Feli & Marcus Interview: Digital Nomads and DNX 2015

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DNX Global is the world’s premiere event for digital nomads looking for actionable know-how on online self-employment and location independent working. After three landmark events, this is the first English-speaking conference for people all over the world.

We interviewed the founders of DNX to ask them about the past, present and future of digital nomads and the DNX series of conferences – check out what they have to say! (And also check out our 10% discount code for DNX Global tickets with the code “DNX-GLOBAL-COPASS!”

So, tease us. Why should our reader come to the DNX 2015 conference this year?

DNX 2015 Global is the first conference for digital nomads and the place to be to connect to like-minded people and fellow nomads from all over the world. The event will take place on the 31st of July and 1st of August 2015 in Berlin.

We exchange know-how about freelancing, online entrepreneurship and travel. We are big fans of the lean startup and bootstrapping approach as well as solopreneurship. That means no investors, no office and no fixed employees.

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Furthermore, we also have the big players of the first remote companies like Buffer showing up. So we cover all the aspects of the digital nomad lifestyle and learn from each other.

Besides that, Berlin is the place to be for digital nomads in summer, and many are sticking around after the DNX conference.

Let’s start by learning a bit about you. How did you become digital nomads?

It was not planned at all. Marcus and I worked several years in corporate jobs in online startups. We met at StepStone — the biggest online job board in Germany. Marcus was working in the international online marketing team and Feli in the German marketing team doing communication and events.

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We became a couple, moved together to Berlin and worked there again in other startups like Zanox (affiliate network) or Searchmetrics (international search and social analytics tool).

After a while Marcus was inspired and motivated by the startup scene in Berlin and started to think about founding his own company. Feli used to travel since she was 20 and did her first around the world trip at the age of 23. After working in online companies for more than 5 years she thought about taking a sabbatical and wanted to do a longer trip.

I love to work but I felt that I needed more freedom. I don’t want to work every day at the same place with the same people.

One thing led to another, and in the end we quit our jobs at the same time and went to Southeast Asia. Marcus founded his company even before we took off. Feli was in line to become a shore excursion manager on a cruise ship, but later rejected the job offer in order to travel, since it has long been a dream of hers.

But well, this was definitely not the best option for our relationship. Being on the road Feli supported Marcus in finding the right business idea. While brainstorming together we started considering actually doing business together. We complement each other very well with our skill sets.

We were so excited and pumped that we worked more on our first ideas than actually enjoying the nice surroundings in Asia.

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We started with freelancing and offered online marketing consulting as well as implementation. We got our first clients out of our huge personal network, which we had built from running Adwords campaigns, Facebook campaigns, SEO content and so on. However we realized very quickly that it was not what we wanted. We had a bigger picture in mind. We didn’t want to be freelancers but entrepreneurs and scale the business.

That was when we started to hire freelancers for parts of our work. But it was not that easy to find good ones. The next problem was that each client job was kind of different. So it was hard to automate and scale the processes what would make it much easier while being on the road.

At that time we didn’t even know the term digital nomad. But once we actually fell into that category we started to investigate and connect with others who were living that lifestyle.

Since you’ve gone location independent, where on earth have you been?

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We have been working from Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Colombia, Curacao and, of course, in our homebase in Berlin, Germany.

If you had a phrase of advice for people stuck in that world wanting to escape, what would it be?

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The digital nomad lifestyle is not for everyone and might not be the answer you are looking for. Do not confuse it with a world trip. You are self-employed, if not working for a remote company, with all the advantages and challenges that come along with it.

People do not want to just work anymore, they want to do something meaningful.

It might be for you if you’re disciplined, adaptable, adventurous and focused. Otherwise you better take a sabbatical and think about how this step will change your life. Think about how it will impact your relationships, employment opportunities and finances.

Well, in the end, you will know for sure if you try it!

Cool! So now, regarding the DNX: how did that idea come about?

Well, so we were living this lifestyle, writing about it, answering questions and helping lots of people to get started. We are very well connected in the digital nomad scene as we are both extroverted people. We also had an online audience following us on our blog and social media channels.

When we opened the ticket sale (we were in Belize in Central America at that time), the event sold out in less than one hour.

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The first DNX conference was initially planned as a kind of “small” unconventional meetup, with some digital nomads giving a talk about their lifestyle and serving tips. Feli had previously worked in event management, and she was already beginning to miss it. We love to connect people and to host people as well as discuss digital nomad issues.

We were in Mexico when coding the website for the first DNX. More precisely, we were in Laguna Bacalar over Christmas at the home of an older Canadian woman we called “Crazy Carolina.” Why? She had a nice, huge garden in front of the lake. People were always trying to anchor their boats nearby. She wanted to scare them off and always put loud and awful music on. But the boat owners didn’t mind that very much.

We started with a ticket price of 47€ as an early bird price, food & drinks included, which is very cheap. We had opted for a small room for 50 people in Berlin. When we opened the ticket sale (we were in Belize in Central America at that time), the event sold out in less than one hour. So later we organized a whole floor of the famous coworking space betahaus, and even this was sold out within three days.

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What happened was that we sold all the tickets for the early bird price as we did not limit it to the number of tickets but rather a date.

How has it grown and changed since its inception? It was originally in German, right?

Out of this idea and the first DNX, we organized the second DNX with 400 people and an additional workshop program. We set up the workshops based on the feedback participants gave us when they signed up. We asked them what they expected, what topics they were interested in and what level of expertise they had.

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So now we have the third German-speaking DNX coming up very soon in Berlin in May and we will have the first international DNX GLOBAL this summer in Berlin. We will have speakers like Pieter Levels, Mark Manson, Derek Sivers and Natalie Sisson at the DNX GLOBAL conference.

In past conferences, did they fit your expectations for what happened / how people received them?

The feedback from our conference is awesome and we are very happy with it. We set up an exclusive DNX Community on Facebook so that people can keep in touch, exchange know-how after the event and help each other. This works out very well.

People found goal buddies, started projects, went on the road or took their businesses to the next level. These types of actions are exactly what we wanted to trigger.

We don’t want the DNX conference to be an event where you just listen but don’t take action.

What reasons drove you to make this year’s DNX a GLOBAL DNX?

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We got emails and requests from people asking if we could also organize an English-speaking event. We gave a talk in English at the five-year betahaus anniversary — a well-known coworking space in Berlin. Berlin itself is very international and the audience at that event was too. We again got feedback that people would like to learn more, and we were asked to do an English-speaking event.

Furthermore, we got lots of feedback from other parts of Germany and also Switzerland and Austria, asking if we could do events in those locations. We thought about it and didn’t know what to do. We decided to think big and to go for the bigger challenge; we decided to go international.

Our international partners like Elance-Odesk were supporting us 100%. Because of our lengthy travel trips, we also had good connections in the international digital nomad scene already.

With this big step in mind – what’s next? Where do you want to take it?

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We want the DNX conferences to remain the top events that focus on the digital nomad lifestyle. We are planning to do the DNX GLOBAL conference in different countries all over the world.

Maybe we will also start some smaller DNX camps abroad in the times we are traveling. We will see.

And finally, a big question: What is the future of the digital nomad movement as you see it?

We see this decade as a kick off for more freedom and individual fulfillment. People do not want to just work anymore, they want to do something meaningful. It is the best time ever to start living your dreams and go on the road as a digital nomad.

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The Internet is a huge opportunity and possibly the best thing that has ever happened. You can start a business with little money with the lean startup and bootstrapping approach. Furthermore, you can reach a lot of people and build an audience.

The amount of people who are traveling will increase as the circumstances get better and better. We expect better Internet connections, more coworking spaces and better connections between the digital nomads.

Not everyone wants to travel. The coming generation Y loves personal freedom and puts this over possessions and status symbols.

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