AMAs October 29, 2019

Hey IH! My name is Danielle, I'm a digital nomad, indie founder, and JavaScript developer.

Danielle Johnson @dinkydani

Hey IH! My name is Danielle, I'm a digital nomad, indie founder, and JavaScript developer. I am originally from the UK, but 3 years ago I left it all behind to travel the world with my partner and best friend James.

We founded our remote web dev agency Squarecat while on the road together. For the past 10 months we have been working full-time on Leave Me Alone - a service to easily unsubscribe from unwanted emails with a focus on privacy.

Growth has been slow but steady, that is until the last couple of months when things started exploding for us! We were featured in Lifehacker, recommended in newsletters, guests on the Indie Hackers podcast, interviewed for Starter Story, and live streamed for 14 hours for our v2.0 launch!

We are proud to be an Open Startup, which means we share all of our metrics like revenue and users publicly. We also talk openly about the emotional rollercoaster that is founding a company - the ups and the downs.

I'll be here on Tuesday 12th of November at 14:00 Singapore time. AMA!

Update: Thank you so much for your questions! I really enjoyed answering them, and I hope I helped you in some way :)

  1. 4

    This is nice. I am also trying to build my own web dev agency with my friends. Any tips on how to get my first clients?

    1. 5

      Hey! That's really awesome :). We find all of our client projects through Moonlight Work referral link - it was founded by two travelling developers who built the platform to help themselves find work while they were on the road.

      It takes so much time to bid on project on websites like Freelancer or Fiver and there is so much competition from cheap software houses that it's rarely worth it for us. We have found the quality of clients and projects to be really high on Moonlight.

      We actually found our first client by accident - he was a guy we met working in a cafe in Chiang Mai, and there's lots of people hiring in Canggu, so networking and talking to people will also help to open up opportunities.

      Good luck!

      1. 2

        Thanks for the shout-out, Dani!

        1. 1

          No problem! Absolutely love what you both are doing 🙌

      2. 1

        I totally agree on bidding for projects on Freelancer. I will try to take a look at Moonlight, it looks great. Though my question is do they hire for projects or they hire full time developers?

        1. 2

          Both! Good luck :)

          1. 1

            It seems moonlight needs stripe account and Stripe is not yet available in my country. Do you suggest other platform or a workaround to create an account on Moonlight?

            1. 4

              Hey! We are looking at ways to expand payment support, but Stripe constantly is adding new countries. There is a workaround, which is setting up a company in a Stripe-supported country, such as the USA or Estonia.

            2. 1

              Sorry I don't :(
              You should Tweet and ask them :)

              1. 2

                Philip already chipped in above !

  2. 4

    Cool. I hope you can shed light on what it’s like to build a company with your significant other.

    1. 2

      It's incredible! I have found somebody with whom I can share every aspect of my life and the things I love; travel, coding, food etc. We spend almost all of our time together and I know that we are lucky to be so happy in each other's company almost all of the time.

      But, working with your SO isn't for everybody and it doesn't come without it's challenges even if we do have a great thing going on!

      The single most important thing is to talk to each other. It sounds cliché but if you don't talk about your own problems, then they are going to cause bigger problems in your work and affect your company. Understanding each other and being receptive to each other's needs is also super important, but also understanding yourself and how you work. For example, I know that am an extroverted thinker. This means that I think by talking through my thoughts and often come to conclusions before the other person has said anything. This can be tiring, and distracting when we are trying to work, so I need to be aware of this.

      There's also the issue of leaving work at work and maintaining a work-life-balance. This isn't much of a problem that we face, but sometimes we end up talking about work stuff pretty much all the time, and it's important to switch off and have time without out. We actually started doing a "no cell phone Sundays" which was really nice - we don't do this right now but we should start again! Oh and also no cell phones at the dinner table. Because we travel so often, eating out isn't a treat, it's just every day life so it's easy to just carry on working or be on Twitter while we wait for food - but it's a good habit to put down the phone/laptop and focus on each other for a little bit of time each day.

      I actually wrote a blog post series about our nomad life together and which included more on what it's like for us to live, travel, and work together if you're interested then the stuff about the challenges we face is in part 3 here

      1. 2

        Wow this is great stuff! My girlfriend and I each freelance on our own as well as have our own business. We work side by side every day, but we aren't working together. Sometimes it's challenging, but most days I think how incredibly lucky I am that I get to be next to my SO while I work.

        1. 1

          That's awesome! I'm super happy for you both :D

  3. 1


    2 questions -

    1. Are you guys forming a new business for each project or work under one main entity?

    2. I've been doing the DN thing for a while but never in Asia, what would one (or two people) expect in terms of living/coworking costs?

    1. 1

      Hey there!

      1. Are you guys forming a new business for each project or work under one main entity?
        All of our projects are Squarecat products - so under one entity :)
      1. I've been doing the DN thing for a while but never in Asia, what would one (or two people) expect in terms of living/coworking costs?
        It totally depends on your personal preferences, but we live comfortably and eat out 3 times a day for ~€50 a day combined.

      Roughly €500 on rent/accommodation (and because we are 2 people we can benefit from sharing rent for nicer places) and the rest on everything else.

      You can also expect ~€150-200 a month on co-working but Squarecat pays for that.

      We never spend over €2000 a month for the both of us everything included (flights etc).

  4. 1

    Do you miss anything about having a full-time, non-remote, 9:00-5:00 job?

    1. 2

      Not really, no! A few months ago I might have said that I miss the social aspect of non-remote work and long term friendships, but after finally giving in to the digital nomad hubs (Canggu, Bali and Chiang Mai) it's different.

      I've met so many incredible people who I have been friends with on Twitter or in Telegram groups for a while, and meeting them has really cemented the friendships. I never used to like co-working spaces, but going to the same place each day where there's people you know, chat to, get lunch with etc, fulfils the office social life need.

      It's important to find friendships and community as a nomad, and I'm so happy that we found it now! We just flew to Chiang Mai after 2 months in Canggu and there were already people here we knew that shared the best places to work and we can hang out with which is super nice!

      I have no desire to return to a full-time job, especially 9-5. I am not productive in an environment that forces me to be in the office when I know I won't get any work done because I am most productive after lunchtime and often work late at night. I don't miss office politics, bureaucracy, performance reviews etc haha. Maybe I do miss the guaranteed salary a little bit, but definitely not enough to go back to it!

      Thanks for the question @jivings and cc @adriaanvanrossum

    2. 2

      I'm curious about this too ;)

  5. 1

    Good to hear! keep it up :)

  6. 1

    Hi there! Big fan of your path as a digital nomad and developer. Aiming to do so myself one day, I'm wondering about some legal and administrative issues. For your dev agency, how do you charge customers (cash, wire)? How do you manage bank accounts and credit cards with all the travel?

    1. 1

      Hey thanks for the question!

      Our company is registered in Estonia, we invoice our customers in Euros, and payments are digital/wire. We are able to do this because we are both Estonian e-Residents which means we can start and run an EU company from anywhere in the world. Being able to do all of the legal/paperwork side of the business completely digitally is essential to us - I don't want to have to phone my UK bank or visit a branch to sign something for example!

      We use a variety of banks/cards for travel such as Revolut, Starling, Transferwise, and Monzo (yes I really do have all their cards). The hardest thing is trying to avoid fees because each card has a monthly limit for free cash withdrawals and most countries in SE Asia are cash only and charge for cash withdrawls. If you're not careful you can end up spending a lot to get your own money out!

      I hope that helps!

      1. 1

        Totally! Thanks for the info.

  7. 1

    Can I know more about Digital Nomad? like

    • How do you select a city/country to stay? What are your criterias?
    • How to rent places for short-term (Airbnb?)
    • How is it really like, as in: how many days/hours you work per week, work at where (co-working, cafe, home), how often do you move, how are the expenses like, etc.
    1. 2

      How do you select a city/country to stay? What are your criterias?
      In the beginning we had a rough route planned around SE Asia while we were travelling more than being nomads. Now though we are starting to choose places where other digital nomads are because we want to be around friends and people in the community. The biggest hubs are Chiang Mai (here right now lol) and Canggu, Bali. But we plan to take some time away from the hotspots to visit other places in between :)

      How to rent places for short-term (Airbnb?)
      Usually we book 1-2 nights in a hotel using Agoda (great in SE Asia) or and then find somewhere long term locally from Facebook groups and by visiting places. In Bali the best way is Facebook but in Chiang Mai it's best to just find a place when you're here. You can book on Airbnb of course, but it will be a lot more expensive and there is less choice, but it is more convenient. If you book Airbnb always message the host to ask for a long term discount :)

      How is it really like, as in: how many days/hours you work per week, work at where (co-working, cafe, home), how often do you move, how are the expenses like, etc.
      Roughly 35 hours a week I would say but it varies a lot. If we are working on a big feature or new release then it could be a lot more. We usually start work around 10-11am, break for some lunch, and finish up around 6pm. James often works in the mornings when I don't, and I work in the evenings when he doesn't! In Bali we use co-working spaces and everywhere else we work from cafes. We move every 1-2 months and spend an average of €50 per day for both of us.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the detail reply :)

  8. 1

    Hi Danielle,

    Do you think you and James would ever start a podcast?

    1. 2

      Hey! I don't think we will be. It's way too much hard work, requires a lot of preparation and time, and also needs all the correct gear like microphones etc which we don't have space to carry around in our luggage.

      A podcast is an entire product of it's own, and we want all our time to focus on Leave Me Alone :)

  9. 1

    As a fellow digital nomad and builder of startups, I applaud you. There are many people who will tell you it's impossible to build a business while traveling so glad to see you are doing it your way.

    My question is how often do you travel (for example, 6 countries in 6 months)? Or do you have a home base in say Thailand and take trips from there?

    1. 1

      Thank you so much! It can be difficult sometimes but it's worth it for me :)

      We have always travelled slowly, but our first year I would describe more as backpacking as we did a month or two in each country and travelled around them. Now we have slowed down a lot and are spending a month or two in one place in each country.

      We don't have a home base but we are starting to go to the same places more often because we have friends and community there (like Bali and Chiang Mai). We recently spent 2 months in Bali and now we're spending 2 months in CM and I really like the social aspect of being around other nomads - so we gotta go where they are!

      Generally we spend the European summer in Europe and the winter in SE Asia. This is working really well for us, I love Europe and by the time I've spent 6 months in Asia I'm missing it but it's too cold in winter!

      But we'd like to take a month or two off (or slow down on the work) and travel another country like Sri Lanka soon :)

  10. 1

    Indeed the emotional rollercoaster is the burden of every founder! (haha) Hang in there! Congratulations on the Growth and Welcome!

    1. 1

      Thank you! I'll do my best :)

      1. 1

        You are doing great so far! Just keep the good work! :D

  11. 1

    Congratulations on your success! This is fantastic.

    Keep up the great work :)

    1. 1

      Thanks for your kind words :)

  12. 1

    Nice to meet you, Danielle. I love the open startup initiative. How are you generating your open startup page exactly? Is it tied to bare metrics?

    Also - congrats on the new found success!

    1. 1

      Hey, thanks so much!

      Nope, our open page is all custom. We record stats for pretty much everything, have our own API for them, and then created the page ourselves with React and Chart.js.

      I wrote a blog post about it recently if you're interested it's here

  13. 1

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