You have to be in a mood to create opportunities everywhere you go
Hailing from Montreal, Pierre-Philippe Emond hopped on his nomadic journey only recently, maintaining his blog Globe Codeur as he visits new places. We talked with him during his 70 day stay in Surf Office Gran Canaria about maintaining business while traveling, his plans and some neat tips for remote work, including how to make a great pitch on the road.
What do you do for living?
I founded a company in the past - Studio OL in Montreal. Since I've embarked on this journey I’m no more a president but I’m still a co-owner of the company. Most of the things that I do every day still relate to Studio OL. I’m currently in Gran Canaria, but working on projects for clients in Canada and California.
Are you entirely location independent now?
Yes, I sold everything. I don’t have an apartment anymore and there are only a couple of boxes of my stuff in my parents’ basement.
How did you start with remote work?
For many years while working on contracts I used to go to a countryside vacation house and worked from there. I’ve been doing this on and off for about four or five years. In the beginning of the year I started reading about digital nomads. Last February, I did a test - I booked one week all inclusive in Mexico. The test was to enjoy some sort of a vacation but to work 5 or 6 hours per day at the same time.
The moment I came back I decided I’ll do the digital nomad thing. It took me three months to sell everything and prepare. I told my most important clients that I’m going abroad but it didn’t change anything for them.
I think this is really important when you have a company and clients - it has to be business as usual. If you talk about your plans too much they might say “Well, this guy is on vacation, I don’t want to disturb him.”
How do you like working from Gran Canaria in comparison with Canada?
I think Gran Canaria is a fantastic place either for a vacation or to start a digital nomad trip. It’s my second destination since I left Montreal but it’s the first place where I’m really on my own and I think it’s terrific. The weather is nice but not too hot. This helps and the whole Surf Office is great, too.
Do you have any daily routine while staying at Surf Office?
I wake up at about 10:30am and get to the office around noon. I try to go to the gym a couple of times a week. I’ve surfed a few of times but found it pretty hard.
In terms of work, the first two to three hours I deal with emails and project management and later in the day I do the actual coding.
Our company does both things, web development and also video production. The video production guys are staying in Montreal.
What do you like about Surf Office and why did you choose to stay here?
When I started with this digital nomad trip I was just googling ‘how to code over the world’ or something like that and I stumbled upon some blogs. I found that Surf Office was often recommended.
What made me comfortable was that when I looked at the website, there was pretty much everything and it’s a kind of all inclusive. There are three things that are certain when you go to the Surf Office - you’ll have a place to live, a place to work and you will meet people from all over the world. It’s given. People just come and shake hands, telling “Let’s go and grab a beer after work.”
As I will continue to travel this is probably going to be harder and harder. In other places I will have to book an apartment and find a coworking space, if there is any. If not, I will have to work from my apartment. And if you’re working from an apartment, how do you meet people? You see, it all makes it harder.
Where are you headed next after Surf Office?
I’m going to DNX international conference in Berlin, then to Croatia, Romania and further east - I’m going to be in Asia in autumn and will spend a couple of months there. The idea was to go east this year and next summer to Montreal.
Have you found new clients along the road or are you still working for the same ones as you were in Montreal?
Before I left I made sure that I had at least two big clients who were staying with me. They are e-commerce sites which is terrific for a digital nomad. These are the clients who are going to come back to you because they actually make profit from the website and when they make money, they want to reinvest it. There are always new features and new things to implement.
What would you recommend to those who want to start with the remote lifestyle?
Firstly, you need a local phone anywhere you are. I think it’s absolutely necessary to have a local phone with a local extension and that your phone works well. Office people, who give contracts, don’t want to call you on a Spanish number or on Skype every time. They want to do it like with everybody else - grab a phone, write a local extension code and just call you.
In Canada there is a very nice solution called Fongo that you can use to make sure your existing number ‘follows’ you around the world.
Secondly, there are going to be surprises but you have to make your clients sure that everything is as usual.
I already have a company in Montreal with an office so there are people working and it’s pretty easy for me to say “Yeah, I’m not in the office but I have people there, this is our address. You can come and have coffee with us.” You have to find ways to reassure your clients.
The third thing is about pitching. Normally, when you have a new client they will give you a document where they say what they want. You can write a quote while traveling but you can’t do a pitch in person.
What I did was that I hired somebody to do the pitch. I had a discussion with this person to explain everything and I made sure that during the pitch I was on the phone. Just like on a conference call so I could give them technical details or anything if needed.
But the person I hired was who actually made the sale. People from business need a face, they can’t give a contract for 10k, 12k over the phone. That’s going to happen only rarely so you need a strategy.
While traveling, you have to play all the cards life gives you. An opportunity can arise around a corner and you have to be in this mentality. Sometimes it’s hard because not everyone is that outspoken, including me. You might not be used to talk to anyone out there but this is how you’re going to get a contract.
When I was in California, I was waiting in line at a car rental place at Los Angeles International Airport. It was quite a long line and I just started talking to a person next to me for some unimportant reason. Something like what’s a nice restaurant around there. Then I kept adding to the discussion. At the end I knew that this person is an ex-NFL player and is actually very interested in my offering, which is coding a website and e-commerce, so I gave him my card.
I don’t know yet whether this will turn out into a lucrative contract because it’s not done yet, but at least there’s an opportunity. You have to be in this mood to create opportunities everywhere you go.
So the final piece of advice would be - talk to people. Especially when you are in richer countries, like Germany, Canada, US, Northern Europe, etc. These are the countries you want to work for while you’re abroad.
What’s your hardware and software setup?
I work on a Macbook Pro like pretty much everybody I've seen here :) I’m also used to use multiple screens.
I remember a picture you shared on Instagram where you had like three screens :)
Yeah, there are some spare screens in Surf Office with a text ‘First come, first served’ so I took one and served myself :)
I’m used to work with three screens but you can’t travel with such amount in your backpack. But you can actually use an iPad as a second screen with a paid app called Duet. You’ll probably need a newer iPad, either Air or Air2. It would work on other models too but you would experience a delay, the stream wouldn’t be as responsive. You just plug an iPad with a USB, open the app on Mac and iPad and it really becomes your second screen.
Fongo, that I have already mentioned, is a great thing for free calls. It works only in Canada but I’m sure there is a similar app in the US. Just port your number there and as long as you’re on WiFi you have a cell phone. It costs zero dollar per month and it really works. The only thing they charge for is international calls. You need credit for those but it’s very cheap. In some situations it could definitely eliminate the need for a sim card in new places. Unless you need it for internet, or if you want to text local people. It’s the only thing that Fongo doesn’t allow.
About other favorite apps… I’ve just discovered the brand new Apple Music service. I can’t work if I don’t listen to music and usually you need a very large music library. I guess in some places like Surf Office the internet is 9 on 10 scale but I’m pretty sure that while I travel east I’m not going to have that good internet connection. Service like this, where you can download playlists on your computer to listen while you’re offline, is pretty useful. In our company we use Google Apps for calendar and email, but there is definitely some work I could do in this area. I haven’t upgraded my way of working much for about 4 or 5 years.
This is also something that is great about Surf Office - you’re going to meet a lot of very talented developers here. You’ll have nice discussions and you can learn from them, including the way they work.
You were participating in our first Stay Unplugged camp. How would you describe your experience?
I absolutely loved it and would love to do this more often, definitely. I think it was the first two days in a year that I haven’t used a cell phone or computer. Because even on Sunday, when you don’t work, the first thing you do after waking up is checking your emails, Facebook, etc.
The Stay Unplugged camp was a very good idea and it could have been longer. We had fun and the place was gorgeous. We also met two people who live near where we camped. These guys have been unplugged for twenty years. They have a small farm, completely disconnected from the rest of the island. I’m not sure if they file any taxes but they looked happy.
Have you had a chance to explore other parts of Gran Canaria?
One weekend we rented a car and traveled together as a group. On Saturday we made a trip around the whole island, stopping at Maspalomas where the dunes are. The next day we went to the center of the island.
Apart from that, I’ve been scuba diving, which I love, on the north of the island. Las Canteras is also very nice. The part of the city where the Surf Office is situated is a very young neighborhood, not many tourists, more local. Many young Spanish people hang out there.
By the way, are you learning Spanish?
I took a couple of classes and got better. But the problem is that most of the people in Surf Office, which are mostly the people you’re going to hang out with, speak English. So you don’t get to practise that much, unless you really meet local people.
When locals see how bad your Spanish is, they are either going to switch to English or they are not going to speak to you at all. :) It’s hard to learn a new language and I haven’t succeeded so far but I think I need more discipline.
Since you are from Montreal, can you share with us some tips for cool places that can be relevant for other nomads?
You could come to our office :) If you’re in Montreal and looking for a place to work we could definitely help you. I know that people in Montreal are also looking to meet new people who do web development since I’m away.
Otherwise there are many Starbucks and Second Cupsbut I wouldn’t be able to tell which one is better than another.
Lastly, do you see any dangers in the remote lifestyle?
If you want to do it you must not see it as a vacation. You’re going to work and you’ll be working a lot. You’ll have to find ways to patch problems that are caused by not being somewhere present.
There are definitely some huge advantages to this lifestyle but I think you’re starting in the wrong mind track if you see it as a vacation. I know people who are not able to get the work done in paradise places like Gran Canaria. It can be nice as a vacation but it won't be sustainable in money making.
You also need to be the kind of a person who is able to live a day or two without talking very much to people, because this will happen. It’s a solitary lifestyle, especially if you’re traveling. I know some people who just can’t bear it.