My product cost me $4500, but I kept working on it. This is why.

Nomad House is my baby and leaving it would be so hard for me (no-one leaves baby in the corner). Every month since launching, I came close to quitting. Why? Let me explain this journey to you.

My first idea of Nomad House was a big failure. I was trying to build a housing solution for digital nomads. I came up with the idea of a monthly global housing solution. Pick a place, stay a month, pick another place, stay a month. Repeat.

After couple of months, I had listed 2 spaces (Bali and Bangkok) and I started to accept bookings.

10 months later, 4 bookings. 2 people out of 4 ended up disappointed. “Very nice Arthur”. FAIL! FAIL!

Ok, let’s think about what is wrong with my product.

The best advice someone can give you: Keep trying and never quit. You should find something that you love in your product and try everything around it. You prefer doing A or create B inside your product. Go full throttle on those one.

Pivoting is not bad. Why not pivoting a little bit? Adjust the product? Do Facebook Ads? Change the price, maybe? You should consider changing things that you never thought of changing.

After over-thinking it and several long discussions with Pieter, I pivoted in December 2015 — Nomad House now offered retreats. A retreat is a 10 day trip with like-minded people to get inspiration. Not only nomads but all kind of digital workers are joining it.

Now, that I have a new idea, let me show you how it went.

Lisbon Retreat

The first retreat was Lisbon in January 2016, 10 days, 16 guests expected, the price was $990. I had no idea how to run a retreat, no idea how to handle customer support. I just had no idea how to run what I was selling. But …

I believed in my capacity to host people. I’ve always been good at entertaining people and make them feel comfortable. Ok, let’s do it!

I open the applications. I was staring at my screen to see any email saying: “Hey Arthur, you have an application to review”. Nothing …

After 3 days, our first application came in and then every week. I ended up with 14 applications. What should I do now?

Believe it or not but the first thing that I ask was: “Can you process the deposit?” How could I imagine someone paying a deposit of $300 without even having me on a skype to make sure I’m not a scammer? I know I’m crazy.

Somehow, I got 6 people to pay the full amount and join me for this retreat. I was happy but nervous.

Everything went fine and I learn a couple of things from this retreat. It’s hard with a “physical product” to test things and iterate quickly. So you better be asking your customers and squeeze their brain to get as much feedback as you can.

Numbers

  • Announced 4 months ahead of the retreat
  • 42,450 page views
  • 12,500 unique visitors
  • 14 applications
  • 6 applicants join the trip
  • Cost: $8900
  • Revenue: $5900
  • Profit: -$3000 from my personal account
  • 1 couple (they are still together)
  • Lot of work/fun
  • Amazing food from a local chef
  • Average wifi
  • Great discussion about remote work
  • Amazing people whom I still in contact with

Cofounder

I came back home and was enough crazy to decide to start a new one 3 months later. I won’t going to be alone to run it. I met the person online who was to become my cofounder after 5 months of collaboration: Rebecca.

She is taking care of the marketing/social side of this start up, whilst we work together on managing retreats, perfecting the product and build long term goals for the future of Nomad House.

She is taking care of the marketing/social side of this startup. After Lisbon, we’ve decided to go to Bali for our next retreat. It’s one of the most popular spots for digital nomads and the the perfect island for a Retreat.

Bali Retreat

The Bali retreat was from August 19th to 29th. We lower the number of guest to minimize risk, 12 people are expected. We kept the same price and the same number of days. 10 days is great for multiple reasons.

You have enough time to get to know people, you won’t feel the pressure of being into a group and you can stay longer with your travel friends from the retreat. We call it 10 days in, 20 days off.

After selecting the dates we’ve choose a villa that fit our requirements. Good wifi, communal room and enough rooms to 12 people. We usually start by looking on HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, Craiglist and Flipkey, and we get in contact with people we already know on the groundWe always choose locations we’ve already visited, so we know the ‘lay of the land’. We know where the accommodation is and how close it is to town by looking at a map.

What changes did we make compared to Lisbon? We’ve decided to experiment couple of new things.

My main focus for this one was to get qualify leads. Instead of having 14 applicants where only half of them actually come. I would prefer to get a less applicants but be sure that all of them will come. It’s easier to have a fully booked retreat 2 months before than a week before.

We’ve collected deposit when you press the button “Submit”. It looked perfect for me, but in real life it’s a bummer. We are selling a product/service with a high price tag ($990). Imagine, when you are going to buy a car, you take your time, ask couple of questions to the owner. You are making sure that you will buy something that fit your needs.

It’s the same with traveling. People wanted to be sure of couple things. Who is coming? What is the purpose of the trip? Who is the trip leader? But, the only thing that I was asking/providing, was their money.

“Help and go through every different steps with your leads”

The retreat happens and it was a great success. We all felt like we’d known each other for over a decade. We were on the track to get a better product but the “click” was still missing.

Numbers

  • Announced 2 months ahead of the retreat
  • 8,407 page views
  • 3,050 unique visitors
  • 6 applications
  • 6 applicants join the trip
  • Cost: $7,000
  • Revenue: $5,500
  • Profit: -$1,500 from my personal account
  • Lot of outdoor activities
  • Amazing food from our owner
  • It felt like a family
  • I might of shed a tear when the retreat was done (keep it to yourself)

Budapest Retreat

This one was a game changer for the future of Nomad House. After Bali, Rebecca and I were so happy to start a new retreat, but where?

Based on our previous experiences, we knew how to select new destinations. The main 3 criteria are Weather, Startup scene and Dates.

We have to find the best period where everyone can fly for cheap and make sure that no special events are happening (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and other special days).

We love having a good work/life balance during our retreats. What is the purpose of your trip if you are only working during the retreat? Working in a coffee in Singapore, NYC, Hong Kong or Paris is likely to be the same experience, but the people around you make your trip different.

For the weather you will agree that we are chasing summer, right? (However, we keep considering a ski trip. Let us know if you’re down)

After checking all the criteria, we decided to go to Budapest from August 19th to 29th.

It was the same as Bali: we went live 2 months before the retreat start date, after spending a month searching for a great place to stay.

I wasn’t stressed at all during the 2 months, because we were doing things right and it’s a long process to get people apply. After a month we get 6 applicants, 6 seems to be our favorite number.

Then I started over-thinking about what should I do to fulfill the retreat. It’s more important for me to show to more people how cool it is to participate at those kind of retreat.

So one day I telegram Rebecca and told her we will decrease the price. I didn’t even look at the budget and I pick a random price. Let’s say $550! Don’t ask me why, it was the first number that came to my mind.

BOOM.

We got 4 new qualified applicants in less than 3 hours. CHAMPAGNE! (Jokes, we’re a start up. One day though). The price was something that I would never consider to change. As a maker you have to test every single for your ideas, even those critical points.

At time we were feeling confident to get this retreat full. A week later our super hero came. His name? Gene Demo. Why? He applied and referred 4 people.

We knew referral could be something really important in this industry. So we’ve created a referral program where you can earn $50 every time someone applied with your coupon code.

In this 2 months we learnt a lot about our application flow:

  • The price was too high
  • The retreat benefits were not clear
  • We were missing testimonials and previous retreats reviews (big deal)
  • Asking the deposit right away wasn’t a right on-boarding process
  • Having a referral link to share is great

We finally get this retreat fully booked with 15 applicants. 2 applicants cancel a week before the retreat.

So far, Budapest has been one of the best cities that I’ve ever visited. I didn’t expect such a wonderful city. Rebecca had already visited, but it was a pleasant surprise for me

The “wifi scene” has pretty nice coworking and coffee spots. The Hub near Ocktogon Place was our favorite spot for our group. Thank you to Gabor for having us, we got so much done in the Hub with the group, and had some crazy, long conversations into the early hours of the morning.

Being surrounded by likeminded people helped us to gather advice and feedback on Nomad House, find new ideas to expand and create strong relationships around the ‘product’ too. It feels odd to call it a product now, because we know it’s all about the people.

Everything during the retreat was perfect. Everyone brings their own touch to the group, so you end up with a really good mix of all kind of cultures. Some days we would do boxing workouts in the courtyard, some days we’d work late into the night, and some we’d just stroll around until finding our own fun.

I never thought I would say this as it sounds cliché, but the Nomad House Budapest Retreat was a life changing experience.

Numbers

  • Announced 2 months ahead of the retreat
  • 33,690 page views
  • 10,064 unique visitors
  • 17 applications
  • 15 applicants join the trip
  • Cost: $8,000
  • Revenue: $8,860
  • Profit: $860 CHAMPAGNE!
  • Lot of fun and sightseeing
  • Amazing folks. Some great products got created during the Retreat
  • One of the most successful trips
  • A life changing experience

Nomad House is today my full-time job. I will invest everything that I have to make this startup go further and further. My last advice will be: trust your gut feeling. If you think you are doing something promising or that you love, keep doing it!

One last thing, I would like to say thank you to Rebecca, because without her I wouldn’t be able to make Nomad House an amazing experience, Pieter who helped me a lot as a mentor and everyone who helped us to create the adventure so far.

You can join us in our next retreat in Playa del Carmen for December. Go check it out here.