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Benefits of a Lifestyle Business (bugfender.com)
406 points by adchsm on Aug 9, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 266 comments

Sure! Lifestyle businesses are great, and so is the whole digital nomad thing (I spent all of 2016 and a good chunk of 2015 traveling around the world).

There are a ton of upsides but I wouldn't go back to it full time. For one, it's surprising how few of the digital nomad types are really that interesting, and while integrating with local populations is fun, you'll still find yourself missing the familiarity of people from your own culture (or similar, Western cultures, assuming you're a Euro or American)

Once you get used to life on the road it's grand. Still, nomad nests like Chiang Mai are insipid and full of scores of people hustling their drop ship schemes. More power to them, but it's just not my vibe.

I dunno. Go nuts, travel, see a bunch of shit, just don't assume the beach is going to be as stimulating as the (very likely) metro urban environment you're living in now.

Life on the road was not for me. Sure I loved seeing the world but ....

1. Always having to make plans for the next place to sleep was stressful for me. I'd arrive at some city and have to start planning the next city else I'd be homeless once my hotel/apartment term expired. I started booking longer (4 weeks, 6 weeks, more) but even then just the fact that I have a place I don't have to think about is less stressful for me.

2. No hangout buddy or really close friends. Some people are great at making new friends and I did make a few in certain cities but I'm at least a little introverted and felt pretty lonely quite often.

3. There only so much tourism I can take. At some point it just got boring seeing yet another old church, yet another museum, etc. Some recent book claimed you should take several shorter vacations than fewer but longer ones. They recommended no more than a week at a time.

4. Not being able to buy/own anything. That might appeal to some but not to others, it means no shopping, something that many people enjoy while traveling. It also means no PS4, no Vive/Oculus, no gaming rig, no tools, no food supplies. Sure if I rented an apartment I could go buy a few things to cook but when I have a permanent residence I have tons of utensils and spices and other things in my kitchen that I just don't have the time to gather in a temporary place. Similarly I had drawers or closets full of parts and tools, something I didn't have digital nomadding.

Of course that's all just me. I've met others who really enjoy that lifestyle. Good for them!

Number 2 is a big one for me. I've considered a digital nomad life a few times because I love to travel, love to see new places, love to meet new people and all the rest, BUT...

I hate solo travel. I'm naturally very quiet, introverted, socially awkward and get social anxiety, so travelling alone is stressful and I don't end up exploring new places much and meet rather few new people because I find it incredibly hard to just start a conversation with strangers (doubly so if there's a language barrier).

I'd love to go on extended travels, working from coffee shops while exploring new and interesting places, seeing new things and meeting new people, but to feel comfortable doing that, I would need someone to join me and I simply don't know anybody who would do it with me. :(

I just moved back to the states after 8 years doing the digital nomad thing and while I totally agree taking a friend or SO with you is ideal, you develop the skill of feeling comfortable opening up to strangers. I used to be completely unable to do this and now I can chat up anyone anywhere. Unfortunately I find that most people can't reciprocate, increasingly so these days. I was severely disappointed when I moved to Austin and got nothing but cold shoulders when trying to start conversations with people in public (I had formed the impression that Austin would be a friendlier place than it is in reality; people talk a big game here but when it comes down to it they are just as self-absorbed as people in any other tech hub). The first six months are brutal but eventually you will get over it out of necessity. I don't want to downplay how rough the adjustment period is, though. It sucks and it reduced me to tears nearly every day.

I am not a Digital Nomad but an expat, and IMO it's not just about being able to open up to strangers but being welcomed by them, I've had people literally tell me they just expect me to leave after one year because that's just what people do here, they are protective, they are okay socializing with me but they don't involve me within their circles because I can't speak the language.

Find yourself some "real" Austinites. Something like 4/5ths of Austin's population is "foreign", and this figure is pretty close to literal. It's a big east-coast city in Texas now. But there are "real" Austinites that are every bit the wonderful stereotype you've heard. They have started moving out of Austin lately though, to cities like Elgin, San Marcos, New Braunsfels, or Fredricksburg. There's still some local flavor south of the river in Austin. But everywhere else are just Los Angeles and East Coast transplants that brought their road rage and shitty attitude along with them.

Thanks for the reply! Very much appreciated.

> There only so much tourism I can take. At some point it just got boring seeing yet another old church, yet another museum, etc. Some recent book claimed you should take several shorter vacations than fewer but longer ones. They recommended no more than a week at a time.

I just finished a two week honeymoon less than a month ago, and we did it as a traveling and sightseeing vacation. We started with a week in New Orleans and the surrounding area (and mostly did sightseeing instead of partying, it was a honeymoon), and were going to head up through Atlanta and see more of the South. We decided after that first week we were not looking forward to more sightseeing in the humidity, so we made a beeline for Florida and went to Disneyworld for a few days instead. Even though we were a little underwhelmed with Disneyworld after building up expectations for so long(we go to Disneyland often, and I would say they are comparable depending on the type of vacation you want), we didn't regret it.

Like many things, the wonder becomes commonplace if you are subjected to it consistently for long enough. That seems to start happening for a lot of people around about a week.

We did spend a day in Savannah after that though, and that was gorgeous. Mixing up the vacation probably let us appreciate it more.

Regarding 4, did you ever consider trying a gaming laptop? Razer is coming out with some pretty insane builds at very small form factors.

As for tools, yea that was always a bummer. Some cities have hacker barns or whatever but it really depends on where you are. As always, I recommend digital nomads that like buildin shit to check out Taipei, the maker crowd is HUGE there (relatively).

As an expat(who doesn't know how long until I might move again) it's not just about gaming IMO.

Anything you buy is just more weight to move to the next place. If you enjoy technology and novelty it hurts, think about all interesting that can come out of IoT, you can't just get a new thermostat or put a smart mirror in a place you don't own and need landlord approval.

It gets worse if you are living as a hardcore nomad moving from place to place within a few months, you need to have a limited supply of clothes, shoes and other similar things.

Funny though, that's exactly what attracts me to the lifestyle :) I love the aggressive minimalism.

Clevo and Sager are great too. The performance gap between desktop and laptop GPUs has been closing so rapidly that imo there's almost no reason to get a desktop rig even though gaming laptops were godawful even 5 years ago

They still lose hands down in the performance/dollar metric. Also, CPU performance is not in the same ballpark. Similarly marked parts (eg. desktop i7 vs laptop i7) have widly different performance characteristics, mostly due to thermal budgets.

But you CAN game in a laptop that doesn't require a backpack-sized power adapter now, and that's great. They're just not the most economical choice.

I haven't even got into the upgrade angle.

1 & 2 are basically the reason we started Hacker Paradise, to make it so you can travel the world without having to think as much about logistics, and while immersed in a tight-knit community.

Sounds like you're pretty set on being settled down, but if you ever do choose to travel again, definitely check us out! I myself have mostly settled now, but still like to get away for 1-3 months per year. A large segment of our community has that mostly-stationary lifestyle accented by stints of medium-long travel :)

Oh man I've wanted to ask you guys for ages (politely) - how do you justify the cost of your program? I'm sure you've heard it before, but everything you offer I can find on my own, at a hostel cost of 10 bucks a day and a coffee cost (for wifi) of like 1-2 dollars/day, in SE Asia. Your program seems to be charging several hundreds/week for establishing housing.

I love the idea, yet I need to say that $700-$800 for a week is pretty steep. The 4-week offering is a bit better, but still a lot of money, considering flights and food are not included.

Your are right, traveling to much, all the time, you end up having no bonds. This is not good.

Why are you and your grandparent conflating a lifestyle business (== not a try-extremely-hard business) with digital nomadism?

Where's the connection?

One group of people it can work a bit better for, in terms of living somewhere you have a real connection rather than living an expat lifestyle, are people who are themselves from somewhere with a lower cost of living, but can't find good jobs there, so moved elsewhere. It lets you sort of halfway move back to your home country while retaining some of the income advantages of the wealthier country. I have a Greek friend who does something like that, running a small business that is mainly economically based in northern Europe, but because he has a flexible working environment, he's able to spend a significant portion of the year in Greece, which he left in the first place only because there were no jobs, not because he wanted to leave.

In some formal sense the mechanics are very similar to an American running a lifestyle business from a beach in Crete, but culturally it's different from the "digital nomad" lifestyle.

I have a friend from the U.S who lives in Argentina and works online doing tech stuff. He lives with his Argentinian girlfriend and makes enough in two months to make TWO years living expenses! He does speak fluent Spanish though. He went to the doctor and spent 45 minutes with her and it cost him $12. This is not digital nomad, but really immigration with the intent of not returning home, but it does represent another option.

yep been doing Arg for 10yrs now. 1/3 the cost same time zone as NYC clients. great-lifestyle down here.

How does this work if you're not a citizen of that country? In this case your friend is an EU citizen, so that unlocks lots of options (like in this case work from Greece). I'm especially curious as Brexit is promising to ruin a lot of opportunities that would otherwise be available to my fellow Brits and I.

In the case of the American running a business from Crete, how does that work in terms of taxation and residency? People seem to get away with it in the far East, but (mostly) you can't just stay in a country indefinitely, mooch off the cheap system and pocket the difference.

I've studied the rules for Greece specifically. Currently for non-EU visitors, ~$24,000 in a bank account will get you a 'self-sufficiency' residence permit for 1 year. There are other permits available for buying property, marriage, and such, but thats probably not what a nomad would do.

That said, there it is not difficult to overstay the standard 90-day EU visa and simply pay the fine when leaving / on the next entry.

As far as taxes go, I would wager that any American in Greece is only paying taxes in the States. The Greek tax system is notoriously insane.

> That said, there it is not difficult to overstay the standard 90-day EU visa and simply pay the fine when leaving / on the next entry.

Don't do this. Customs officials really don't like it when you show a flagrant disregard for their laws. Also, you can create permanent problems for yourself if you ever decided to return.

I certainly did not imagine doing this on my own, nor have I tested the limits first-hand. The self-sufficiency permit isn't that difficult to obtain for a committed nomad, as I see it.

But the chatter in the Greek expat forums specifically describe the purely financial nature of the Schengen zone penalty: pay-to-play. The punishment comes in the form of the fine amount, which in a range is left to the discretion of the customs agent. Evidence of "flagrant disregard" or an otherwise spoiled attitude might get the maximum fine, whereas an honest mistake (or an engaging attitude) might cost only a few hundred euros.

If you don't have a visa, then you get 90 days in the Schengen Area every six months. You can head up through the Balkans (or elsewhere outside of Schengen) when your time is up. I used to go to Greece for three months at a time and then head elsewhere, like Argentina, Taiwan, etc.

I'm more interested in "short" long term options, e.g. a year or two. For pure tourism, tourist visas are more than enough.

Canada, for example has a Working Holiday visa which lets you remain for up to two years, travel and find employment (if you wish). There are restrictions: age, nationality and there are a limited number, but it's essentially a free ticket for 24 months.

Many (most?) countries have working holiday visas. The rules and availability depend on your own nationality and the country offering the visa, but generally they are for under 30's for up to a year. Some have a higher age limit, some are longer (as you point out), and some can be renewed for a second year if conditions are met.

If I'd known about this when I was young enough, I would have spent year in each of a dozen countries.

Make a name for yourself in some industry. The last time I looked for a job (around age 39), I sent out an email newsletter to about 9,000 subscribers and got back serious job offers in seven countries. I was sponsored by a company and immigrated to Austria on a work visa for technical workers. I would have gotten permanent European residence after five years, but returned to the SF Bay Area before that. There are ways to do it.

It looks like for the UK, you have the choice of CAN/AUS/NZ, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan (pleasantly surprised to see that) and South Korea. There's also summer camp work in the US via BUNAC (which you pay for), but why bother when you can get a visa waiver for 90 days?

This sounds fascinating to me. I'm looking at doing the same thing - launch a product for global audience while relocating back to India.

Any idea how long your friend took to gain traction? What do they do to find a community of fellow techies/dropshippers/SEO mavens/whatever in Greece? Do they ever talk about moving back to north Europe?

I don't keep in that close contact, but as I understand it he hasn't precisely moved back to Greece. The business is incorporated in northern Europe and he has his legal residence there. It's just that since there's no office to go into there's no real need to be physically present most of the time, so nothing stopping him from doing much of the work remotely from Greece. It probably does help that Europe is fairly small and flying back and forth is not too difficult.

Great spot. I spent over a year (over many trips) working remotely from Greece, including Crete.

Question... Legally, how does the digital nomad thing work? Specifically WRT travel visas. Are you entering countries on a holiday visa and just working anyway? Establishing some sort of residency? Are you taking contracts in those countries, or working for US-based companies? Or, just blogging on your own and making a living through affiliate links, etc? Where do you pay income taxes?

To me traveling with a laptop and working is neither traveling nor working well. Im sure there are ways to eeke it out to make a ramen diet more pallatable overseas, but you arent really connecting with locals and local culture if youre online "hustling".

I suppose it depends on how you do it. I worked from a beach town in Costa Rica for a month last year. I worked very well, being unusually productive (I think due to lack of stress and a change of scenery). I worked ~6-8 hours a day/5 days a week, and got more done than I had over many more hours back home. That left me plenty of time to meet and hang out with locals, so scuba diving, swim in the ocean twice a day, cook with local fish and ingredients, make new friends, etc... It was fantastic!

I worked from a small beach town in Costa Rica for 6 months a while back, and I have to agree with the parent. The novelty kind of wore off and we had to work a _lot_, it became more of a nuisance with bad/spotty internet than a WFH paradise. We took off 3 days one time the week we left to be just like regular tourists for once; that was great.

I concur. I did the same in the Mediterraneans, working from a beach for a month; whenever I felt like I took a little swim in the sea, being refreshed, and it did wonders to my productivity. Not sure why wouldn't you do this if you could...

Full disclosure: I work for the author's company.

I agree with you! Back in March I finished a 15 month trip around the world while working full time. I travelled to 40 different cities in 15 countries and while some places where difficult to adapt to and the conditions where I worked from were challenging, I can say that my productivity didn't diminish.

Since I came back (I live in Barcelona) I've attended retreats in the Alps (Austria for skiing + Italy for hiking just last week) plus 2 weeks in a very nice countryside house 2 hours from Barcelona where we worked together with 10 people from the office and in the afternoons we did hikes, wine tastings or went to the beach.

Thanks for joining the discussion. I wonder how do you keep business running (bigender claims an outstanding support) while in retreat ? Does only a part of the company goes on retreat ?

>To me traveling with a laptop and working is neither traveling nor working well.

Well, regular working is not traveling at all on the other hand.

To GP's point, at my office, I have a desktop with 2 monitors, at my home office, I have a desktop with... 2 monitors. Traveling, I'm stuck with either a VERY heavy 17" laptop or a less heavy 15" laptop, or an incredibly light 12" laptop. Any way I go about it, I don't have my dual 27 inch laptops.

So? Unless you are a graphic designer, why would that matter?

It might be convenient, but hackers for decades had just had 14" (or less) monochromatic monitors and they've built masterpieces on them.

If "dual 27 inch monitors" are so important to your work, then (a) I don't see how you'd be able to be a programmer in the 80s and 90s when those things either didn't exist or costed a fortune, (b) fine, don't travel.

The "very heavy" part (for the 17" laptop) doesn't matter, as you're not supposed to backpack everywhere with it. Just keep it at your hotel/rent house/bangalow in the different cities you visit and work from there. You can still visit the city and explore all the other hours.

Besides, if it's that important, then anywhere you go and stay for a month or more (and nomads can spend several months on each country or more), you could buy a $200 24" monitor -- and then just give it away to some friend you've made, charity or sell it.

I wouldn't be able to program in the 80s and I don't want to go back to the 90s. I'm sorry but having my IDE on one half of one screen, debug console on the second half then browser on the other monitor is a big convenience that I have gotten used to.

Its like saying, oh you like your power steering, and automatic transmissions? Well then you couldn't drive a Model-T.

That viewpoint that progress makes you weak is a very bad way to view the world. Progress makes us all better at what we do by making us more efficient.

>Its like saying, oh you like your power steering, and automatic transmissions? Well then you couldn't drive a Model-T.

No, I think it's more like saying "most of those efficiencies are probably cargo cult" especially since programmers with just a 12" laptop and Vim can (and do) run circles around people with double and triple monitor setups and fancy IDEs.

So nothing especially efficiency improving that wouldn't be trumped by simply more skills.

(Not saying that you don't have skills. You might be better than Linus. Saying that multiple monitors are not the reason for that).

Yes, it's nice to have a big screen, but not really essential. As for the second screen, it gets all marginal returns from there.

You can use an iPad as your second screen. Not as good. But that's not the point. The point is good enough for know the world while you're still alive.

Understood that especially in front-end work, dual screens are pretty much necessary for testing & debugging and just being able to work efficiently.

FWIW, a 24" monitor in original box will fit in a checked bag-- takes up half of the medium-large hardshell luggage I have-- and yes I've traveled with an extra screen.

I wonder if good a VR headset would some day change this.

I can only hope so. Ever since I played with a Virtual Boy Headset in the mid-late 90s, I have wanted a VR world that would replace my physical desk.

Just bring them in checked luggage. As another comment points out, you're not backpacking.

Consider it like traveling with a bicycle, which people do quite successfully.

As a front-end dev, the extra screen is a nice productivity boost. You shouldn't lug around extra monitor, too many kgs/lbs.

Get the portable Asus MB168B+, goes in your backpack. Lugged this bad boy around 13 countries over the past 2 years. No Flux support though!!!

Yea you could probably argue there are better economies of scale doing all of your working in large chunks and then all of your traveling in large chunks.

To me 1-2 week vacations per year though is not a large enough chunk of time off. I sometimes wonder if I'd rather forgo weekends, accumulate all of that time and then take 2-3 months off all at once.

It depends on a lot of things. In a prior life, I took some month-long vacations with effectively no communication back home. (it was pre consumer Internet.) It's definitely qualitatively different from my more typical week or two intermittently online trip these days.

That said, I get antsy if I'm "in the office" (physically or otherwise) for too long and, when traveling, there does come a point where I'm ready to get back to my house rather than living out of a travel backpack.

These days I find it much more practical to take a couple of 1-2 week vacations and spend some time around business trips than to take a huge chunk of time off. But circumstances will vary.

That's kinda what I did. I wasn't head down on trying to build something, but I did write a novel while we were traveling, along with some freelance. We'd travel, moving from place to place frequently, then settle in somewhere with decent internet. We travelled through Peru and Chile, but lived in Buenos Aires for a month.

Travelled through much of SE Asia, but lived in Thailand for a couple months. India (travel) Spain (living) and so on.

This is what I have found. When I travel, I want to travel deep, so to speak, and suck out all of the marrow. I have tried to do work while touring by bicycle and, while work could easily finance my trip indefinitely, I was seeing much, much less by bringing it along. Better to save up for shorter trips, free to wander as I will.

I love backpacking but it seems fundamentally incompatible to tour by bike and work simultaneously - as the pleasure of traveling slowly means there isn't time to fit both any significant distance and work time within the same day.

Planning to work remotely laster this year and will definitely pick a spot and stay parked there for weeks.

When I think about Lifestyle business, I don't really think it mean traveling.

I personally want a lifestyle business but for my lifestyle. That is wake up late, enjoy the day, maybe go for a road trip or hike, work in the evenings, work till midnight or so. Or if I feel like it, take a day off.

Go on vacations but not worry about return date. Bring the laptop and if needed, work. Otherwise just enjoy the vacation.

This in so many ways, this. I have a bunch of ideas. If you can build stuff, we should talk. lol

I'm also what you call a digital nomad. I find it tough to work while "on the road". It's stressful, you want to get out and see places, meet people, but you still need to work. This is why I prefer to move to a city for a few months at a time and slowly do all the touristy things.

Also about what you said about others not being very interesting; I completely agree.

> you'll still find yourself missing the familiarity of people from your own culture (or similar, Western cultures, assuming you're a Euro or American)

I didn't find that to be true. I miss foreign people and cultures after settling back down. If you want to find people from your own culture while on the road, stay at a hostel or take a break from roaming at any backpacker/nomad/tourist trap.

Stay out for a year or so and you will likely want to mingle with some westerners. Or maybe not! Everybody's different.

The expat pockets around the world have their own culture going on. Suddenly you're hanging out with the embassy staff, some UN people, some interns and backpackers and other random people. I'd say it's very interesting in itself to experience and not the same as meeting people back home.

That's precisely my point. Except that SE Asian expats are boring af on average. There are exceptions to be sure (I made several good friends while traveling) but on average they're shockingly boring, but they're as good as you're gonna get for that Western fix.

Maybe that's what I should have been more clear about. You'll end up hanging out with boring people because you miss home after a bit. Before I went traveling I would have expected that community to be a lot more interesting than they were.

Get off the beaten track to find interesting travelers. The locals tend to be friendlier too.

Sigh. That's the most obvious of knee jerk responses and the most naive. I hear stuff like that a ton from people who are chasing that old illusion of authenticity.

16 months on the road through the backwaters of SE Asia and India as well as the expat nests is plenty of time to get the "authentic" experience and mingle with locals. rolling eyes emoji

I was on the road on and off for over 10 years. I still wanted to hang out with foreigners even after getting back.

The human mind wants freedom and to have options. That's why the grass is always greener. Spend a month traveling and being back at home will sound ideal. Get stuck in an office and traveling sounds perfect. Finding the right balance is the key. In my case though I have had the freedom at times to be anywhere I still gravitate to keeping a home base.

Why do we need to equate a lifestyle business with traveling the world full time? I run a lifestyle business and I go abroad maybe once a year for about a week and I am very happy. I think the point is that the lifestyle business lets you do that if you want to, but at the end of the day you can still do whatever you want.

Your chosen lifestyle doesn't have to involve sea voyages in Southeast Asia or weeklong ski excursions. It could also be living in a medium-sized town in Flyover Country, U.S.A., working 40 hour weeks on interesting problems and spending lots of time with your spouse and children. If you've ever looked around at your Logan's Run coworkers and wondered what happens when you turn 30, here's one of your answers.

I can't tell if this is sarcasm - you realize this is just "median American lifestyle," right?

The idea that you can afford a house and a boat and time with your kids on a single upper middle class income in, say, Missouri is called "normal" outside of SF/NYC.

I've always heard "Lifestyle Business" as a contrast to a "Startup." Startups being, huge growth, VCs, and an "exit." Lifestyle business being more like a traditional business, slow growth, minimal outside investment, etc. This article paints it more of a digital nomad, which I haven't seen much of.

The difference between running a lifestyle business and just "median American lifestyle" is owning the business (although, effectively you are living a median American lifestyle). I've always likened it to building a successful contracting business, car dealership, or chain of donut shops. Ideally letting you live upper-middle class, fairly steady (businesses rarely are long-term), and possibly something you could sell off when you retire.

Does that really exist still? Can you have a house, a life and kids on one income? It seems to have vanished in the U.K.

Can confirm it's possible. Iowa/Illinois/Wisconsin tri-state area for me. My wife stays at home with our two sons. I bring home the bacon. Bought a modest house out of college for $100K (with only 5% down) in 2010 and will have it paid off before 2020. I paid my own way through public university - $12k/yr for 4 years - left with $22k debt which is long gone.

A lifestyle business is the next goal. I've been doing part-time contract work for almost 5 years now in addition to a 9-5, and I'm really just dying to be my own boss and not have to commute (a whopping 10 minutes) to the office 5 days a week, as well as not have to deal with startup bureaucracy and artificial feel-goodery.

Home prices have gone WAY up, back towards pre-bubble levels. You bought at a perfect time.

Considering I got an $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers (thanks Obama!) you’re more right than you know.

Yes, but you have to compromise sometimes and you need to be willing to live somewhere with a lower cost of living (ie: probably not in a big city). Get your family out of debt as much as possible first then reduce your monthly costs as much as you can. Be sure you have a reasonable amount of savings in the bank to cover some unexpecteds and be sure you and your partner/family/kids are all on board for making this kind of life change.

You probably don't really need the fastest Internet connection at home, cable/satellite TV, an unlimited cell phone plan, a new(er) car, to eat out more than once a month, to buy local/organic all the time, the newer technology things, or pretty much any monthly subscription services.

Go play outside and run around with your kids. Go to the library (they probably have lots of books, movies, music, and even video games to borrow for free!). Cook all your own food. Fix your own car/bike. Borrow things from friends/neighbors when you need a special tool. You can do it!

> Yes, but you have to compromise sometimes and you need to be willing to live somewhere with a lower cost of living (ie: probably not in a big city).

I think this is trading off too much for cost of living vs income. As I said in a sibling thread, our family is on one (software engineer) income in central Austin. We walk to most things, we own a big home and a yard, but I don't optimize for cost of living, I guess. Austin pays well enough, and we live with all the amenities on a single income.

In reply to your comment, we also have a super fast internet connection, unlimited cell phone plans, and go out to eat often. None of these things add up to even close to the difference in salary we get in Austin vs being in the middle of nowhere. I am all for reducing the time you spend working so you can be around family, but if you are working ~40 hours for a low salary and making up for it by cutting corners -- I'd much rather work my 40 in Austin and have it all.

If you're working 15-20 hours in the middle of nowhere and cutting corners, then that's another thing altogether.

Reminds me of: https://hired.com/state-of-salaries-2017

Or Portland, OR. Though, that's rapidly changing.

My family lives in Portland, OR, which isn't nearly as expensive as (say) SF or NYC but has seen significant housing cost increases in the last 5-10 years. My wife works as a transportation consultant, which is a solidly white-collar/"knowledge" gig but pays far below what most tech gigs do. We could probably afford our essential costs (mortgage, taxes, car, insurance, etc.) on her income but we wouldn't have been able to buy a house here without the down payment that my technical work allowed us to pay, or the cash gift her parents gave us for our first (USDA-backed, 3.5%-down) home purchase.

My strong feeling is that most places with a robust employment market price most single-income households out b/c the expectation is now that you at _least_ have two earners. Kids take another chunk out of your "competitiveness" because of childcare, cost-of-living, and increased demands on your time (making it harder to really "excel" at work).

I have to agree - I was reading Ha-Joon Chang who was saying this is why salaries have been flat since the 70s - basically household incomes have grown as one income became two. And of course the washing machine and other household goods have enabled so much time saving that women could go out to work

But it does not quite balance out - households rarely have two good incomes, and the time costs still hurt.


And don't forget that households with children need more housing (more square feet) than households without children.

Yes, it still exists in the US. Suburbs of Texas, and middle America. If you have a decent education and are willing to forego urban amenities and public transportation, you can do it. You'll need to work at a large corporation to have good health insurance though.

This lifestyle isn't for everyone though, myself included, but definitely seen many European families move to suburbs of Houston for energy jobs and they seem to enjoy the different lifestyle (pool in backyard, heat, etc)

> Suburbs of Texas

I live in (very) central Austin with my wife and kids on one income. I escaped the suburbs of my childhood, too, (and wouldn't recommend them to anyone) but I don't understand how a software engineer income doesn't support a family in an urban area between the coasts.

As one who grew up in the suburbs of Houston, TX (Well a small commuter town NEAR Houston), I couldn't get out fast enough, though.

I think its a grass-is-always-greener thing. You want what you didn't have growing up.

It's funny; I'm thinking of moving back to TX. I'be been living cheap in the SF Bay Area, saving a bunch, planning on starting a tech business of my own someday. But it's so expensive out here. My savings would go so much farther back in Austin.

I spent so much time and effort getting out of TX, and now I'm going right back. Ironic.

As you know, Texas is huge. Talking about Texas in general is about as useful as talking about the USA in general.

Urban Austin and a Houston suburb are barely comparable.

True that, as a person who grew up outside of Houston, I have only been to Austin a handful of times, and hated every time I went. Its too "weird" for me. I love the Texas History Museum, and Barton Springs, though, and made a point to visit both every time (if I could find parking).

> Its too "weird" for me.

Yikes. That marketing campaign is so overblown. If you really found Austin weird I'm curious what your day to day is like.

> if I could find parking

Urban vs suburban. I'm willing to walk and want my kids to feel the same way. I remember suburban life well, and don't miss the superficial need for parking within 30 seconds (or 2 minutes) of your destination.

None of these were in protest, just typical Austoninan's from around 2003-2011

A procession of people crossing the upper level I-35 in wheelchairs... is weird.

Non-homeless and non-drunk people just sitting/laying down in the middle of the sidewalk on 6th Street, S Congress... is weird. I get it, it is too hot to walk in the summer, go inside, or to the springs.

Semi-Jokingly: Republicans in Austin... is weird.

But more than these specific things, its a lot of little oddities that didn't occur in more traditional places like Houston.

That said, I moved to NYC in 2015, so I can't claim Austin was THAT weird compared to what I saw every day for a couple of years before moving upstate.

There is a pretty stark difference these days between urban inner cities in Texas and the outer suburbs.

Exactly ... I would never go back. For some, it's paradise.

Just don't live in London. Here in Newcastle a friend of mine bought a brand new house 3 years ago for 120k and he's paying it off and raising two kids on a salary of about ~40k/year. That's not unthinkable.

Yeah, live in the northeast of England and you'll be surprised at how far a single income can go.

Huh? I grew up and live in the SE of the UK. There's plenty of people doing just that.

Yes and you don't have to go to "flyover country" either, I live in New England and enjoy such a lifestyle.

We have two incomes but we could easily keep up our lifestyle on just either one of our incomes. We currently save about 75% of our combined incomes.

I do it in the bay area and I am NOT technical (though I do work in technology at a startup).

Of course this means that we have to be frugal at times, but the dividends it is paying in our three children's development is worth it.

Upper middle class isn't normal. It doesn't just happen. Example: Only 32% of Americans have bachelor degrees.

The US median income is about $37,000 currently. Among the highest in the world. You can earn that in just about every state in routine jobs that millions of people work (thus median). It also means you can very likely earn that income without a four year degree (since after all only 33.4% [1] of Americans now have bachelor degrees and their median income is around $60,000 now per the BLS).

Now combine two median incomes. You can very easily earn $80,000+ in a household, doing routine jobs without a bachelor's degree (a high school diploma is required), in thousands of typical mid-size locations in the US that are dramatically less expensive to live than the coastal cities.

Meanwhile, job openings have jumped to an all-time high.[2] While the supply of labor is at a very low level.

Pairing two median incomes delivers an upper middle class life, and does so easily given just a few years of continued improvement after reaching the median. That enables you to buy a good house in those other parts of the country (99% of the nation that is) and it enables you to live quite well if you're at all prudent. So there's your target: figure out how to get into the top 50% among the employed, not exactly a high bar.

[1] http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/326995-census-more-a...

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-08/job-openi...

It may not seem high to you, but to those in the bottom quartile, it may seem impossibly high, with no clear path in anything approaching the right direction.

That statistic seems kind of random. I have a bachelor degree and was definitely not pulling upper middle class on it (liberal arts degree) until I went to a bootcamp and switched careers into web dev.

I think the "32% of Americans have bachelor degrees" factoid is not meant to say that "everyone who gets a degree is upper-middle class" but that "a bachelor degree is _usually_ a gate/hoop you have to get through in order to have a good chance of being upper-middle class, and only 32% of Americans get through that filter."

Completely agree.

It doesn't even need to be a lifestyle business, nor in flyover country. I live on the Maine coast working for a large company. We even have a big office here! I'm mid 30's, wife, kid, and we have a nice balance. Yeah sometimes I work a bit more than I'd like, but 40 hours per week is normal, and for the times I work more than that, it's more than offset by my 20 minute traffic-doesnt-exist commute. I feel very fortunate to live somewhere that other people visit on vacation, but getting here isn't really that challenging.

Portland (the original!) has a small but growing startup scene if that's your thing. It also has some of the best food and beer in the country, which is a distraction I admit.

I just visited Portland for the first time and found it to be a surprisingly vibrant city. Despite being less than half the population of my home town, it has a lot going on. I suspect that changes quite a bit during the winter months.

Hot Suppa was an especially delicious place to eat.

The winter can be a bit much if you're not used to it for sure, but the upside is that tourists leave and restaurants no longer need reservations :)

Plus, not far from some excellent (downhill and cross-country) skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing.

It'll surprise you like that. I moved up here 5 or so years ago because I liked visiting so much. There's a lot going on specifically on the Portland peninsula if you're into food and beer (making or consuming), or generally interested in just making things. The greater portland area has the outdoors and beaches, which are excellent for year round activities.

The winter is harsh, which is probably the only reason for our low population density. It's really not that bad once you get used to it, though, because the roads are pretty well cleared and maintained, you find things like skiiing/skating to do, and employers generally have common sense about when to tell folks to stay home.

I grew up in a much larger mid-Atlantic suburb that didn't have nearly the character or variety of things to do that we have around Portland. My wife's biggest complaint is the lack of shopping, particularly "nice" stores, but Boston isn't that far.

>It could also be living in a medium-sized town in Flyover Country, U.S.A., working 40 hour weeks on interesting problems

That's like, full time employment.

Minus the "interesting problems" for many people.


We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the HN guidelines. Would you please not create accounts to do this with?

Different strokes for different folks. You don't need to convince me about the benefits of a digital nomad lifestyle - I travel extensively and spend 30+ days skiing/riding every year.

At the same time I can also see the appeal of a stable income and family, raising your kids in some nice suburbs, going to their soccer games or whatever. It was the life I had growing up and I'd like to give that to my kids someday.

Your comment seems pretty closed-minded, and also belittles the op for no reason.

I think it's a reference to a movie called Logan's Run where life ends at 30.

It's a bit less passive than that.

I think the book [0] was 21 years of age that people willingly submit themselves to death. I have another book on the reading list.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logan's_Run


You're not great with metaphors, huh?

Not a metaphor, but good try, Shakespeare.

There are surely better ways to be educated about references you don't understand than passive aggressively dismissing them ...

Lifestyle business beats a startup, until it doesn't. I'm the example. Ran a category leading website for years until I was demolished by a fully focused bad ass team and thrown out of my leadership position. Ultimately, I was forced to sell out at a much lower valuation than I'd have if I were totally focused. It could vary on niche and industry. But one can't generalize it one way or the other. If you have a great position in a big sector and you don't go for the kill, someone else will and your lifestyle business would be likely chewed up by competition. If it's a business with an intrinsic moat(think a retail store in small tourist town), it's likely to sustain. Take frequent breaks while running a bad ass startup, but don't for a while think that you can let the ball drop.

I think lifestyle businesses (like Mobile Jazz) should be more service focused (although they seem to have a few products). That way you get work, do it and get paid. No hassle of reaching the top and maintaining the lead.

+1 this is exactly how we did it. Not that any of that was planned, but it worked out quite well for us. Although now we're struggling with that every business is struggling that makes the switch from services to products: the need to put more resources on the product to facilitate growth while the service clients also have their needs. But we're getting there, step by step. The good thing about being a profitable lifestyle business is that we're in no rush.

Your new products seem to be SaaS applications. How do you guys plan to support the operations on a day to day basis? Will there be rotating rosters for who needs to provide devops support for a given week/month? Because I presume that would require reliable internet wherever you're working from at that time.

I'm one of the rosters that does devops for the SaaS products. What's important is to plan ahead any time you will be off so any co-worker can be there when you are not there. It's very strange that all devops guys are out at the same time. In case of a retreat we always look for reliable internet connection and we always bring our computers with us.

I was thinking the same thing -- if you don't go for the kill, but someone else does, they'll likely end up deciding your fate for you. That doesn't exactly "optimize for happiness".

OTOH, what would you do with that valuation delta that working yourself to the bone would hopefully bring? Would it adequately compensate you for missing the children's birthdays or Paris with your SO?

I agree completely. The safety to be complacent is what you (sometimes) take the pay and freedom cut for when you work for salary.

Is there some reason that people keep making the case for creating a standard business that supports one or two people? These types of posts have been pretty consistent over the years: "Take control of your life with a small business" "You don't need to make a massive company to be happy" etc...

I never see articles that encourage: "Here's why you should dedicate your life to starting a company and try to dominate an industry." It's like these posts are fighting against a boogeyman that isn't there.

I think 99% of all small businesses are "lifestyle businesses" where the founders aren't trying to build a market dominating billion dollar company. So who are these articles target to?

Is it simply the amount of press that surrounds VC and hyperscale companies that these folks are rejecting? I don't think any VC or founder has ever claimed that the only way to be happy/make money/do good is by trying to create a massive market dominating company.

Not even just the hyperscale folks, regularly on Hacker News I see posts about "side project" recommendations that are beyond belief in terms of marketing. To me a "side project" is something I can spend 1-2 hours on after work and maybe a little more on weekends. If I followed those posts I'd be doing 90% marketing/10% development and maybe I'll have an actual product in 10 years.

I'm honestly not sure what those authors are doing as a "main" job that they can dedicate such time to side projects, seems like some people like to conflate "bootstrapped startup" and "side project".

The best way to be able to dedicate that amount of time? Be single.

This. I was hanging on to a screen for 10 years while I was single. Then I met my wife and we now have a kid, I don't spend a single hour per day on learning the latest and greatest frameworks and stuff. Sometimes, I miss it. But maybe not really.

> learning the latest and greatest frameworks and stuff

You miss one framework, you worry you're getting left behind. Then it gets deprecated and you realise you just saved yourself a couple of months' worth of work. You miss a few more, then pick one up and realise it's exactly the same as one you used in university but with all the buzzwords renamed. And that's when you understand that nothing of value was lost.

Transitioning from single to married, I still was able to put in a little night/weekend time on projects. After the kid, zero.

I remember in school hearing someone speak who worked at ILM. He said he didn't even have a computer at home. 10 years later for me it makes a lot more sense.

Author here. Not sure if you are addressing this article in particular, but it was not my intention to describe "the one way", but rather to show how we do things and share it with the world.

Also IMHO sharing a way of doing things / a philosophy / an opinion doesn't always mean being against everything else. For example I prefer riding the mountain bike vs a road bike. Doesn't mean I'm against road cycling and the people doing it.

That said, to comment on what one of the siblings said, obviously these posts are being written with the intention of bringing more attention to what we're doing, also known as "marketing". I wouldn't however call it clickbait, as it is based on genuine thoughts and ideas and we've actually been doing it for real with a 20 people team for more than 5 years already.

it was not my intention to describe "the one way", but rather to show how we do things and share it with the world.

I think that's disingenuous. The title "Why A Lifestyle Business Beats a Startup" is clearly saying that a "lifestyle business" is better than a "startup." Further, many points in the article make it clear that you are directly comparing lifestyle to a startup and saying that a startup is inferior...

"...especially when compared to launching and building a startup."

"The reality is that in a startup you are not the boss."

"It is a misconception that the only way to make money is to launch and then grow a startup with the aim of selling it later"


There are a ton of the typical strawmen in there, and unfounded assertions around trying to build a massive company.

obviously these posts are being written with the intention of bringing more attention to what we're doing

Hey I totally get that it's content marketing, so congrats on being successful with this post - I have no beef with that at all. I am just wondering why is that the content? Bugfender isn't just for freelancers, so it's not like those are the de facto target demographics. Do you want more people to start lifestyle businesses for some reason?

> many points in the article make it clear that you are directly comparing lifestyle to a startup and saying that a startup is inferior

True. The whole point was to compare the two. And that one comes out better than the other is from my personal point of view. But again, just because I think mountain biking is better (for myself and other like minded people) doesn't mean it's the only way and road cycling is not acceptable and needs to be banned. But I guess we understand each other :-)

> I am just wondering why is that the content? Bugfender isn't just for freelancers

This post was actually originally created for another side project of mine (O4H) but we thought it also partially applies to one of our big audiences at Bugfender which are solo developers (freelancers), so we decided to cross post it.

However in general we share a lot of our work-life philosophy on our Mobile Jazz blog https://mobilejazz.com/blog/ and despite not addressing our target audience specifically, we've managed to create a lot of awareness for our company and brand and through that indirectly generated many interesting leads and people ended up working with us because of that.

Small businesses are usually the norm. But HackerNews, tech, the whole Bay Area is head-over-heels for the growth business, the make-it-rich-quick business, so the small lifestyle business concept is the outsider in this world.

I'd also argue that a small business is just a business where the goal is to provide goods or services to customers and work to employees, whereas a lifestyle business has a strong focus on creating and maintaining a good work-life balance for everyone. Which means in our case reinvesting the profit in our team's happiness.

Happiness: happiness being a very abstract word that I chose on purpose. Because it means different things for different people and it also changes over time.

There are relatively few people who would leave their well paying corporate job with benefits and stability to found a startup with a small chance of being very rich, and even fewer who would leave to start a small company with next to zero chance of becoming rich

the whole Bay Area is head-over-heels for the growth business

Right, that's it's uniquely identifying characteristic. Literally that's why people come to SV, do to that kind of business. It's self selection. If you come to the valley you are trying to build/join an insane rocket ship. I mean that's what VC and the last 30 years SV is all about.

so the small lifestyle business concept is the outsider in this world.

Ok, and? Is there some lack of knowledge that there are businesses that aren't hyperscale? I can't imagine.

Because Silicon Valley is so associated with tech, it's easy to forget there are tech businesses that aren't head-over-heels for the growth business. Similar to video games, you forget its possible to have a work/life balance because so many video game companies don't have it.

I feel like you're grouping dry cleaning businesses in with software businesses. In software, there's definitely a perception that the optimal path is to meet VCs, take a bunch of rounds of investment and become a hockey-stick unicorn. You don't see articles that encourage that because it's the status quo.

You don't see articles that encourage that because it's the status quo.

Its not though. It's the rarest of companies that even tries to get on the VC train. Most software companies are tiny and servicing only a handful of local companies with things like website design, hosting and SEO.

Go to any industry conference and you will see dozens if not hundreds of niche software services companies that only to some tiny thing for that industry.

> website design, hosting and SEO

That's not software. Also, getting those funded are almost impossible.

> Go to any industry conference

Go to the startup hubs and you'll see more.

Paul Graham, founder of ycombinator, wrote several very lengthy, very well thought out essays saying exactly that.

Also, ycombinator exists as an incubator specifically for companies that are trying to create a massive market dominating company.

The "boogeyman", as you put it, is at the very core of who and what ycombinator and hacker news are all about.

No way. All of his articles are about mechanics and lessons around starting and operating a startup. Nowhere does he advocate that it's better than doing a smaller business or that a startup is better.

I disagree: some of his essays have a _very clear_ bias towards advocating that doing a startup is a Great Thing.

> If you wanted to get rich, how would you do it? I think your best bet would be to start or join a startup.

( http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html )

He also argues in other essays that now [2001/3/now] is a great time to start a startup -- and since doing so is such an all-in proposition, it seems reasonable to infer that he is also arguing that it's better to start a startup _than some other option_.

> I never see articles that encourage: "Here's why you should dedicate your life to starting a company and try to dominate an industry." It's like these posts are fighting against a boogeyman that isn't there.

Really? Much (most?) stuff on HN is to do with "scaling" (ie. growing as fast as possible whether it makes sense for the business or not), rounds of venture capital, handling shares, all leading up to an "exit".

The fact that a profitable business with a dozen employees which is growing at a steady, sustainable rate is considered a "lifestyle business" at all is a symptom of this bizarre mindset.

> I never see articles that encourage: "Here's why you should dedicate your life to starting a company and try to dominate an industry."

Try to look for older articles. There is a reason so many people are replying to them, it's because they not only existed, but even used to claim that either a "lifestyle business" in IT was impossible or that nobody would want it.

This is awesome. I have noticed this type of logic with most content online. If a message is targeted towards a demographic consistently it probably means its not actually a problem and that the reverse message perhaps needs more representation. I suppose its just another result of the clickbait economy that makes low quality articles popular on the web?

Can we please stop calling regular businesses "lifestyle business", like it's some hobby for people who don't want to work in a " real" startup?!


Pretty much every blue collar tradesman runs a "lifestyle business" or "freelances"

I don't think you'll make it very long if you're trying to cut, polish, and install granite countertops from your sailboat in Micronesia. Blue collar trade businesses aren't conducive to that sort of lifestyle.

There's an inherent advantage to tech work in that it can be done remotely and asynchronously. This gives you the freedom of choosing almost any lifestyle you want.

At least that's what I imagine as the difference between a "lifestyle" and small business.

It's pretty common to live out of a camper and travel seasonally or between jobs. Sure you're not sipping margaritas on a beach but you're fairly free to take on as much or little work as you want.

People that own their own small businesses (other than an LLC for legal reasons) don't generally do this because you need to stay where your customers are but I know electricians, HVAC guys, plumbers and carpenters who will get a job working on something (e.g. HVAC for a factory) for a few months, park their trailer local to that job, line up another job before that one's up and possibly include time for a week of sightseeing and vacation in-between.

If those guys are traveling seasonally or between jobs, it's because they're following the work or out of work. They are not choosing this lifestyle, they are entrapped in it. Yes, if they end up driving by the beach or a national park on the way to the next job they will stop and enjoy but, not the same thing at all. The term lifestyle business does imply something different, more like the folks in the article, or Tim Ferris, or something whether you like the term or not.

There are definitely people who string together outdoor guiding, ski instruction, scuba instruction, etc. etc. gigs. I'm not sure if that really constitutes a "lifestyle business" though. More an itinerant lifestyle.

On the other hand, they guy who owns the scuba shop and uses the (hopeful) profits to be a ski bum for the winter probably does have a lifestyle business if that's his thing.

From someone who's done both, they are not comparable, directly, but they have a complementary relation: The DN (digital nomad) life is absolutely an engine for the kind of creative and free thinking that engenders killer startup ideas. Startups are "the thing" you want to commit your life to, the world-changing vision that you're ready to sacrifice for; the DN/ lifestyle business/ remote gigs mode is the fertile ground, for when you lack strength of vision, you don't know what you want right now, so you slow down, gain experience, and grow your thinking.

Only ever doing one in your life without the other is unenviable, and makes it hard to fully enjoy and appreciate, or even excel at, whichever one you've chosen.

"A good lifestyle business could even be turned into a multi-million dollar company, if that’s what you want.": I've stopped reading there, I don't understand how articles that empty can arrive on top of HN. These questions (where to work? On what? How much?) get way better answers in "Ask HN" threads, articles coming from nowhere with a topbar selling me something are really not making me dream anymore.

Genuine question: how do you know the article is empty if you haven't even read 20% of it?

The sentence I mentioned made me wonder if anything in the 20% I've read taught me something, I then looked at the top of my screen and saw the discount, that's when I decided to go back in this thread.

Interesting point. We actually had set up the HN discount long time ago for the whole site. But I do get your point that it makes this look a bit scammy. Thanks for answering and pointing this out.

I would suggest adding the discount at the bottom of the article so that you know that the people using it are already kind of engaged. The sentence was a deal breaker for me as I was on my phone thus in a context pushing for snacking content instead of going further.

That doesn't seem like an effective marketing strategy.

If they moved their coupon code, would that change the content of their article? Or would it just set you at ease temporarily because you are jaded (rightfully so)?

We're using Optimizely for that. We'll look into it and see how easily we could put it inside the content or at least at the bottom. Thanks for the constructive feedback :-)

Despite HN having a very critical readership it still falls victim to the biggest problems in internet journalism: click bait headlines and controversial topics(as in "...better than a startup" in a startup-centric message board).

This digital nomad thing just looks hellish to me. Maybe I'm getting old.

Can't imagine being somewhere nice but glued to a laptop, or getting anything useful done without reliable wifi etc, or being part of a team where the boss has gone on holiday but still showing up in slack etc.

I'd hate to feel like I wasn't part of the team for not getting our kids together or not wanting to holiday or spend a day off with colleagues. I'm not impressed by instagram or medium posts from perfect looking beaches giving business advice.

Not sure when a lifestyle business went from being a business that fits around your lifestyle to making the appearance of living an idealised lifestyle everybody else's business.

Part of the day working. Part of the day playing. Same as anywhere else, except you are doing it in amazing new places either every week, or once a month. Don't knock it til you try it.

Not everyone enjoys traveling, many people hate it.

I'd hate to feel like I wasn't part of the team for not getting our kids together or not wanting to holiday or spend a day off with colleagues.

This may be simply a cultural difference. In the past five years I've worked in a office, we did that about twice a year, if that.

I... I feel I can't believe the company has 1) top salary, 2) top benefits 3) unlimited travel 4) work remote 5) top enterprise clients 6) small teams 7) work as much as you want?

either someone is ridiculous at managing at all of this (kudos!) or something is slipping somewhere. Even in custom-dev it can be cutthroat, especially with large-scale projects and demanding clients.

Yeah, totally agree. I run a software consultancy too, and it is very, very far from what I would term a "lifestyle business". I work extremely hard - at least in part so the people working for me don't have to work extremely hard (but periodically they do still have to work pretty hard, when we have deadlines from demanding clients). I suppose I could do my job on a beach somewhere, if I didn't have children, but I have no idea how spotty wifi and the timezones would work. I suspect not well.

Specifically when he talks about being a "multi million dollar business" as some kind of ambitious reach goal

I don't see what's so unbelievable about it? You can execute really quickly if you have empowered teams and no bureaucracy slowing you down.

at some point, its a cost equation. top of salary, benefits, inconsistent working hours = potentially unreliable delivery to clients // not complex solutions. custom dev isn't that groundbreaking, its just a game of balancing levers at play. Something always slips, its a fact of the game. This just seems too good to be true (though if it is, happy for them!)

Meh, kind of a generic article about how you should prioritize lifestyle over building a startup. I guess this is nothing new to me, I did the digital nomad thing with Remote Year for a year and change, and now I'm still working remotely in Austin, TX.

I do miss the constant travel, there is always something coming up to look forward to. When you are in one place, not constantly traveling, you have to make your own fun. Which is why I've taken up other things like riding motorcycles, brewing beer, and speaking at my local Python meetup.

All that year I was working full time as a Python Developer while traveling constantly. Every weekend was an epic adventure. It's an amazing lifestyle if you can pull it off, but its not for everyone can definitely will wear on you after a while.

I own a lifestyle business and I work at a startup as the founding engineer, but I work remotely.

When you work remotely, you can treat both your lifestyle business and your gig the same, insofar as you have the freedom to take an hour off your gig to do some calls for your lifestyle business in the middle of the day, or you can test particular technologies on your lifestyle business before you commit to it in your startup.

I find them both to be healthily married.

I still have the freedom to hang out with my kid at lunch, or work from a far away place, while at the same time achieving my career goals and attaining financial independence.

Give me a break. He is playing fast and loose with terminology and it is disingenuous because he is twisting lifestyle business to be whatever he wants it to mean while dissing startups and not giving that term the same flexibility to be "anything that grows fast, even if it doesn't eat the CEO's life."

I hate the term lifestyle business and articles like this one are part of why. I have given my POV previously here:


My recollection is that Plenty of Fish was started by one guy who never took VC money, so he got to keep all the money when he sold for millions. Articles like this don't mention examples like that when justifying their biased opinion that "lifestyle business" = good and "startup" = bad. (In part because of the lack of VC money, I assume that Plenty of Fish was not a pressure cooker. Upon rereading my comment, that assumption does not seem clear.)

A lifestyle business seems fundamentally incompatible with a team oriented business. Let's assume the goal of a "lifestyle" business by a single founder is to automate all operations such that little to no work is required on the part of that founder.

Ok, that's all well and good. But some of that "automation" will inevitably be delegation to the founder's employees. So the employees have to work. The founder doesn't have to work. How can the founder possibly show good leadership and build a strong team if his goal is to work as little as possible?

As a founder, you are responsible for the well being of your employees. That's why they're employees, not independent contractors. If you're working four hours a week with a team of employees, there is a high chance you're shirking some responsibility toward them.

And if you decide to be a full time boss, then you're still building more than a business. You're building a team that you are responsible for. That is, you "answer" to other people - your employees. At this point, the advantages of a lifestyle business over VC funded business ("low hours," "not beholden to anyone") start to lose their luster.

If you're interested in building a team, and a lasting enterprise, then it becomes more logical to just take some seed funding so you can safely pay your employees and ensure an early growth trajectory. Whereas if you're only interested in a totally automated business to provide you and your family a stable income, then you should avoid hiring employees because you'll just end up beholden to them.

Thus the ideas of a "fully automated lifestyle business" and a "lifestyle business with a strong team" seem at odds with each other.

That's the part I don't get, he argues for a lifestyle business being better than a startup and advertises travel and hobbies.

So the premise seems very clear, you can earn enough money with a lifestyle business to enjoy life without having to aim for unicorn-hopeful-hockey-stick-growth.

I only read about the money, the hours, and the hobbies, but what happened to you know, building a business to address an issue and solve a problem? Help people?

Even so, the term lifestyle business sounds to me like a smaller workload sustainable living of entrepreneurial minded individuals regardless of what their employees think so you can travel to white sand beaches while the cashflow continues, but some people have fulfillment in building a business, creating a workplace, a culture where others will thrive and and enjoy life themselves.

Site seems to be down. Here's the cached article: http://archive.is/p5ZLR

It's back online again.

At a certain point, this blog post seemed mostly about the great traveling opportunities that this company offers its employees. That's' neat, for employees who are kid-free. But as a developer married to developer... with 2 kids under the age of three... I can tell you that those work retreats abroad actually become pretty challenging for families. At a certain point.. people want to have kids. I would find a company who made their employee perks more about realistically supporting families far more appealing.

I'm a team member of the company and it's true that it's challenging to organize this kind of retreats for families but we've done it a couple of times and we're currently organizing one in the Caribbean and looking into ways to integrate 2 of our colleagues that have recently had or will soon have kids, e.g. hiring a full time Au Pair.

Also, we organize two types of events. Remote offices where the focus is on working from a remote place (Thailand, Cape Town) but also retreats (Ski trip) where the focus is on team building and there's little work. It's always easier for people with families to integrate in the second.

That's awesome about the au pairs! Good one.

Lifestyle businesses eventually give you more of what you really want, freedom.

VC backed startups seem to just give you a new set of bosses.

I think what's important here is that we each have to know what our lifestyle aspirations are.

For some folks, a lifestyle business is better suited for them as they are looking to get more time out of their lives to do other things.

For others, a startup might be better because they have more control over whatever product/service they are providing.

Totally agree. It's a very personal thing. For us at Mobile Jazz it means to work on technical challenges, while at the same time working on "startup-like products" (e.g. Bugfender or Localname), while not having any pressure from investors and as you said spending also more time on other things in life.

This probably excludes a lot of product types that are highly competitive or time critical, but there's still a lot left to work on, especially niche products. In our case that niche are developer tools, which all came up organically as we built our own developer tools for ourselves anyway.

I'm glad you brought up the point about investors as I don't think the implications of taking money from investors gets talked about a lot. As you pointed out, more pressure to deliver and really should be used for pouring gasoline on fire instead of starting the fire itself though granted I know that seed money is required to get things going sometimes.

Just in case people are more interested in the details of the business we run, Indie Hackers recently ran an interview with us https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/bugfender

Great interview. Do you have any text or interview about MobileJazz?


I'm someone who is thinking of changing carriers at 30 to become a developer. I love the idea of cutting out bureaucracy and office politics and be paid decently. I'd love any thoughts and advice from more experienced people about what I should do in the next 12-24 months.

> cutting out bureaucracy and office politics

Not trying to demotivate you, but that's just not gonna happen. I'm a developer who works on 'consultancy' basis. I've worked in multiple organizations and all of them have bureaucracy and office politics. As a developer it might sometimes feel even worse, because you're supposed to be the technical guy and not meddle with business, but you're still impacted by all the shit that's going on.

Unless you manage to get a job at a well funded, hardly managed, early stage startup in the burn phase, it'll be like many other jobs. And even if you do get to work in a startup like that, you'll see that there are also downsides to it.

My advice; first see if you actually like programming and have at least some feeling for the analytical thinking required to be able to do it. Do this after work and during weekends. Pick any language and follow an online course start to end. Then build something you think of yourself, anything, it can be useless and stupid, but it should be yours. You'll find out whether you like it while doing it. If you don't, then don't switch jobs.

Hey thanks for the reply. That's excellent advice and I really appreciate it.

I currently am stuck to a job due to visa reasons (if I quit or get fired, I have to leave the first world) for the next 6 months. The job's quite stressful with constant sales deadlines for me to also be learning JavaScript in the evenings. I'm putting in the time but consistency has been hard to come by.

I'm thinking of relocating somewhere that isn't expensive, find a job that's cognitively not as challenging to have spare time to learn and build stuff. I need a change in my day to day right now.

Yes there is client politics but the difference is you don't need to buy into it emotionally.

If you are emotionally invested in the quality of your work and the product gets nerfed by some C-level executive power play, it can be just as demoralizing. This is not at all unusual in my experience.

I've been doing a successful lifestyle business for over a decade, the best advice is to research one very specific consumer area, and provide information that will save people time - mostly through presenting research in as concise a way as possible.

Most people underestimate the desire of humans not to think. We all need to do research when we're buying something we're not familiar with, nobody wants to spend time thinking and comparing and figuring out what the best option is - save them time and you'll eventually develop a lifestyle business.

It's important to note that it takes time, perhaps up to 3 years to really get going, but once it gets going, it's like a flywheel that's hard to stop.

Could you be more specific? What does concise research refer to ? Do you mean info-products like videos, eBooks, and courses?

What's the last major thing you purchased? Basically, be on the lookout for frustrating purchases, were you not able to find good info? Too many spammy sites? What site do you wish was available to help you with that purchase? If you can't find it, make it.

I can only think of price-comparison or review-based websites. Is that what you're talking about? How could you monetize something like that without ads, for instance?

curated lead generation. You basically only market the good products in your niche

They're making their living off it, won't likely tell you. I can understand that.

Curious what type of products you're talking about?

To confirm what others have said: becoming a developer will not inherently "[cut] out bureaucracy and office politics" and certainly does not hold any guarantee of being "paid decently."

That doesn't make it any less feasible if you find yourself dissatisfied with your current path. Just don't fall for an illusion of greener grass on the other side of the fence.

For a personal view: I was programming in BASIC at 12 and coding HTML not long after. And while my professional journey has been... meandering (I'm whatever the opposite of a Type A personality is), after 10+ years (not contiguous) of having some variation of web development as my primary job responsibility, I'm pretty well bored and unmotivated at this point. I've made more than I do now and been less happy and I've made less and been happier, had more/less autonomy, and in a relatively wide variety of environments: large corporation, small businesses, not-for-profits, freelance, healthcare, verticals, consumer-oriented.

And frankly, if I had ideal working conditions and made double what I do now, would I happier in general? Sure. But I wouldn't necessarily be any more excited to wake up and do that work than the day before. Because the factors you cited, while not inconsequential, can vary and change due to factors entirely out of your control. And they have no causal relationship to any particular work.

In other words, if you've eliminated all bureaucracy and office politics from the equation, and you secure a generous income, it still doesn't mean you'll feel different when your head hits the pillow at night and your eyelids lift to greet the morning.

With a 12-24 month timeframe, you may want to reflect on what your core values are—what really drives and motivates you.

Hi! Thanks for your reply - I really appreciate it.

To give you a bit of background, I'm an immigrant in the UK (from a 3rd world country, one of these: Brazil, China, India) as a sponsored employee. This means that I've been stuck in a job I didn't want, to be to be able to live in a country I wanted to live in. In the next 6-8 months, I will get a permant resident permit allowing me freedom to work anywhere I like without restrictions on minimum salary (like I have now). This is huge because I've been in a job I don't like for 5 fucking years!

I have a background in being self taught at the basics of HTML, CSS, some wordpress, a bit of javascript. I have designed a few projects in the past and it's super exciting to be able to create as a job. I feel like problem solving as a job sounds like a good fit because that's something I'm good at (once I know the syntax i'm dealing with).

After 5 years, I kind of feel like a slave and just want to spend a year (at first) doing things I think I might be good at, while doing things I know I like doing and I want to do more of.

Wow, what a journey you've made! I can see where you're coming from, literally & figuratively.

(If it wasn't obvious already, background is firmly rooted in white, male, American privilege. My family wasn't the Western stereotype of rich but by any reasonable measure, I was unquestionably fortunate.)

> it's super exciting to be able to create as a job. I feel like problem solving as a job sounds like a good fit because that's something I'm good at

I'm right with you on both the creating and the problem solving, both are key for me as well. As others have said, explore the various languages, platforms and such to discover which might click for you. Could be that you find operating as a generalist the best route or you may find a niche that you dive deep into. There are so many possibilities that fall under the umbrella of "developer" at this point, the sky literally isn't even the limit any longer.

Sounds like you're in a good place to make the leap soon and I wish you the best in finding an opportunity to land on!

I just saw this, thank you for the super encouraging reply! While I've never been poor, I come from a place where the thinking is very narrow and I've been super lucky to get out and have a chance at living on my own terms.

Your idea of starting an online diary is also very interesting - I'll definitely consider doing everything in public. I'm just a bit paranoid about putting my (sometimes opinionated) thoughts out there for future employers to see. Maybe it can be a strictly advice, wins and losses.

Wanted to add that you might consider writing about this then build on that by continuing to share the progress of your journey. At the very least you would have something to reflect back on but moreso I suspect there are others who would find encouragement in what you've been through already.

Just a thought...

Find 1 client that will pay you to develop something small for them. Ideally something taking 1-3 months of part-time focus. Repeat for 14 years.

Don't fall for the myth that politics are irrelevant to coders. It is true that they are slightly more insulated from the game, but only because their skill is difficult to find. The bosses plainly resent having to pretend to respect socially/politically inept technicians, and that's not a good position to put yourself in.

You may be able to keep a heads-down position with limited political exposure, but you'll cap out relatively quickly, and easily be beaten by colleagues with better instincts. Your mobility across employers will be limited. Developers, like all groups of people, are subject to psychological forces too.

"Politics" are what happens anytime a group of 5+ people get together and engage. Throw in things like a paycheck and the stakes shoot way up very quickly, and that's never going to change. It is better to accept this perspective and learn to prosper within it than to live in denial and try to cling to a white-collar career maintained by sheer force of intellect (e.g., the inept developer).

Wow, thanks for that well written response!

I think I understand your point. I haven't really had many jobs and the one I have right now at age 30, I'm allowed to go in when I want, wear literally ANYTHING I want and not questioned very much, and I get paid around £42k a year (including bonuses). Thing is that I can't stand it. I need to experience what a job that I like or I'm interested in is like.

Choose a language, make an immaculate/by-the-book demo project and open source it on Github, shotgun apply to many jobs.

The people who I've seen who have the best lifestyle have big chunks of work followed by big chunks of time off.

They tended to work 6-12 month contracts followed by 3-6 months off. This works great in a good economy, when it turns sour its more difficult.

The other happy group worked in mines or oil rigs on a month on month off schedule. They got paid tax free and had 6 month long vacations a year to travel.

I think I prefer those options to working while travelling.

To be clear, they didn't actually get paid 'tax free' (unless they have extraordinarily unique circumstances). They just got paid under the table.

No they were tax free. They weren't US citizens and worked random countries around the world and didnt trigger local residency laws.

Foreign workers in gulf states are normally paid tax free I believe.

Ah, but many countries (including the US) expect their citizens to report your income regardless of source. If you don't, it isn't really tax-free, just 'not reported'

I believe the US is nearly the only country that taxes its citizens when they are working abroad. China too I think.

Certainly it doesn't happen in Europe.

Also this doesn't have to be an either/or decision that you have to make on Day 1. We started our business as a lifestyle business and as it got traction have decided to pursue a startup approach. On track to do $10M+ revenue this year :)

I'm all for lifestyle businesses and side hustles. But some ideas really do require a lot of up-front capital. It's hard to imagine Tesla, SpaceX, Boom, or Nest succeeding as lifestyle businesses.

I don't think anyone is claiming Tesla, SpaceX, Boom or Nest could have been built this way?

Author's title is "Why A Lifestyle Business Beats a Startup" which implies that no one should be pursuing a VC-backed startup, in favor of lifestyle businesses. That would leave all of these (subjectively) great ideas by the wayside.

I agree the title could be better. I don't think (or at least I hope) the author isn't speaking in absolutes though. Obviously, there are places for both styles of business.

Has "lifestyle" changed its meaning? It seems to mean now that if you're "focusing on lifestyle" you are kayaking on the Pacific Ocean.

I guess it means whatever is important to you: for some it means going surfing in the morning, for others skiing in the afternoon and for some it is as simple as spending more time with your friends and family.

I have grown both a lifestyle business and a startup and I still don't know which I prefer. I mean, it's nice to have some flexibility, but it's also nice to find the capital that helps propel your business faster. It really depends on the business, the person, and what you'd like to get out of the venture. At the end of the day it's a preference. I don't think one beats the other.

I am getting a strong cognitive dissonance by the loads of people here who conflate "lifestyle business" with "digital nomad". They are NOTHING alike.

Lifestyle business in this sense is a traditional business with minimal / zero external investment, no pressure from greedy VCs and people who have no lives and thus live in the office. A business where you can take a break at any time.

Why do people here equate this with people who travel around the world with a smartphone, clothes and some food?

What does 'a lifestyle business' mean, anyway?

It's what is known outside the VC / startup scene as "a business".

It's a business a person starts to provide a reasonable level of income to themselves and their family, to maintain a certain lifestyle.

This generally refers to a business setup specifically to throw off enough cash to support a certain lifestyle. You never plan to sell or IPO. The main goal is to tweak process until it essentially runs itself with only occasional oversight from you. The level of lifestyle (and cash) you want decide how long that will take you.

Author here. For us it means optimizing for happiness instead of profit. More practically speaking what we do is ensuring everyone has a sufficient base salary, but then also participates in a quarterly bonus program (profit sharing). But the key is actually that everyone can work from wherever they want and as much as they want (as long as it is properly planned in advance). And then on top of that we organize fun retreats like spending a month in Cape Town or Martinique, or going skiing together in Austria or just a few days ago we went together to the Italian Alps for a week of hiking.

So this is what lifestyle business means for us: having a good time with great people.

I think that's a good definition. One often sees "lifestyle business" used as some sort of code for not paying very well but, at the end of the day, not having appreciably more flexibility or lifestyle-related benefits than any other small business.

Nothing against small consulting/design/etc. small businesses. But if they're fairly typical, at least figuratively, 9-5 gigs in the office or at customer sites with a few weeks off a year, it's hard to see them as lifestyle businesses.

I would tweak that to say you optimize for happiness instead of growth. Oftentimes, profit will be far more important to a lifestyle business than a VC rocketship, simply because the rocketship can sustain itself through funding rather than profit, and a business whose sole purpose is to maintain a comfortable standard of living for it's employees is pointless without profiting.

how do you deal with kids/school? Do you take your kids along with you?

I personally do not have kids yet, but some of our employees have kids and even newborn babies. One of them just came back from a trip to Norway. It's all doable and probably less of a problem than people think :-)

I think they were asking you what do the parents in your organization do on some of these longer outings - do they come and bring their kids, come without their families, or stay home?

Got it! So I'd stay we've two groups of people in the company: those that like the freedom to spend it at home and those that like the freedom to go traveling. To answer your question: the retreats we offer are voluntary so not everyone joins. But we do have a group of people who are strong travelers and also having kids now and they just take them with them. This is however quite now to us and we're planning a trip to Martinique where we are considering hiring a nanny as well.

That's awesome. I think you're handling that really well. I suspect a lot of US-based startups use these things as a screening tool to not hire too many people with families/outside obligations. It's a perk on paper, but you're a "bad culture fit" if you can't do weekly happy hour or a week long retreat because you want to see your kids.

Are you hiring?!

Actually yes :-) http://mobilejazz.com/jobs

Depending who you ask it means anything from "I only work 4 hours a week" to "Not about to be sold to Amazon for $1.8b". My personal definition would be a business that explicitly has a goal of focusing on employee (and by extension founder) well being over profit margins.

Very well put! I see it exactly the same way :-)

It means I don't have to wake up to an alarm, have most things automated, work 4-5 hours per week, and live like someone who is retired.

After reading the article, that doesn't seem to be the case.

People optimize for different lifestyles, but what I described is a fairly common goal. The Wikipedia article on lifestyle businesses even cites The Four Hour Workweek.

That sounds like my maintenace contract. Sometimes you dont even need to start business to have good lifestyle.

I think in this instance it means not accepting venture capital, which gives them greater flexibility to travel.

Not accepting VC is more a side effect of having a lifestyle business than the aim.

A startup's main aim is growth. Most VCs won't accept an idea that doesn't have the potential to be worth a billion dollars. One amazing investment must have a 10x return to pay for the 9 shitty investments that failed.

A lifestyle business' aim isn't growth. It's aim is to provide enough money and use a small amount of the founder's time, so the founder can enjoy their life.

From the business pov, it usually means that it generates enough profit to sustain a person or family without growing massively or becoming a "unicorn".

Instead of shooting for a mega-exit, I think it's about using the business to just enable a certain lifestyle for the founders/employees.

One thing that is hard to have in a lifestyle business, especially one that is combined with constant travel, is innovation. A lot of people do startups because they want to create something radically new and impossibly ambitious, something that doesn't currently. If that is what drives you then doing web dev consulting will not be very exciting, even if you do it from a beach in Bali.

You could pretty much have the lifestyle you want wherever you are. You don't need to go anywhere really, unless you want to be snorkelling or scuba diving everyday

Most days you just want to eat well, exercise, meditate, do a good job, try'n make some money, spend time with family, and sleep well. The odd day you do feel adventurous just take off on your motorcycle or hop on a plane.

No great scenic view will make your life automatically better. The scenic view in itself is only benefit there is. That I have to agree!

Many comments in here make the dialogue feel like a roiling cauldron of over-work and burn-out. Whether you're nomadic, working in a start-up, working at a mega-corp, working at the the grocery store, balance in life is crucial.

In knowledge work, how can one really spend more than 40 hours producing quality output? It becomes an unhealthy compulsion to sate a hyper-stimulated existence instead of a strategy for creation. Whichever way you choose to work, focus on health and ample rest. The rest will take care of itself.


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