don’t know what the women got out of it, but he was distributing a few thousand pairs of used Japanese women’s underwear each month. The knickers cost him almost nothing, but the customers were paying a good price. He used the income to travel around the world and hang out in bars with norms like me. He haunts my underwear drawer, but I appreciated his earnest.

 

The LinkedIn Creeper

 

I don’t remember this woman’s name, which is a real shame, because her business model was ingenious, very simple, and incredibly profitable. The fact that either I don’t remember her name, or the chance that she never told it to me, only adds to the allure and mystery that surrounded her.

 

To some, she may be considered an international businesswoman of mystery and dealmaking, but to me, she will always be ‘The LinkedIn Creeper.’ Let’s call her TLC, and her special brand of tender love and care, was to ghost-message business targets for high-flying execs and CEOs.

 

She was so charming, like a Bond girl. I could understand immediately how her personality was her business. Pretending to be a dozen different business people, she logged into their accounts, built relationships, put forward ideas, and took cuts on serious business deals. She didn’t even have a LinkedIn profile of her own, she didn’t need one. She was doing business on behalf of others, and nobody was the wiser. Except me, because she told me everything. Now I’ve told you. Sorry TLC, the gig’s up.

 

The Chiang Mai workaholic

 

Neither weird, wonderful or wacky, this guy was simply hilarious and pitiable, and he gave me and my fellow DN, long-time friend, and Asia travel-buddy Danny, a few hearty laughs. When based in Chiang Mai for what I feel was a little too long, Danny and I tried to cut living expenses by booking into a hostel that was just 77 baht per night, at the time around £1.70, or $2.

 

We sat on the front porch sipping beers and sweating through our Chang vests when it happened.

 

The words “I’m a DI-GI-TAL… NO-MAD” were carried along that sticky humid Thai air right into our ear cavities, and we tried not to chuckle as the booming American male voice continued.

 

“YAH, I LIVE HEE-UR. I do SO-CIAL ME-DI-A” were his next words, and I not only found humour in the content, but in the fact that he was either shouting his words, or saying them syllable-by-syllable to what I assume was a non-native English captive audience.

 

“It’s sim-ple. I work six-tee-eight hours PER WEEK, and I get to live hee-ur.”

 

The problem was, he wasn’t really living, because working 11 hour days from the common areas of the $2 a day hostel next door to ours, and leaching on the free wi-fi, is a pretty poor way to make the most of Chiang Mai. Every time Danny and I rode off on our motorbikes, there he was, doing so-cial me-di-a.

 

At the end of our stay, Danny and I were again on the front porch of our hostel, drinking Leo, probably (it makes you dance, they say), at about 11 pm, when we heard it. It was the final straw for me.

 

“Hey dude, are you still working? It’s pretty late, you’ve been here all day?” someone asked him.

 

“YAH, It’s called O-VER-TIME, ever heard of it?!”

 

How did he end up in such a ludicrous position? From my opinion, he was chasing the tag of ‘digital nomad’ more than the actual liberties it provides.

 

So here’s a bit of advice from me. Don’t undervalue your work, don’t undervalue your time, and don’t undervalue the amount you can gain and learn from closing the laptop as well as opening it. This is a cautionary tale, because I’m sure he’s not alone in this situation.

 

The Polish earthquake simulator

 

I was at a DN meetup, about 7 beers down the hatch, and there was a guy stood on his own at the bar. I didn’t want him to feel left out, in case it was his first time there, so I walked up to him, and the conversation went like this (now, bare in mind he was Polish and not that confident at speaking English).

 

Me: Hey, how are you doing?

 

Guy: Thinking.

 

Me: Oh, I asked how you are doing, not wha-

 

Guy: Earthquakes.

 

Me: What? Where?

 

Guy: In my computer.

 

Me: Erm, you mean on the news?

 

Guy: No.

 

Me: Are you here for the digital nomad meetup? (As opposed to being a random guy who carries earthquakes in his computer.)

 

Guy: Yes. I show.

 

*His satchel appears from nowhere, the velcro rips open and his laptop glides out* - it was smooth, I remember thinking it was a very smooth movement, like a golfer with a proud set of new clubs.

 

Guy: See.

 

Me: Ah! Earthquakes!

 

This Polish guy was literally building earthquake simulators for a variety of scientific organisations. I don’t even know the level of technical knowledge in science, geology and programming that you need to do that, but it was super cool. He showed me some demonstrations. I think this was the same night I met The LinkedIn Creeper.

 

Ellen and her Courage Camper

 

I haven’t spoken to her in so long, but when I lived in the digital nomad hub of Tarifa in the south of Spain, she was one of my favourite people to chat with. Originally from the Netherlands, I believe she was a business coach or consultant who sold everything and moved into a camper van.

 

From there, she set up Courage Camper, a resource and guidance programme to help other people move from a typical house-based routine, into a badass existence… on wheels!

 

I don’t know how many dreamers I’ve met who say something along the lines of ‘Y’know what, one day I’m gonna just trade it all in and live in a campervan, and grow my hair long, and surf, and cook on a fire, and watch the sunsets... yeah, I’ll do that.’

 

They don’t do that, but I say to them ‘Speak to Ellen, it’s not my department,’ and I direct them to her website. She is arguably one of the coolest DNs I’ve ever met, especially as she’s older and already had a life and career. I have huge respect to anyone who has the inner strength to pursue this lifestyle, but I admit it was easier for me at 22, with no partner, mortgage, responsibilities or dependents.

 

Steph and his drone

 

Dear Steph, I’m sorry if this is wildly inaccurate, but I have used the example of your DN life, or how I remember your explanation of it to be, as inspiration to help other people become digital nomads too.

 

How I remember the story is something like this, although completely paraphrased…

 

 

While I can’t remember the exact story, these five lessons are pivotal.

 

  1. Networking can happen anywhere, with anyone.
  2. If ‘Drone Pilot’ is a paid remote work job, think what else can be.
  3. Use your DN life to follow your passions, not just the money.
  4. Don’t be afraid to embellish, it can lead to amazing opportunities.
  5. Being a DN puts you in random situations, and if you want to be ‘the most random digital nomad’ that anybody knows, you’ve gotta make yourself the sort of person who dances through those situations and transforms them into new adventures.

 

I have so many more anecdotes:

 

  • the Slovakian guy who spent thirty minutes telling me (a British liberal) why he hates ‘British snowflakes,’
  • the Irish woman who mercilessly resented every single client she had,
  • the British guy who was making money from YouTube by producing instrumental music,
  • the American girl who was so stressed about her data scientist job that she chain-smoked joints all day long,
  • another British guy that I met by chance on two continents who was making a killing selling shaving equipment,
  • the African guy who was building a software that had no market or profitability,
  • and the German guy who was buying and selling drugs in the Deep Web.

 

The digital nomad world is more raucous, bizarre, random and wonderful than most people expect. We are not all programmers, designers and writers, but most of us are adventurers, pioneers and in need of a good conversation.

 

So, what do you think?

 

Which of these people would you most like to meet in a bar, and which one the least?

 

Have you learned anything from their wacky ideas, or are they too outside the box for you?

 

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to try the digital nomad life? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Author
Joseph Kennedy
Joseph Kennedy is the founder of Content Pathway, the UK’s first Environmental Copywriting Agency. Originally from the UK, he has travelled extensively and lived in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Thailand, and Czech Republic. In his spare time he is an avid reader, amateur photographer and ukulele singer and songwriter. For Joseph, creating content is more interesting than consuming it.