This past weekend I attended a conference for digital nomads organized by Johnny FD in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

2017 Nomad Summit Speakers (Photo credit: Sean Dalton)

Speaker lineup:

  1. Why Nobody Will buy Your MVP and How To Become a Market Leader
    Hanne Vervaeck
  2. No Skills? No Problem! Hacks, Tips & Tools for Creating a Shit-ton of Stuff
    Leanne Beesley
  3. Earning Over $100,000 Creating the #1 Business Course on Udemy
    David Dang Vu
  4. Designing Experiences: How good UX increases revenue, sales, and signups
    Quinn Zeda
  5. From Selling Door to Door, to Selling Online
    Riley Bennett
  6. MarchFifth
    March Brenwall
  7. Nomading Long Term: Happily, without Burnout!
    Emma McLaren
  8. Thinking Outside the Box to Crush Big Goals
    Jubril Agoro
  9. Leveling Up in Life and Business: Digital Nomad Hierarchy of Needs
    Johnny FD

Keep reading for my notes + insights gleaned from their talks.

The Digital Nomad Summit in action; Remote Year Battuta representing; all the speakers on stage; with Johnny FD at the after party.

In spite of approaching my 3 year anniversary of traveling while working remotely, this was my first formal DN event (outside of doing Remote Year). All I knew before the event & reasons why I signed up:

  • Chiang Mai is apparently the place for digital nomads, and my friends that visited all loved it
  • I need to grow my network (+ find more prospective clients)
  • Remote Year ended and I didn’t have anywhere else I needed to be
  • A fellow RY2 wanted to come check it out (he does Amazon drop-shipping)

So I had no real expectations for the event, the people I’d meet, and whether I’d get anything out of it.

Would everyone be new nomads, or was this for long-term Chiang Mai expats? Would most people do drop-shipping, or would I get relevant information for my work and interests? Where do I even fit in to this community?

Attentive attendees :) (Photo credit: Sean Dalton)

My friend and I arrived at Le Meridien early (7:30 am), which gave us time to wake up with a nice coffee before check-in. At 8, check-in opened, so the 350 attendees started filling up the 4th floor conference area.

I met a handful of people straight away (yay for 30 seconds of courage to walk around alone and be friendly to strangers!), including another brand consultant, a content strategist + writer, and a travel blogger.

Over the weekend, I realized that with digital nomads, you’re meeting people who you can potentially collaborate with, refer clients between, get travel advice from, or become friends with, so anyone you meet is likely to be a good contact in at least one regard.

Why Nobody Will buy Your MVP and How To Become a Market Leader

Hanne Vervaeck

Hanne spoke about how most MVPs are based on the creator’s resources and skills, which means that they often have weaknesses / constraints limiting them and may not be based on what the market wants.

She defined a new term: MMP (minimum marketable product), which has 3 crucial elements:

  1. must have foundation: all competitors are doing it & clients expect it
  2. marketable meat: cool feature
  3. differentiating factor: special sauce, most important aspect that makes it worth launching (to the company) + worth buying (to the customer)

Her process:

  • know your direct + indirect competition and how they’re solving the problem
  • make a competitor matrix: features x competitors, list all the features and see what is consistent or a gap
  • buy competitor’s products and personally test — see what they say vs. the actual customer experience
  • find your spot: make an XY axis on 2 main features and find your niche in the white space

Hanne was very organized in her presentation and gave a mix of general guidance with a case study example of their Thrive Themes plugin.

No Skills? No Problem! Hacks, Tips & Tools for Creating a Shit-ton of Stuff

Leanne Beesley

If nothing else, her personality and sense of humor made this talk an engaging one, but I also found Leanne’s suggestions of templates and hacks to be really helpful.

Do I think custom design / development is ideal? Sure. But so is starting. Get the custom creative work when you can afford it and know how to make the investment worthwhile. (I’ve worked with creative studios for almost 5 years; the time and money is aboslutely worth it, but only when the client is truly ready.)

For so many people trying to DIY a new idea into something to show others, or for small businesses and freelancers trying to make things look better than their personal skills allow, using the resources available just makes sense.

Leanne’s talk was a high-energy, rapid-fire presentation of various website recommendations and examples of templates / tools she’s used to help make things look better as a non-designer and get started as a non-developer:

  • for all kinds of templates (social media covers, video thumbnails, app designs, add banners, presentations / slide decks, packaging templates, PSD actions for images)
  • coloristic app
  • for dev marketplace code scripts and plugins
  • for WordPress themes
  • Instagress for growing Instagram followers
  • vidgeos to get termplates and smart variables for video use
  • video hive / envato for VFX, stock videos

Earning Over $100,000 Creating the #1 Business Course on Udemy

David Dang Vu

David had a great talk that touched on his family background in a productive way: illustrating the survival mode of refugees and the work ethic of immigrants.

His main takeaway: have the Hungry Immigrant Mentality, aka work hard for it, all day every day.

David creates online courses and eproducts, and has had $250k in profit over the past 2 years on Udemy. His basic advice:

  • content > quality (i.e.: don’t focus on fancy video cameras, just create and share good information)
  • draft + organize the curriculum first
  • pick a video shooting style + practice

His personal “winning playbook”:

  • don’t give away for free
  • build a mailing list based on interest
  • launch to the list with a discount for 48 hours = get good purchase rates upon launch + good completion rates
  • easier to grow fast than slow
  • 1st 30 days of sales is everything
David Vu and Quinn Zeda in action (Photo credit: Sean Dalton)

Designing Experiences: How good UX increases revenue, sales, and signups

Quinn Zeda

This talk was one of my favorites due to her organized presentation, my appreciation for the subject matter, and a good case study (a site I’d used randomly in December).

She explained that UX (User Experience) = user needs + business goals, and that when we’re online, there are no face-to-face interactions, so your website is your ambassador to prospective clients.

How your site looks, how it works, and how the user feels = how you look, how you work, and how you make your user feel.

The UX hierarchy of needs, starting from the foundation:

  • purpose: learn about your user, frustrations, ideal outcome, gaps
  • function: does the product work + solve the problem?
  • coherent: is your message clear? having clear copywriting is critical — “not ugly” is good enough until you have the right words: design amplifies the content / copy. Be able to tell who you are, what you do, what you’re selling, and why they need it.
  • easy-to-use: reduce steps to complete a task, reduce friction (use
  • enjoyable: meaningful and delightful experience; does your message resonate with the user?

Takeaway: Good UX amplifies your results.

Her case study for the presentation was the website 16 Personalities. They started with a bad design but a good product and happy comments — people loved it, but the sales were low.

First, they updated the copywriting, reduced the barriers to entry, and then tailored the site to the most active of the personality group (handy available data). Then they redid the sales page, did user testing, and recreated the test experience.

Solutions to the Top 5 UX mistakes:

  1. one page = one goal (don’t overshadow main goals with little goals)
  2. action color = brightest color (CTAs only)
  3. differentiate primary and secondary actions (buttons)
  4. white space is essential (less on the page = more attention to what is there, feels more luxurious)
  5. navigation should be well-structured and simple (7 max nav options, progressively guide user through the site on the pages)

From Selling Door to Door, to Selling Online

Riley Bennett

Johnny introduced him as a member of the “Snapchat generation” and a YouTuber, so I expected him to be younger and less professional than the other speakers.

Unfortunately, it was more disappointing than I expected. He was exactly what most of us are afraid of people imagining when they hear the term “digital nomad” (or American).

Instead of using the platform to address the 350-person audience of professionals to showcase any of his strategy or skills, he treated it as an opportunity to overuse pop culture catchphrases and self-promote his videos.

He’s a bro who is obviously smart enough to run his own business and live/travel abroad, but there’s no indication that he’s invested or absorbed anything from the experience beyond making videos of what he eats, where he parties, and the modes of transportation he takes.


March Brenwall

Her talk was less strategic insights and takeaways and more inspirational story about how she went from being a low paid VA @ $250 / month to running her own business selling jewelry.

She was born in the Philippines, and even though her parents didn’t own their own businesses, they always encouraged them to because of what it enables in your life.

When she met her now husband, she started working for him doing his social media work. Then she got into drop-shipping, now has grown her own business to around $7k/month, has hired friends and family to work for her, and is able to live as a digital nomad.

Nomading Long Term: Happily, without Burnout!

Emma McLaren

This talk went too in-depth to her personal story and experience to give the audience that many clear takeaways, but by the end, she got into some good points about how important it is for digital nomads (and everyone) to take care of themselves.

It is a hard lifestyle — not because we’re faced with miserable struggle, obviously there are external circumstances many people face that are so much harder and not by choice. However, constant travel and upheaval take their toll, even if it’s a lifestyle we opt into.

So as she pointed out, it’s important to have conscious relationships and a connected life, otherwise you get lost and lonely.

Self-care is also critical, whether it’s doing yoga, running, eating well, sleeping a certain number of hours — whatever helps you be healthy and happy.

(I just wrote a post about how my Talkspace online therapist is a game changer for me as a digital nomad, and she’s always reminding me to stay on top of my self-care too.)

Thinking Outside the Box to Crush Big Goals

Jubril Agoro

One of my friends followed Jubril and was really excited to hear him speak, but he was new to me. He was very entertaining and had a good presentation, so I’m interested in checking out his travel videos now.

His talk was a good balance of some of his strategy for making his travel videos and running his Facebook ads business.

When he posts a new video, he researches what people are searching for and uses those terms + keywords in the title and description to help ensure they’re more easily found and viewed.

In 2004, he started working with Google Ads — his logic was that most businesses always want more business, so if you can get people more leads, you’ll always have a job.

Small businesses need websites, and now they increasingly also need social media accounts and advertising. His approach is to tell businesses what he can do and then take a % cut of the value he brings.

One of his most helpful insights was that more targeted audiences for ads not only gets better quality leads but is actually cheaper. Once you have a successful audience with 100+ points of data, you can also create “lookalike audiences” for future ads.

Jubril and Johnny’s talks & an audience selfie (Photo credit: Sean Dalton)

Leveling Up in Life and Business: Digital Nomad Hierarchy of Needs

Johnny FD

Johnny is the founder of the conference, and though I didn’t know who he was previously, it’s obvious from his site and social presence that he’s well known in the digital nomad community.

He used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to create one for digital nomads with income parallels:

  • physiological: $600–1000 / month
  • safety: $1–3k / month
  • love & belonging: $5k+ / month
  • esteem: $10k+ / month
  • self-actualization / transcendence: $20k+ / month

He talked about where he was in his life and development at each income stage, though I thought defining them with specific $ values was less powerful than recognizing that some people could achieve the highest level of “transcedence” that he spoke of at a different amount (maybe less than $20k / month).

At this point, he’s somewhere in the $15–20k/month average earning, and he said that he’s learned the real purpose of that is to be able to help others and use the money to make significant contributions and positive impacts on the world.

I appreciated that the key takeaway of his talk was to have conscious reasons for making certain money milestones and do something beneficial with your income. In digital nomad and online entrepreneur communities, there’s constant talk about 5-figure months or 6-figure years / launches, etc.

The digital nomad battle cry of, let’s leave this corporate life behind, follow our values, explore the greater world out there, but also obsessively, GOTTA MAKE THAT MONEY!!!! can get a little gross and hypocritical.

So having the founder of the event and a well-known figure for making significant passive income say that “you don’t need to earn 5-figures a month” is an important message for the community — to take a better, more mindful approach to what we earn, what we need, and what it means.

Overall, the event was more informative and insightful than I expected, and I met a handful of people that have the potential to become real friends and a few contacts for potential skillsharing or mutually referring clients.

In the conversations I’ve had over the past few days since, both with my friends and the new contacts we’ve made, have shown how quickly these kind of skillsharing and networking events can be mutually beneficial.

I think there’s room for improvement with the speakers not all being equally well-prepared and having clear takeaways that speak to some segment of the audience, but considering it’s the 3rd event and this year doubled attendance, it ran smoothly and within the realm of expectations. And most of the speakers left me feeling inspired and with useful tools to research.

Would I attend again? Sure, possibly. I might not invest significant time or money into coming here from far away for this alone, but it was well worth the trip for me already being in Asia and wanting to visit Chiang Mai for a month.

Nomad Summit recorded all the talks, so they’ll be released publicly at some point on their website (I think).

Katherine is a digital nomad, working remotely while she travels the world — on the road since June 2014. She’s a member of Remote Year 2 Battuta, living around the world with 75 other digital nomads from February 2016 to January 2017.

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