The following is an Interview with Cody McKibben, Nomadic Entrepreneur and Lifestyle Designer of Thrilling Heroics! Cody is one of the co-founders of Untemplater and is now Dean of the Digital Nomad Academy. DNA will be re-opening publicly for new student enrollment in the next month, so be on the lookout! Cody has lived abroad since November 2008 and traveled to 25 countries.
Sydney: Hi Cody! First of all, what exactly is a digital nomad?
Cody: A digital nomad is simply someone who uses technology to work remotely. They may be employed by a company, they may do freelance work, or they may have own their own business. Digital nomads frequently work as freelance writers, photographers, affiliate marketers, web designers, software developers, graphic designers, consultants, and sometimes they simply pick up jobs as they travel.
Some people call this location independence, telecommuting, or ultramobility. Whatever you call it, leveraging the right tools allows you to work wherever you want—running a small business from home so you can be closer to your family, freelancing from your favorite coffee shop or coworking office, managing things from a laptop on the beach, or even working with clients on the other side of the world!
Sydney: When did you create the Digital Nomad Academy and what was your inspiration?
Cody: Our inspiration is the many people who have come to us for the last few years asking “how can I live a similar lifestyle to you guys?” Our vision is to see a world where people are happier in their careers, doing work they truly care about, with more time freedom and more flexibility to travel and live where they choose, and our goal with Digital Nomad Academy is to be a part of that societal shift by helping our students build sustainable businesses for themselves.
Sydney: How long did it take to develop? What was your biggest challenge?
Cody: Actually the backbone of our course structure is something I’ve been working on with Brooke from Business Backpacker on for two years, but we put in just a couple really intense months of work and opened to a very small test group of students in January. The most involved work was doing our market research and eliciting lots of feedback in the process of developing the Academy, but the biggest challenges were simply technical issues that tend to arise on launch day—server crashes, shopping cart and membership software glitches! Fun times, but that was the point of a test pre-launch and only opening it up for a small group of students while we got everything up and running smoothly.
Sydney: How many students are currently enrolled in DNA?
Cody: Our first soft launch we enrolled about 55 or 60 students, and we’ve invited just a handful of special guests to join since then.
Sydney: Are you currently running DNA on your own or do you have a team helping you?
Cody: There are three founders, we have some help from an intern and occasional virtual assistants, and we also have brought together a team of Faculty members who contribute on a regular basis by participating in live weekly Q&A calls. These are several high-profile, successful digital nomads from all different backgrounds, who run businesses in all different industries and live around the world—to give our students direct access to a wide range of experienced experts who can share their insight, answer targeted questions, and give mentorship and guidance.
Sydney: How much in savings would you recommend DNA students have before taking the plunge and going abroad for one year?
Cody: If a student’s goal is to travel abroad, it depends where they choose to go. But, I’ve lived in Southeast Asia now for over 2 and a half years. Places like this, South America, and even Eastern Europe are still very affordable. If one has streams of income coming in, or they’ve built a sustainable business like we’re helping our students do, then I’d even say you can move abroad with just a few thousand dollars in savings. Of course, the more financial safety net you have the better, but there are many places in the world you can live a very comfortable lifestyle for $1k per month or less.
Sydney: Do you think your students are mostly single, married, divorced, or are they pretty mixed? Do you think living abroad is easier for single folks or couples?
Cody: There’s a good mix actually, but I would venture from the intake surveys we’ve done that a slight majority of our students are female, 30s-50s, and either have their own business already (that they want to make more sustainable and go location-independent) or they have a defined skillset that’s a good point to start with freelancing work. I’m personally friends with plenty of couples, and even families with kids, who are living and traveling abroad, so while every situation has its challenges, I know anything is possible.
Sydney: What are a few things your recommend your students consider before choosing a location to start their journey?
Cody: There are so many factors to consider here, and it all will mostly be unique for each person. To put it as simply as possible, what beckons you? Where do you want to go? If nothing calls to you, then you’re probably just fine living where you are.
Sydney: Any recommendations for health and dental coverage and finding doctors overseas?
Cody: It’s easy to find decent online travel insurance. Much of the world has far superior health care to the US actually. I’ve been in a few situations where friends I’ve known have had some pretty serious accidents or illnesses actually, and because so many countries have universal healthcare, treatment has frequently been free, or ridiculously cheap compared to what we’re used to paying in the US. This is of course not the case everywhere, and it’s important to be aware of your situation, so just make sure you do your research on your particular destination.
Sydney: Which of the countries you’ve traveled to do you think are best suited for a digital nomad newbie?
Cody: As far as where I’ve been, I think most of Southeast Asia would be a great starting point, simply depending upon your taste: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, even Laos and Cambodia depending on how adventurous you are. Mexico is a good spot for nomads, as are places like Argentina, Colombia, and elsewhere in South America.
Sydney: And lastly, do you ever get tired of beach life?!
Cody: Never! 🙂
Thanks so much Cody for sharing with us. Untemplaters, have you ever thought about becoming a digital nomad? Where would you love to live?
Adam @ SitDownDisco says
From all the rantings online, it’s quite easy to get the impression that most of these types of enthusiastic digital nomads are mid-20s males with tech backgrounds. Great to hear that the real demographic is different to that. Makes the whole field more realistic and potentially achievable for all those digital nomad wannabees that don’t fit the stereotype.
Barb Friedberg says
I had a friend who lived in Chang Mei Thailand for many years and taught ESL. She had a “regular” job and loved it! She now lives in S. CA. in a motor home. Living options are as broad as one’s imagination.
Awesome interview Cody, thanks again. 🙂 I’m impressed that there are digital nomad couples, especially those with families. Home schooling or shall I say “mobile” schooling must be a convenient way for parents to work abroad and have the flexibility to move around whenever the want/need to without having to keep taking their kids in/out of formal schools.
Cody McKibben says
Thanks for the comments and the support guys! From my non-technical measuring of the group, I’d say there are a high proportion of couples and folks with families actually, but I like where your head is, Sam! 🙂 The business model is basically a consulting model that scales—to sell a very premium, high-dollar product that gives our students direct access to us and the majority of the content we create for an extended period of time, but it’s shared with other students, so it scales for us and has an impact on the greatest number of people as possible at once. Eventually, we’ll add staged payments and probably transition into a continuity program model.
Very interesting idea and a noble goal! I wish you guys success!
Financial Samurai says
Very interesting to hear that the MAJORITY of students are female. Are they also mostly single too? I wonder why this is?
Also, what is the business model for the university? Curious to understand more. Thx! Sam