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2019 Update: Nomad Cruise 9

Nomad Cruise 9

I haven’t written a new blog post for more than seven months, so I figured its time for an update. I have been busy working on my new German blog about content marketing. I was able to apply all my learnings from this blog to the new blog and therefore the concept is bulletproof.

I have been living in Düsseldorf for the last couple of months, but I am going to go on a journey in a couple of weeks. I am talking about Nomad Cruise 9. It’s a two-week Cruise (18-30.11.2019) from Barcelona to Brazil. When Tarek, the founder of Nomads Giving Back, told me about the cruise last year I knew I had to go.

There are going to be more than 250 digital nomads on the ship and the cruise is a great opportunity to network and learn. The speaker line up is impressive and I am looking forward to meeting like-minded people and taking my business to the next level. Application is still open, so you can join me on my adventure.

 

 

How (not) to film a low-budget documentary (case study)

el poblado skyline

Last year I lived for four months in Medellín and I decided to film a documentary while staying there. I wanted to learn filmmaking while capitalizing on the popularity of Medellín. The only problem was that I didn’t know a thing about filmmaking, but I didn’t let that stop me. When you shot a documentary, you have to make decisions in terms of technique and style constantly. In this article, I am going to explain my decisions and how I would do things differently now.

Budget

A professional documentary costs typically at least $100.000 and that is low-budget. My documentary was a one-man show and my initial budget was $1000, one percent of a normal budget. I paid $1005 for the equipment and $226 for the post-production, which means that I overran my budget by $231 (≈25%).

If you want to understand the production process behind a professional documentary I recommend watching the series Making Minimalism. Filmmaker Matt D’Avella explains in the series how he filmed the documentary Minimalism. He also talks about the financials of the documentary.

Concept

The concept was weak at best and nonexistent at worst. I started with the idea to film my experiences in Medellín and to add interviews with entrepreneurs about Medellín. I realized soon that it doesn’t make sense to combine both storylines and I split the documentary into two film projects: One about Medellín as a creative city and one about my life in Medellín. I focused on the documentary about Medellín and the personal one was more of an afterthought.

The documentary lacks a strong narrative, which connects the interviews. The central theme is the living quality of Medellín and the relationship of the interviewees with the city, but there is no overlying storyline. It’s a bit dry to watch 80 minutes of interviews and therefore I released the interviews by themselves as well.

Maybe a podcast episode would have been a better format for several long-form interviews. The audio quality would have been much higher and it would have been easier for me to connect the interviews into a storyline. The production would have been easier and cheaper as well. I feel that I was able to film eight interesting interviews, but I wasn’t able to shoot a well-rounded documentary. I am going to invest more time in the pre-production next time.

Interviews

The documentary consists of eight interviews and my main focus was to find interesting people to interview. This is the only part of the documentary where I feel that I succeed. All interviewees were interesting and everyone had a unique perspective. Next time I am going to focus on a more balanced composition of interviewees (6 men and 2 women; 5 internationals and 3 Colombians).

Convincing people to take part in the documentary was easier than expected. I knew six of the interviewees and I reached out to the other two per e-mail. They didn’t know me at the time, but they knew people I had interviewed. The community of international entrepreneurs in Medellín is well connected.

Costs

Here is a breakdown of the production costs:

Equipment:
Sony FDRAX53/B 4K HD $850
Sony-ECMGZ1M-Zoom-Microphone $68
Transcend 128 GB Flash Memory Card $44
Rollei-Compact-Traveler-Star-DIGI $23
Sony LCSU21 Soft Carrying Case $20
Equipment cost $1005

Post production:
Stock Videos $98
Sound engineer $85
Adobe Premiere Pro (2 months) $42
Music $1
Post-production cost $226

Total cost $1231

camera-lens-close-up-electronics
Gear

Sony FDRAX53/B 4K HD: The biggest advantage of this 4K camcorder is its small size and I was able to transport it my backpack. The camera is easy to use and the integrated image stabilization works well. Buying a bundle might be cheaper than buying everything separately.

Sony-ECMGZ1M-Zoom-Microphone: I bought an external mic because internal mics tend to be low-quality. The microphone isn’t suited for interviews because it’s a shotgun mic that picks up all the background noise. I am going to buy a lavalier microphone for my next project.

Sony LCSU21 Soft Carrying Case: A small case to transport the camera and accessories.

Rollei-Compact-Traveler-Star-DIGI: The biggest advantage of this tripod is its portability, but the portability comes at the expense of stability. The tripod works fine, but it takes a little longer to set up.

Learnings

Filming The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City taught me a technical understanding of the filmmaking process, but I also learned about organization and storytelling. I learned the following lessons during the production process.

Cutting

Almost all the footage I had shot ended up in the final documentary. Typically, only a fraction of the footage survives the post-production. My documentary runs 80 minutes, but 40 minutes probably would have been better. That way the storyline would have been tighter and there would be no fluff in the documentary. It’s hard to cut out footage, but next time I am going to be more rigorous.

Style

When you shoot a documentary, you have to make dozens of stylistic decisions. An important decision is how you shot the interviews. Do you include the interviewer (two-shot) or do you focus on the interviewee (one-shot)? The two-shot makes the interview look like a natural conversation and the one-shot looks more professional. I switched between both styles and shot six two-shots interviews and two one-shot interviews. It’s better to be consistent with your decisions and next time I am going to shoot only one-shot interviews.

Movement

Using a tripod is the easiest way to shoot steady video and I almost always used a tripod. I made only two exceptions when I walked around filming the b-roll and when I shot the interview with David Kadavy. The next time I am going to film every scene with a tripod to avoid shaky footage.

Jump Cuts

There are four main ways to hide jump cuts:

  1. The elegant solution is a two camera setup with two different shots. That way you can switch between the shots when you need to. Next time I am going to buy a second camera and go this route to avoid dealing with jump cuts at all.
  2. You can reframe the footage in post-production to make it seem like you have shot with two cameras. You need high-resolution footage for this reframe (4k footage for a 1080p video). You can do this reframe with Adobe Premiere Pro. I could have used reframes, but I didn’t want to spend more time editing and I decided to live with the jump cuts in the interviews.
  3. You can cut to b-roll to hide a jump cut. It’s crucial that the b-roll is relevant to what the person is saying. In the interview with Rob LaFond, I cut to a video of Café Revolución 2 when he talks about it. You can also use stock videos when you don’t have b-roll.
  4. You can use morph cut to hide small jump cuts. Adobe Premiere Pro has a morph cut feature, which morphs together two clips of the same person. I didn’t use the feature for time reasons.

audio-on-computer

Sound

Most people are willing to tolerate a low video quality when the content is great. People are less forgiving with bad audio because it makes watching a video difficult. Unfortunately, I had bought a shotgun microphone that captured all the background noise. A clip-on lavalier microphone is better suited for interviews because you can place it much closer to the interviewee and therefore the sound is better. The sound of some of the interviews was so bad that I had to hire a sound engineer to remove as much background noise as possible.

Post-production

I bought Adobe Premiere Pro and I had to learn how to use it on the fly. I watched tutorials on YouTube and searched in film forums whenever I encountered a problem. Before the next project, I am going to use the free Adobe tutorials to learn the Adobe Premiere Pro basics from the ground up. I am also going to pay for professional color correction and color grading next time.

Organization

Filming involves repeated tasks like recharging the batteries and packing all pieces of equipment before the shot. I forgot the tripod for one interview and had to improvise. The next time I am going to use a checklist for simple repetitive tasks to save time and mental energy.

Communication

I should have kept the people I have interviewed more in the loop about the progress of the project. I sent one email to thank them for being part of the documentary, another one to inform them about the delay of the release and a final one when the documentary was online. Next time I am going to be more proactive about the communication with everyone involved in the project.

Conclusion

I am still a big believer in learning by doing, but with hindsight, I should have started with shorter videos and worked my way up. Filmmaking is a complex skill set and it would have been smarter to start with short YouTube videos about specific topics. Most people prefer short content and it’s much easier to grow an audience that way as well.

My documentary has around 200 views so far, which is a bit disheartening. I also spread myself too thin and the filming came at the expense of my writing. It’s better to focus on one skill at a time. I was all over the place in 2018 and I am going all in on writing in 2019.

I am still happy that I have done the documentary despite limited success. I talked to eight inspiring people and I learned a lesson from every single one. The documentary didn’t meet my expectations, but the interviews itself turned out great. I also learned basic filmmaking skills and I am confident that my next documentary is going to be much better.

Now you know how (not) to film a low-budget documentary. The rest is up to you,

 
 
 

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All Business Articles

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A comprehensive list of my business articles:

Alcohol vs. Productivity

Are you a Wantrepreneur?

DIY Manual: Portable Standing Desk ($8)

How (not) to film a low-budget documentary (case study)

How to be productive

Interview with Juana Restrepo (La Casa Redonda, Co-Founder)

Review of the new WeWork Co-Working Space in Medellín

Rob LaFond talks about his move from Los Angeles to Medellín

Tarek Kholoussy talks about his social enterprise Nomads Giving Back!

The Power of Fuck You Money

The Power of Home Bases

The Power of Internships

The 8 Dimensions of Work

Wes Wagner describes the Start-Up Scene in Medellín

Why I killed my first Book last minute

6 Marketing Lessons from the World’s Biggest Trade Show for Fitness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rob LaFond talks about his move from Los Angeles to Medellín

Rob LaFond

I interviewed entrepreneur and musician Rob LaFond for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with Rob on its own. He moved from Los Angeles to Medellín and started the clothing brand LaFond Medellín. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Julian Power: Can you introduce yourself?

Rob LaFond: My name is Rob LaFond. I’m originally from Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a small city in New England in the United States. It’s a small industrial city. I grew up there and I started off as a musician playing blues music in small clubs until I got my start as an artist. Worcester, Massachusetts is kind of like the original Boston. It was an industrial city where people came in. They got work from the harbor, from the Boston harbor, and a lot of the factories were in Worcester, Massachusetts. So my grandparents and everyone like that grew up working in factories, and a lot of that stuff became abandoned. It was actually a pretty decent artist community in Worcester. There are a few famous artists and a few revolutionary political people who came from the city.

I had gone to a small private school in northern Vermont. It’s actually well known for the band Phish. It’s a psychedelic band. I went to a small private college there and then ended up dropping out of college. I opened my own business as a recording studio. I had a five-room recording studio. I worked with independent artists for a number of years, and then when I went back to college as part of my curriculum, I got an internship for the famous punk rock label Epitaph Records. So I drove my car from Boston to LA with my father and I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no plan to stay there, but I drove across for an internship to work at a punk rock label for the summer and I just never left. That was 11 years.

I fell in love with Los Angeles. It’s a very vibrant city as well and there’s a lot going on. You can go out in Los Angeles and see all kinds of stuff, the nightlife, the comedy, the entertainment scene, everything is there. I had gone there chasing dreams and to work in the music industry. Every time I looked at music, records and stuff like that the producers were always in Los Angeles. So I went to try to work with some of those people. I did over 11 years. I worked with most of the people that I had set out to work with. I loved the city and I was working for NPR. I was a senior producer for NPR. And I was doing a bunch of freelance projects, and then eventually I got kind of burnt out on the city, to be honest with you.

It’s a very big city and I think it happens to a lot of people who live in Los Angeles. They have a 10-year itch where it’s like they love the city but then after 10 years of the traffic, all the people, like I said I was working a full-time job. I was a musician. I was working as a photographer. In the end, I was working for my production company that worked for SpaceX doing production for them. And I was always working and always going to other parts of the city. And I loved the lifestyle there, but I got burnt out.

Julian Power: When did you come to Medellín?

Rob LaFond: I came to Medellin for the first time last May. I had a friend that was a yoga teacher in Santa Monica. There’s a very well known yoga studio, a power yoga studio in Santa Monica. I’m not sure if he started power yoga, but he’s one of the original people to do power yoga for over 40 years. And one of his students and teachers is from Bogota, so I came to a retreat on the north coast of Colombia for that. I was taking a break from work. And it ended up being this extended trip through South America to different parts of Colombia, eventually through Peru and I hiked Macchu Pichu with my father.

I actually was leaving. I hadn’t left myself enough time in Medellin. Everyone told me that I would love the city, but the way that I traveled I had to meet my father, so I only had four or five days here. And when I was leaving it was very early in the morning. I had a 5:00 flight. And I was running a little bit late. When I went to go get on the plane, they said: “You can’t get on the plane because you need onward travel,” or something like that. And I was like “I don’t know where I’m going.” It was 5:00 in the morning and the ticket window didn’t even open up for another 20 minutes and I was supposed to board in 30 minutes.

So I went on my phone and I looked at tickets from Lima to Los Angeles and they were too expensive. And so I was like “Well, I guess I’ll just come back to Medellin.” And I bought a ticket on my phone and I came back here after that, and I stayed for a few weeks. After that, it was decided. I went back to Los Angeles. I was working on a record there. I finished my record in Los Angeles and I had a release party and a bunch of emotional stuff I did there. And then I sold everything that I had and I came to Medellin.

Julian Power: Why did you come to Medellín?

Rob LaFond: I came here because I was a little bit disillusioned with Los Angeles and the lifestyle in America in general with the politics and a lot of other things. I’m an artist, I’ve always been an artist, and I think I was able to have that lifestyle in LA. But I was always working for someone else, and then I was doing my side projects in my extra time. And it’s hard to make a living there. When I came to Medellin, I wasn’t like: “Wow, this place is amazing” right away. But after a couple of days I was like “This is pretty chill. I could do this.” They have vegetarian food. The internet’s fast. The people are cool. But I guess overall I felt like I could have a lifestyle here that could meet the things that I wanted to do.

Right now I’ve started my company. It’s called LaFond Medellin. It’s a fashion and apparel brand that I’ve started last January. It’s become very popular. I had a couple designs, like the one you can see here with the E’s in reverse. There are a bunch of different designs that play off this basic design. It’s gotten quite popular. You can see people wearing it around the city. It’s in about eight locations right now. Getting it, it’s in one museum and we’re talking to a couple of different museums. So it’s getting out there pretty fast. And so I’m working on that. And I also work as a photographer and a musician. So I’m doing those three things.

Julian Power: Can you talk a little more about your company?

Rob LaFond: I started Lafond Medellin last January. I had some time between work and I really started with some basic ideas like just, I had done some fashion stuff and I’m a designer and a photographer. I do work with digital art. And so I had some free time. I just started playing around with it. The ideas really came out. I was at my friend’s café, Café Revolución. And I started to play around with some ideas and I started to make some different shirts and actually Café Revolución, the first one was the first café to carry my stuff. And actually the business partners there helped me get started with my business a lot. They are other business owners here. They’ve had the café for I think almost five years, the first café there, their first Café in Laureles, which is my favorite neighborhood in Medellin.

They helped me get started with the business a lot and they carried the products there. They sold immediately. And we went from there. Now I have a location inside their second café, which is a bigger location. I guess you guys will probably see that on the video. But there’s basically a tienda, a small store inside the café. And it’s a collaboration that I’ve done with these guys, with Café Revolución. It’s a mix of culture. We have the café that’s very popular. There are all kinds of people coming in. There’s a lot of Colombian people that come here. It’s a Colombian neighborhood. There are also a lot of travelers. There’s a lot of tourists. There are people from all around the world that come inside this café. There’s a big exchange of ideas.

So it worked out to have the brand inside the café. It’s been a great collaboration. We also do a lot of events together. We do trivia events. We do music events. We do all kinds of different cultural events that are inside the café that we can collaborate on.

Julian Power: Can you also talk a little more about your music?

Rob LaFond: I’m working on the demos to record my next album in Colombia. I have three albums so far. Two of them are EPs, which means a smaller album. The project that I’m working on now is a trilogy of EPs. I started it in Los Angeles. The first one got a little bit of popularity. It got played on the radio there in LA. And the second one I released before I left. But like I said it’s a three-part series. The first one is called “When We Fly.” The second one is called “High and Low.” The third one will finish that sentence.

So it’s a piece of work. I think a lot of people are making songs and you just get the songs off iTunes, but I still like to have a story, a continuation of a story through music. I think music is based on storytelling.

Julian Power: What would you say to people that are thinking about coming to Medellin but are still undecided?

I want to say something witty here. I would say get ready. I think if you’re a creative person and you feel like you have some creative ideas, I would say try it. I think this is a very vibrant city right now and it’s a changing city. A lot has happened in the last 10 years here. It’s like New York in the ’70s or the east part of LA in the ’90s or something like that, where they have these artist communities where artists can live not super expensive, so they can create art but they can also live a pretty decent lifestyle, like I was saying earlier. You can get good vegan food. There’s yoga, there are all the things that you would think of in a first world country. You have access to everything.

There’s still parts of the city that are, running a business here is still a lot different from running a business in different places I think. But I think if you have creative ideas this is a good city. There’s a lot of opportunity right now. The city is very open to new ideas at this moment. There’s a change in the people and you can try things that are new or take a spin off other ideas. I think the people here are a lot more open to it. So I think it’s a cool city to make things like that happen, cool creative projects. A lot of it has been unused. There’s so much inspiration. Me being a photographer and stuff like that, when I was in Los Angeles, it was like everything had already been shot before. From the Hollywood sign, from this thing. Everyone has already used this material. But in large part, there are so many places in Medellin that have not been used in different creative ways yet. So there’s a lot of opportunity for that as well.

Tarek Kholoussy talks about his social enterprise Nomads Giving Back!

Tarek Kholoussy headshot

I interviewed Tarek Kholoussy for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with Tarek on its own. He is the founder of the social enterprise Nomads Giving Back!, which inspires digital nomads and travelers to give back to local communities around the world. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Julian Power: Right now I’m in the meeting room of my coworking space, La Casa Redonda, with Tarek. I interviewed Tarek one year ago for my master’s thesis in economic geography, which was about the locational choices of digital nomads. And I think you were here at that time, right?

Tarek Kholoussy: Yeah, I was here a year ago.

Julian Power: And since then you have been moving around a lot. What made you come back to Medellin?

Tarek Kholoussy: First of all, thanks for inviting me to chat with you.

Julian Power: Thanks for coming.

Tarek Kholoussy: I was really excited to finally get to meet you in person. I’m glad that you’re here. I chose Medellin for a few reasons. I just love, first and foremost, the people. The Colombians are amazing. They’re so full of life, very friendly, very smiling type of people. They really feel like they seem to enjoy life. And I feel like their energy is contagious. So I’m in a lucky situation where I can choose where I want to live. And I chose here, and I keep coming back to here because it makes me feel more alive.

Julian Power: The same for me. The love of life of Colombians is remarkable.

Tarek Kholoussy: And also if I can add to that, in addition to the people, I love the overall atmosphere. You can feel the energy of not just Medellin, the city life with all the opportunities to go to cool restaurants and cafés, but they have a really strong fitness culture as well. I love going to a big gym and going to a class that they have. There are also amazing retreats around the country. Speaking of the country, if you step outside the city, you have such diversity in opportunities to go to the farmland, the mountains, the sun bay. You can go of course to the beaches. So in a relatively small country, there’s a lot of diversity.

Julian Power: That’s true. Do you see any downsides of living here?

Tarek Kholoussy: Yeah. I think there’s probably one downside that I come into almost daily that is 100% self-imposed. I don’t speak Spanish yet, so I know that I’m limiting my potential of benefiting from being in such an amazing, dynamic place by not being able to connect at another level. And that’s why I admire that you’re learning Spanish. It’s the right way to do it. If I find myself committing to a place for long enough, I promised myself that I’m going to invest the time and energy, because I think that’s the best thing to do. That’s the downside is that I’m not taking full advantage of immersing as much as I could.

Julian Power: And you have also been living in a lot of other cities which are very popular with digital nomads, for example Chiang Mai and Ubud. What’s the main difference in living here instead of one of those two cities?

Tarek Kholoussy: It’s a great question. I do have a lot of love and respect for Ubud, Changgu, Bali and Chiang Mai. I’m in a situation where I travel around the world and I see it as a buffet. And I keep going back for seconds and thirds, but only to the places that I love. And Medellin is right up there near the top. I think one of the key differences, they’re all amazing, but one of the key differences in Medellin is that the local people are more engaged and out there, living Westernized. Not Westernized, but having fun, dancing, they’re all in that element. Of course, you have that in Bali, of course, you have that in Chiang Mai, but probably not to the same level. That sort of like energetic dancing crowd, that’s always out, looks like they’re full of life.

There are pros and cons of every choice, of every place you want to be, but I think Medellin, I think there’s a higher level of engagement between locals and foreigners. At least in the social circles I’ve been involved in than say in Thailand. And I definitely love and have met a lot of great Thai people and of course Balinese people, but it takes a little more effort I think.

Julian Power: Yeah. It seems the cultural gap is bigger from the culture between America or Europe to Asian cultures. And also the language gap is bigger.

Tarek Kholoussy: Right. I think the language gap is a huge aspect. Even though I may not speak Thai or Balinese, you can connect more with Spanish. You can’t go wrong with any of these places.

Julian Power: That’s true. What I also find interesting is that you’re turning 40 soon and you have three life goals. Can you tell more of the reasoning behind it?

Tarek Kholoussy: Sure. Where do I start? My background, I’m American. I grew up in the States, worked in the States. I did almost all my career in New York City and London. But I found myself realizing that the corporate world wasn’t for me anymore at a certain point. And I decided to go off and travel and to get into running. I also got into social impact projects like volunteering, things like that. And then about a year into this self-discovery journey, I found myself with so many options and so much flexibility. But to a point where I had option paralysis. I wasn’t sure which way to go. I know these are great problems to have, but they were still a challenge.

So I thought long and hard about what are my life goals and how do I keep myself on track? I decided to set three long-term goals. This was about two years ago. And I found that I was almost 1000 days away from turning the big 4-0. So I said “Okay, let me do mind, body and soul goals. Let me do these three goals in the next 1000 days before I turn 40.” And here I am. I find myself with about 200 and some days, 220 days left. And those three goals are for my soul I feel like I learn a lot for my soul growth with travel because I get to explore the world and in exploring the world I explore myself. So I said: “Let me try to explore 100 countries before I turn 40.”

For my body, in the last say five or six years I got into running long distance. And I love to run in marathons. I think it’s a great way to engage in the local country you’re traveling in. And also to force myself to stay healthy, because to stay in marathon shape you got to be reasonably healthy. And so I set a 25 marathon goal. And I’m pleased to share that two weeks ago exactly I ran my 25th marathon right here in Medellin.
That’s the first and only of the three I’ve hit. But I’m still optimistic.

And the final goal is for my mind. I want to apply my business skills and experience in a positive way because I would love to, I’ve done several social impact projects in the past from volunteering in places like Kenya and Zambia and China and Sri Lanka and Bali. I love to get involved in fundraisers or do volunteer work or at least raise awareness of these causes. So I think I’m ready now to focus and build my own, create a social enterprise. So I said: “Okay, before I turn 40 I will launch some sort of social enterprise.”

Julian Power: Let us talk a little more about the last point. What are you working on right now?

Tarek Kholoussy: I checked off the marathons. I have only two countries left to hit 100. So I’m pretty confident, as long as nothing surprising happens, I can do that. And so now I’m starting to turn my focus to the social enterprise, the socially conscious business. And I think where I’m at now is that I have the vision clear. I’m feeling compelled to try to find a way to inspire travelers and nomads and expats to give back more to the local communities that we’re living in, the places that we’re calling home away from home. And I feel like this is where at least in the next few years what I’m meant to do. I want to share the insights that I have learned myself and build it into this concept where I find some way of letting people know how much giving back has helped me in many ways. I feel like it’s almost a responsibility to give back to places that we are in some fashion benefiting from because otherwise, we wouldn’t choose to be in those places.

I feel like it’s a win-win thing. I’m very early on in the stage, but I’m quite excited in the next few months to get ready to launch it and meet my goal, but also really feel more committed towards longer-term progress. I’m ready for it.

Julian Power: That sounds really good. And let me know when you’ve launched. Thank you for being part of this documentary.

Tarek Kholoussy: Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. I wish you all the best. I’m excited about all the recent stuff you’re doing, the writing you’re doing. I think this and your book are going to be very valuable to a lot of people out there.

Wes Wagner describes the start-up scene in Medellín

Wes Wagner profile photo

I interviewed Wes Wagner for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with Wes on its own. He works remotely for the start-up Microverse and splits his time between Medellín and Indianapolis. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Julian Power: Right now I’m sitting in the meeting room of La Casa Redonda with Wes, one of my co-workers. He used to work for an American software start-up and had a remote job in the marketing department. But two weeks ago you quit your job.

Wes Wagner: Today is actually my last day. It was a job I connected with and got through the university. I worked with them when I was at the university, it’s a small start-up and I was the fifth employee. Now we’re about eight. There’s some traction and it’s growing. I really want to come down to Latin America and get more involved in the tech and entrepreneurial scene down here and I realized that being with them didn’t help me in that respect, so I decided to leave and now I’m ready to join another start-up with a more global focus.

Julian Power: One thing that’s very interesting is that you went straight from university, so you graduated and you went straight to Medellin.

Wes Wagner: Yeah.

Julian Power: You didn’t try to find a job in the States as most graduates do?

Wes Wagner: A little background to that is that I traveled around Latin America for the last couple of years whenever I had a little break and I studied abroad in Buenos Aires. And I have been fascinated by Latin American tech ecosystems. And I also just love entrepreneurship and working at small startups. In the United States, compared to here there’s not a ton of opportunity to take huge risks, to really live off a minimum salary and try to do something on your own. So I saw the opportunity here in Medellin. The cost of living is very low and there’s a lot of new entrepreneurs that are flocking here. So that was a no brainer for me. This is one of the biggest tech hubs in Latin America outside of Buenos Aires and Santiago, Chile, and Mexico City.
And Medellín has one of the highest quality of life and flights are really cheap to go here. Everything pointed to Medellin. It was a pretty easy decision for me actually to come down here.

Julian Power: You have lived in Buenos Aires for a couple of months. Why did you decide to come to Medellin instead of Buenos Aires? Because Buenos Aires is also popular among remote entrepreneurs.

Wes Wagner: Actually there was no study abroad program in Buenos Aires when I studied there. I lived there for five months and there was no steady program for my business school. So study abroad was an excuse. The real reason I went down there was because of the digital nomads and entrepreneurship scene. And so I really liked my experience there, but I did learn a lot about their scene and their pros and cons. While they have about a third of the unicorns in Latin America, a third of companies that are valued at more than a billion US dollars, they shrunk because their economy is constantly fluctuating. Inflation’s really high. You have to take a really long plane ride to get anywhere, so they’re kind of isolated. And the food, I love the steak, but after five months I couldn’t really handle it. I met some great entrepreneurs in the city and had a great time there, but I don’t think they’re going to be the top-ranked Latin American tech hub. So instead of going back to Buenos Aires, Medellin called me.

Julian Power: And you told me before that you came here for two and a half months to try it out and see how much you liked it. So how much do you like Medellin so far?

Wes Wagner: I’m already looking at flights back in January. So I’ve loved it so far. Everyone told me when I came down here “If you do a two month test period you’re going to stay.” “No, let’s wait and see how it goes.” I’m at the end of that test period and I can tell that I am definitely coming back because I’m just blown away at how friendly the people are, how good the food is. I love the healthy lifestyle here. I’m working out and eating healthy. We’re in the middle of these beautiful mountains. I love it here because Medellin is incredibly cheap. The people are incredibly friendly. I come from a place in the United States, the Midwest, where the people are very friendly, we get to know our neighbors, things like that. I hadn’t experienced that yet in Latin America. Peru, Mexico, Cuba, Uruguay and Argentina. I actually only lived in Argentina. The people there are incredibly friendly. So that’s one of the reasons I want to live down here, I want to stay down here.

The proximity to the US is important too. I can take half a day to get back home to the United States. The entrepreneurship scene is huge. That’s some of the reasons why I want to stay in Medellin. It’s really cheap. The entrepreneurial culture is growing. The community is growing like crazy. It’s close to the United States. There’s a variety of food and there’s a huge hub of global entrepreneurs and people that are trying to make it here because they’ve really cut their overhead expenses and take risks creatively for businesses, etc.

Julian Power: So you come from the Midwest? You told me before that you want to spend your time between Indianapolis and Medellin. What’s the reasoning behind this?

Wes Wagner: I don’t think you have to choose where you want to live, it doesn’t has to be a 12 months of the year thing because now we have remote work and flights are becoming cheaper and cheaper. People generally live in the cities. I love Indianapolis because my family and friends are there. I love the tech scene there as well. But at the same time, I want to travel and be surrounded by other cultures. So my home town isn’t really an international hub like Medellín. And so because I have that privilege that I can live 9 months in one city and 3 months in another one, there’s no reason why I’m not going to choose that option if I have two amazing communities. I’m all for it. Right now I don’t have any big commitments: I’m not married, I don’t have any houses or things like that that are tying me down. So right now I plan to indefinitely be nine months in Medellin and three months back in Indianapolis.

Julian Power: I feel the same, having two or three home bases is a very good compromise between stationary living and the digital nomad lifestyle. You write a lot, and one of your main topics is the entrepreneurial scene in Latin America. What do you think about the startup scene?

Wes Wagner: I’ve met entrepreneurs in Cuba. I’ve met entrepreneurs in Peru, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. There are so many things that you go for and look for in a growing tech ecosystem, one of the biggest things is been-there-done-that- entrepreneurs. People that have grown businesses sold them and are now helping others with advice and investing. I think that’s was Medellín is lacking, but it’s doing well in a lot of other factors. The quality of life is really important. It attracts a lot of great talent. There’s an amazing quality of software engineering talent. It’s approaching a critical mass where any software company definitely finds the developers it needs.

The community is lacking a little bit. I’ve been looking for a regular event that brings the entrepreneurial community together. A crucial part of a startup ecosystem is the community, something that brings people together to exchange ideas, find a co-founder, find digital employees. That’s something that Medellin still lacks. There’s not one central community event. There’s places like Ruta N, a government-sponsored entrepreneurial hub if you will where people can come to work on a business and hopefully stay. But it’s mostly foreign entrepreneurs. It’s not the local people. There’s not a lot of mixture of others. There’s a lot of meetups for Ruby on Rails or Java. But I just don’t think that Medellin has something that really brings entrepreneurs together. That’s really lacking.

From my understanding, Medellin is transitioning from a service sector and a service economy to a global economy, more of a tech entrepreneurial, global digital economy. I think we’re going to see that in the next five to 10 years. The number one reason I think people come to Medellin in the tech sector is because it is the land of opportunity. The cost of living is so low and the people are so nice. The level of creativity and entrepreneurship is so high that if you want to do anything, take big risks, try to start a business, I don’t think there’s a better place in the world than Medellin.

Julian Power: Thanks for being part of the documentary. Good luck with your new job.

Wes Wagner: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Interview with Juana Restrepo (La Casa Redonda, Co-Founder)

Juana Restrepo founder of La Casa Redonda

I interviewed Juana Restrepo for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with Juana on its own. She is one of the co-founders of La Casa Redonda, a popular co-working space in Laureles. Five Colombian friends founded La Casa Redonda as a collective in 2016 and the co-working space has grown organically over time. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:

Juana Restrepo: Hola.

Julian Power: Juana is one of the founders of the La Casa Redonda. Right now we’re sitting in the café which is part of La Casa Redonda.

Juana Restrepo: Café Volcánico.

Julian Power: And we’re going to talk a little bit about the founding story of La Casa Redonda.

Juana Restrepo: Okay.

Julian Power: And the change in Medellín. Before I came here when I was in Germany, I read about La Casa Redonda on the internet.

Juana Restrepo: Sí.

Julian Power: And I read good stuff, so I decided to take an apartment, which is nearby La Casa Redonda.

Juana Restrepo: And you just looked for co-working spaces in Medellín and La Casa Redonda appeared?

Julian Power: Yeah, I was looking specifically for Laureles. And this one has the best community.

Juana Restrepo: And what did you know about Laureles already?

Julian Power: It’s less touristy than Poblado and that’s the main reason. And it’s cheaper as well. Those were the two main factors. So I rented an apartment nearby and now that I’ve experienced La Casa Redonda I really like the community of people here. Everyone says so, but it’s very true. It’s like a good spirit, and always when I come here, I feel good. And it’s also a good mix of internationals and Colombians. So it’s not just Colombians, not just internationals, but both. And it’s also not just software programmers. It’s like everything, artists, writers, photographers, architects.

Juana Restrepo: Even engineers.

Julian Power: For example, this Australian guy, he’s doing an interesting project. He’s working on a Spanish course.

Juana Restrepo: I had an interview with him. Shay is his name.

Julian Power: Yeah, Shay. Shout out to him.

Juana Restrepo: I really like that you recognize that about La Casa Redonda because that’s what we want to make people feel. And the people can enjoy working in this place, share it with locals and also people from all over the world. If you’re from China, from Chile, from Madrid, we have a good mix of people here.

Julian Power: Yeah, that’s very true.

Juana Restrepo: Some are younger, some are older, but all of them want to share. The main thing we all want, share and get to know each other, starting from the part of the world that you come from and after that whatever you do in your daily work.

Julian Power: Yeah, that’s true. I also think now we’re coming to the founding story, because this spirit is in part of because it’s a collective.

Juana Restrepo: Yeah. We are friends that wanted to have space together to work from. And we created La Casa Redonda to support that.

Julian Power: Yeah, I read in an article that you started in 2016?

Juana Restrepo: Yep.

Julian Power: And first you started with a trial. So you had one building which was going be demolished, but it had one remaining year so you could use it as working space.

Juana Restrepo: It was a pilot. So we went there. We filled the house and we started working independently. The house was so big that we just started adding more people. “Hey, do you wanna have a place to work? We have one. Come and share it.” And people started enjoying the community and the way we work, and we have now La Casa Redonda as an official business.

Julian Power: Yeah. So it worked really well, so you decided you’re going to put more energy into this.

Juana Restrepo: We paint. We build. We did a lot of things to have this house the way you see it.

Julian Power: Yeah, it’s really nice.

Juana Restrepo: We wanted to have a combination of art but also basic spaces. So we are not going to be just creatives. We wanted to have people from engineers, designers, psychologists. People can feel comfortable no matter what they do in the same space. That’s why you’re going to see a lot of art on our walls.

Julian Power: That’s the big main idea behind starting it as a concept.

Juana Restrepo: Because we have an architect in our group, so they wanted to do crazy ideas, and we all approved them. When we want to have a hallway mural, why not?

Julian Power: That’s a good point for my next question. I was wondering how many people are in the collective?

Juana Restrepo: We are five founders of La Casa Redonda. But now we have two working full-time for La Casa Redonda. We have at least 60 people from all parts of the world.

Julian Power: I was thinking on one side it’s a big advantage. It’s a very big project. There’s a lot of work and also financially, so you need a lot of manpower and womanpower to do this. But also it can be difficult if you have five people who have to decide. Is it a problem? Or how do you manage decision making?

Juana Restrepo: The daily decisions are in charge of Miguel and I. We don’t have to ask the five every single thing. But we do create together the business we want. So if we need to decide or we have to consider something, we ask the whole group. And we all work in here, so it’s very easy because two of the five are working here for La Casa Redonda, but the others are near working on other things. But they can help in the daily things.

Julian Power: So communication is really easy. So you never had a big conflict?

Juana Restrepo: Of course we have. It’s normal. Discussions and arguing. But I think we are very good and unique, a good group of workers. We are very good together.

Julian Power: Yeah, I think it’s a great energy. I really do like it. Let’s talk a bit about Medellín as well. In the last couple of years, Medellín became very popular with tourists and digital nomads and international people. Have you seen changes and what kind of changes have you seen?

Juana Restrepo: I think Medellín has the best weather in the world, so it is very welcoming and we want to have visitors. What I like about the people that come here are that they want to have this city as a a new city, it’s like, you are going to have an exchange. Apart from all the foreigners, who are spending one or two weeks in Poblado because it’s more touristic, and that’s it. They want to have fun and they want to know the culture, they want to know the city, but they just leave quickly. But people like you stay longer. They want to spend more than a month. So they want to be involved in the culture. They are sharing their life with us. That is changing. But it’s good to know that we are growing with tourism.

Julian Power: Yeah, I think Laureles has huge potential because you can walk everywhere. A lot of students because of the university, it’s a very young crowd. There are bars, restaurants, everything.

Juana Restrepo: And you have a lot of options here because you have bars, restaurants, markets and everything, but it’s not like you’re going to find a big nightlife. That is helpful with the bad tourism.

Julian Power: There is La Setenta, but there are no tourists, right?

Juana Restrepo: But La Setenta is separate from everything. There are hostels, bars and restaurants, but it’s not for living. So the living part is in the streets nearby, but not in La Setenta.

Julian Power: I think we have covered the main topics. Thank you for being part of this documentary.

Juana Restrepo: Of course. Thank you for having me here.

Julian Power: Yeah, you’re welcome. I really like the project, and I’m excited to see how it works out in the next couple of years.

Juana Restrepo: Me too. Nice to see you. And we are going to share it with all the people because we love Los Redondos.

Why I killed my first book last minute

paper bin full of paper

As an entrepreneur, you have to make tough choices every day, and one of the hardest ones is to pull the plug from a project which is almost finished. In my case, I had written the draft of my first book (≈50.000 words) in Colombia and the remaining steps were revising the draft, sending it to my editor, and incorporating her feedback.

The book is called Medellín Journal and describes my work (filming two documentaries, building a personal brand, writing a book, networking, etc.) and personal experience (learning salsa, paragliding, going to a week-long meditation retreat, traveling to Bogotá and Cartagena, etc.) living for four months in Medellín. The overarching theme is the struggle of a young writer (don’t laugh).

Since the beginning of the project I had doubts about the viability of the book concept, but I pushed them aside because the marketing side looked promising at first glance and I was already emotionally invested in the idea. Medellin is a trending city and there aren’t any popular Medellín-themed books in the Amazon store yet. It’s a big market opportunity, which is ripe for the taking.

The book concept is still flawed. I don’t have a big following and Julian Power isn’t a big brand (yet). Therefore, people most likely don’t care what I have experienced in Medellín. I had broken one of the biggest rules of book publishing: Don’t make the book about yourself. On top of that, the book lacks fundamentals like a coherent arch of suspense. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not a great one either.

I had to make a tough decision between two sub-optimal options.
Option 1: I cut my losses and move on. This way I don’t spend any more time and money on the book and I am not hurting my brand with a mediocre book.
Option 2: I carry on and publish the book. This way I have to invest even more resources into the project and potentially damage my brand.
I decided to take the hit and move on. Mainly because I am not willing to compromise on quality and I don’t want to be associated with a mediocre book.

The writing was good practice and I can use parts of the draft for future blog posts, but at the end of the day, it’s still a lousy ROI for almost 500 hours of work. So what have I learned from this experience? I have four main takeaways:

  1. Don’t fall in love with your ideas too early. Ask other people about their opinion and be open to constructive feedback.
  2. I should have explored more book ideas and pick the most promising one. This way I probably would have come up with a more original idea.
  3. I should have written a book proposal. When you self-publish, you don’t need one, but it’s a great way to find blind spots and to check the viability of a book concept.
  4. I should have listened earlier to my inner voice, which told me to reconsider the book project.

My original plan was to focus all my effort on a new book project called The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which is fairly self-explanatory. I have already written a book proposal and this book has a much bigger market because it’s entirely about Medellín and not about me.

I realized that I can’t afford to write a book right now. Writing books isn’t a great business model and that’s especially true for unknown first time writers. One of the writers I follow closely is David Kadavy, who already has a big following. He recently published an article where he breaks down how he earned only $3000 in profit in the first year for his first self-published book The Heart to Start. The book has great reviews and was endorsed by Seth Godin, so you can imagine that the sales numbers for my book are going to be much smaller.

I am going to put The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City on the back burner and focus on more profitable ventures this year. When I have less financial pressure I am going to come back to the project.

In hindsight, it would have been great if I would have already written The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City in Colombia, but that’s not how it works. The creative process is messy and non-linear and it took me a long time to come up with the new concept and refine it. Maybe my example prevents you from making the same mistake in the future.
The rest is up to you,

WeWork Medellin Review

wework medellin coworking space view

Before I visited the WeWork Medellin, I had the perception that I can’t afford a WeWork membership, at least in the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey because WeWork is the Rolls-Royce among co-working spaces in terms of amenities and pricing. A while ago, I read an article that WeWork has a similar valuation like Airbnb, which caught my eye. WeWork is still flying under the radar given that they are the largest office tenant in New York City (sic!). At the time, I checked the prices for a hot desk in Berlin and was appalled by the high price tag. Right now, a hot desk in Berlin costs between 350€ and 380€ (plus taxes), which is more than I am willing to pay for a desk. I think this price point is only attractive for large companies who have remote employees.

I assumed that the prices were the same everywhere, but there is a considerable variation across countries, cities and locations within a city. That makes sense given the local differences in co-working offerings, real estate prices, local demand and purchasing power. For example, a hot desk in Medellin costs only around 155€ (plus taxes). Therefore, it’s worth checking out the prices in your city of interest and decide on a case by case basis.

working in coworking space La Casa Redonda

The benchmark: La Casa Redonda

I love La Casa Redonda, my current co-working space in Laureles, but when I heard that WeWork has opened up a co-working space in Poblado recently, I had to check it out. I have never been to a WeWork co-working space and I was keen to see what all the hype was about. Co-working spaces come in all forms and sizes and La Casa Redonda and WeWork are both on opposite sides of the spectrum. La Casa Redonda was started by a collective of Colombian friends and has a very artsy and personal feel to it. The crowd is a diverse mix of creatives, entrepreneurs, freelancers and startups. It has a studio which houses a painter, a paper artist, and a tattoo artist. The Redondos are one big family and two adorable dogs are part of it.

WeWork, on the other hand, is a multinational with a valuation of $20 billion and deep pockets to expand aggressively. They have 477 locations in 95 cities at the time of writing this article. They are known for their state of the art offices in prime locations, and they take pride in their global community.

In a way, it’s global capital vs. local creatives. Both co-working spaces are located in different neighborhoods, so they are not competing directly yet. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if WeWork opens more co-working spaces in Medellin soon. For me, it doesn’t make sense to commute from Laureles to Poblado and vice versa because I am a big proponent of living within walking distance of your workspace to save time and nerves.

Working for a day at the WeWork co-working space in Medellin

I booked a free tour online. I recommend using the contact form of the specific location and not the general one for a free day pass, where I booked two times without getting a response. Before the tour, I listened to an episode of How I Built This, where one of the co-founders tells the founding story of WeWork. I like the podcast How I Built This in general, but this has been my favorite episode so far.

On the day of the tour, I took a taxi to the Santa Fé Mall and walked from there to the neighboring WeWork building. I arrived at 10 AM and talked to the receptionist, who sent me to the 17th floor, where the hot seat area is located. The community manager welcomed me and showed me around the building. The kitchen and the community area were huge and impressive. Everything was bright and modern and similar to how I would imagine the offices of companies like Facebook or Google. WeWork spaces are known for perks like free craft beer on a tab and micro-roasted coffee. According to a recent WSJ article, the unlimited beer is going to be limited soon though. I was pleasantly surprised to see a sufficient number of phone booths in the hot desk area. Shockingly few co-working spaces have them, and people have to misuse the meeting room or find a quiet corner for calls. The best part was the big terrace and the view over the high-rise buildings in Poblado and the surrounding mountains. There is something magical about working on your laptop and overseeing the Andes Mountains.

The hot desk costs COL$570,000 (plus taxes), which is excellent value for money, considering the amenities and the view. By comparison, I pay COL$433,000 (plus taxes) for my monthly La Casa Redonda membership. The only catch is that the hot desks were fully booked at the time of my visit, which is remarkable given that it just opened a couple of weeks ago. The small offices (1-4 people) were also already fully booked. WeWork offers more expensive dedicated desks for COL$820.000 (plus taxes) as an alternative. With a dedicated desk, you have your own desk in a large private office. The offices are quiet and situated on a lower floor, but you can use the hot desk area as well. Naturally, the number of tenants is fluctuating and you can always check online if a spot opened up and pounce when the opportunity presents itself. The hot desk area was relatively empty even though it was fully booked at the time and I sat down at the desk with the best view over the mountains.

The majority of tenants were young Colombian professionals (≈90%) dressed in business chic. During my visit, there was a pitch event with education startups in the communal area, and in the evening there was a member networking event with free finger food and superb gin and tonic. I talked for a bit with the friendly community manager, who told me that he was the first hire in Medellin.

La Casa Redonda vs. WeWork Medellin

I left the WeWork space impressed. If I would start a company with employees, I would probably rent an office there. It’s the perfect working environment and very representative at the same time. I can also see myself working from WeWork for a couple of months for writing a book. The view is very inspiring and pushes you to creative peak performance. Based on my small sample size of one day working there I got the impression that the community is more geared towards startups and Iess towards freelancers and solopreneurs.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to miss the creative vibes of La Casa Redonda. Not to mention the dogs and the overall friendly atmosphere. You can feel the difference between a collective, which grew organically over time and a multinational, who hires a community manager for each city. The community manager was great, but you can still feel the difference between a top-down and a bottom-up community approach.

Alternative in Poblado

For the sake of completeness, I am going to mention another nice co-working space in Poblado. I have worked for two days at the Selina co-working space, which is a good alternative when you want to work within walking distance of Parque Lleras. Selina is significantly cheaper then WeWork. A monthly hotdesk membership sets you back a measly COL$225.000 (plus taxes). That’s less than half than what you pay for a WeWork membership. The co-working space is also new and stylish, but less so than WeWork. To be fair, it’s going to be hard to find a more dapper co-working space than WeWork.

Selina Cowork has one cool feature, which WeWork (to my knowledge) doesn’t have. They have a relaxation room with mattresses, where you can take a break and meditate or nap. When I worked there, I used the room for a 10 minutes power nap. I had the room for myself and afterward, I felt refreshed and ready for a second writing session. More co-working spaces should have a relaxation room, IMHO. Another key difference is the demographic of the coworkers. I saw mainly freelancers and solopreneurs and fewer startups at Selina. The Colombians to Foreigner ratio is 10/90 and therefore inverted in comparison with WeWork. The more international makeup makes sense given that the co-working space is part of the Selina Hostel. The hostel factor contributes to a fast turnover of coworkers, which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your preferences. As a side note, the WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann has invested heavily in the Selina chain.

Conclusion

Long story short, the choice of a co-working space comes down to your personal budget and preferences. To allow a better comparison, let’s assume La Casa Redonda and WeWork were located right next to each other in Poblado. WeWork has the resources to invest in state of the art amenities and design and it shows in their co-working space. Therefore it’s almost impossible to beat WeWork in this domain. A unique feature of the WeWork space in Medellin is the spectacular view over the Andes Mountains. The price of 155€ (plus taxes) for a hot desk is also great value for money. If you want to work in a sleek and modern office, there is no way around WeWork. The only downside is the shortage of hot desks, so you might have to pay for a more expensive dedicated desk.

In comparison, I also like the artsy and creative style of La Casa Redonda, but it can’t compete with a view over the Andes. The biggest strength of La Casa Redonda is its awesome community and welcoming atmosphere. The exchange with my coworkers so far has been invaluable. Right now, the community aspect is more important for me, so I am still preferring La Casa Redonda. Nonetheless, the rapid success of the WeWork co-working space in Medellin demonstrates the huge potential of the city and it’s always good to have more options. Now you know everything you need to know about WeWork in Medellin. The rest is up to you,

 

 

PS: Feel free to use my referral link when you sign up for a WeWork membership.

The power of home bases

The concept of digital nomadism fascinates me. However, it’s not a satisfying lifestyle for myself. I like the digital part, which means you work online and thus you are location independent, but I don’t like the implication of nomadism, which means you are moving around constantly. Semantically speaking, digital nomadism could mean that it gives you the option to move around, which you don’t have to exercise. But in my understanding you are also exercising this option as a digital nomad; otherwise, you would be location independent. I would call myself location independent, but not a digital nomad. 


I plan on living in different cities for an extended period (3-12 months) to find suitable home bases. A home base is a compromise between stationary living and constant traveling. You live alternatively in two or three cities. For example, six months in Barcelona and six months in Medellín each year. I think it’s also a good option for Digital Nomads, who have traveled the globe for a couple of years and got travel fatigue. Matthew Karsten has written an excellent article on this topic and his own transformation.


I have already found my first home base in Europe: Barcelona. Now I am looking for another home base in Latin America for some variety. My first destination is Medellín, where I am staying for four months. I am also interested in other destination like Bocas del Toro (Panama), Córdoba (Argentina),  Florianópolis (Brazil) and Lima (Peru). You could argue that these travel pattern also falls under the umbrella of digital nomadism, but I associate the term with shorter stays.

Entrepreneurial hubs

As a bootstrapped online entrepreneur, you are looking for a destination with a combination of low cost of living, high quality of life and a good internet connection. Many cities meet these criteria. Let’s say you additionally want to work in a city with an existing community of entrepreneurs, because of the network effects. This criterion narrows the lists of potential cities down dramatically. These cities become more and more attractive over time because of compounding network effects:

  1. Barcelona (Europe)
  2. Berlin (Europe)
  3. Buenos Aires (South America)
  4. Chiang Mai (South East Asia)
  5. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) (South East Asia)
  6. Medellín (South America)
  7. Ubud (South East Asia)


The choice of cities is somewhat subjective, but I exclusively considered cities with a critical mass of online entrepreneurs. Some cities with a sizeable number of online entrepreneurs like Budapest, Canggu and Lisbon didn’t make the cut because they didn’t reach a critical mass of online entrepreneurs in absolute terms.

Stationary living vs. traveling

It surprises me that most jobs still require you to work in the same office every day. Increased employee satisfaction, decreased commuting time, a larger talent pool and no office lease are good arguments to shut down your office for good and switch to remote work. The main counter-arguments against remote work adhere to hindered communication and lower productivity. I do think that it takes extra effort to work in a remote work (clear communication, periodic company retreats, strong company culture, etc.), but the extra effort is rewarded with great flexibility in the long term.

A few companies like Automattic and Buffer embrace remote work and try new ways of collaboration, but the majority of firms holds on to traditional offices. The current job market dictates that you have to live a stationary life in most cases. As an online entrepreneur you are freed from these spatial limitations and new questions arise: In which city do I want to live? How long do I want to live there? Digital Nomads take this newfound freedom to the extreme and hop from one location to another and travel constantly.

I don’t think constant traveling is a sustainable lifestyle for your entire life, but I do think it can be an exciting phase when you are young. You have fewer responsibilities and you can see the world and experience different cultures. You also have to travel to test different home bases.


It’s not for me though, because when I travel longer than two weeks, I feel a growing sense of emptiness. I have backpacked one month with a friend in Thailand and one month on my own in Costa Rica and Panama and I experienced this feeling both times. I enjoy the experience of getting to know new cool places and people, but at the same time, it feels shallow. The richness and deepness of your travel experience depend on yourself, but whatever you do, at the end of the day, you are just a short-term visitor. While it feels like you are active because of your constant movement, you are still a passive consumer of local sights and attractions.

Another factor is the backpacking crowd. Backpackers tend to be interesting, positive and open, but often they lack drive and direction. That’s the whole point of backpacking after all; it’s a  form of escapism. Chilling at the beach in Ko Phi Phi and slurping cocktails is the opposite of getting shit done.

My favorite destination in Thailand was Ko Tao, where I got my PADI Open Water Diver certification. It was the only time during my month in Thailand when I was doing shit. I need some form of mission. My mission in Medellín is to improve my Spanish and to learn Salsa. I prefer to travel for short periods and then I don’t work at all. I schedule these trips after I hit an important milestone because it’s nice to execute towards a goal. The vacation is the reward for your grind and therefore you can appreciate it more. For example, I went to Porto for a long weekend after submitting my master thesis.

It’s also difficult to feel a sense of community and develop meaningful connections with other people when you stay in each location short-term. Modern technology facilitates communication, but nothing beats weekly face time with friends. Constant traveling also impacts your productivity level in two dimensions. It’s harder to stick to your work habits and routines and you have to find a good working environment with reliable internet in each new location.


Home bases

The stationary life is dull and constant traveling is exhaustive. What alternative do you have? The answer is home bases. They are the perfect compromise in that you get the best of both worlds while eliminating the downsides. You can be part of a community in your home bases and you can optimize your workspace while enjoying different cities at the same time. Each city has different strengths and weaknesses and with two or three cities you can cover all your needs. It’s unlikely that you can cover all your needs with one city.

Barcelona is my favorite city by far, but it lacks a sense of adventure because it’s located in Europe. I can balance this downside by having another home base in Medellin, which offers a different culture and climate. This way I am living partly in an international metropolis by the Mediterranean Sea and partly in the Andes Mountains. The location of both cities allows me to take short trips to other cities in Europe and Latin America.

How to choose home bases?

I have already recommended books, which help you find your perfect city, in my Barcelona article:
1. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent
2. The New Geography of Jobs
3. The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: Revised and Expanded
4. Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important  Decision of Your Life

Conclusion

You don’t have to go from one extreme (stationary living) to the other (digital nomadism). It’s a false dualism. Instead, you can choose the middle way, which is home bases. Now you know everything you need to know about choosing home bases.
The rest is up to you,

 

 

Recommended books

1. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent
2. The New Geography of Jobs
3. The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: Revised and Expanded
4. Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important  Decision of Your Life