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What Were We Thinking?! - Defining Success

In our last post, we talked about the reasons that small businesses fail, and whether or not Amazon FBA as an income stream can help Digital Nomads avoid the pitfalls. To recap, small businesses typically fail due to lack of sustained passion, poor location, insufficient capital, and lack of planning. An Amazon FBA business can be a great income stream in the short term, but in the long term will likely suffer from lack of sustained passion, poor location, or cash flow.

Today I want to share Nomadica's story, and how we've defined success to avoid these major reasons that small businesses fail.


How Do We Define Success? 

Seven years ago Sarah and I were sharing a bottle of wine in our Seattle apartment and talking about how we cold possibly take back our personal agency from companies and governments who destroy the earth, strip citizens of their rights, enslave workers, and harm animals.

Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that every dollar is a vote. Every time you buy something, you're voting for more or less outsourcing, more or less child labor, more or less pesticide run off, more or less chemicals in your food, for more or less war. 

Seven years later, we care just as strongly about ethically sourced and environmentally made products, and we know that a business involving this passion is a business we can get behind in the long term. 

By starting a travel ecostore, we can decide where to source, which materials to use, and who to trust to uphold workers' rights. We can vote with the leverage of all of our customers. We can refuse to accept higher margins at the cost of using an opaque supply chain that directly harms workers and (y)our earth.

Most definitions of success describe an end state or a particular milestone. i.e. Earn 1 million dollars, own a vacation home, scale the business to 1000 customers, feed 100 children in poverty.

To keep our business success tied directly to our ethical goals, at Nomadica we believe success is a state of change that makes the lives of others better - in other words, success is action. 

- Success is a viable business model that allows us to produce and to continue producing travel gear and clothing that improve the life of every person it touches and harms no one.

- Success is educating customers about the environmental and social impacts of cheap fashion and labor, which influences their future buying decisions and makes the world a better place.

- Success is supporting the families who choose to go nomad, who are increasing their children's understanding of the world and various cultures, simplifying their own lives to reduce their harmful impact on the earth, and creating more personal freedom and happiness.

Every product we produce will promote fair wages, worker rights and sustainable efforts. Artisans are paid fairly to produce quality gear for fellow nomads. Profits are used to grow the selection of fair and sustainable gear and highlight other brands who are promoting the same. Nomadica is essentially a tool to leverage our vote for a more humane, more fair and more healthy society and earth. 

In starting to do this work, we've had the amazing opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful countries in the world and the privilege to meet the beautiful families who live there. 

What about location, capital, and planning? 

When you rely solely on channels like Amazon or Ebay, your "location" is never secure. Sites like Amazon can change selling policies and introduce products that compete directly with your own. When you have multiple channels, especially your own site with helpful content/tools for nomads, you can establish an authoritative location, connect with customers, and promote your ethos. 

In a manufacturing/selling business, investing in inventory will always mean a reduction in cash flow. This is true both for Amazon FBA models and for individual store models, but by having our own site we can take advantage of drop shipping agreements that expand our selection while keeping the inventory expenditure as low as possible.  

It's hard to forecast capital requirements in the early days, but this was one of the first things we tackled before hitting the road. We saved for a 2 year runway assuming zero revenue for the first two years.  The good thing about operating a nomadic business is that it forces you to build a lean business. Monthly living expenses are very low and we can manage a lot of the business work ourselves without having to hire it out. 

By starting our own ecostore we are building a brand as opposed to fishing for sales spikes in niche product categories. We are going narrow and deep on products that can dominate the sustainable travel category and hold their own against other high quality brands in the same space. Just as Patagonia doesn't compete with knock off backpacks, we are not competing with the cheapest travel gear. We will focus on creating the best product while balancing margins across artisan wages, customer savings and company profit. 

Whether you chose to follow the traditional private label blueprint or make a pivot in a direction that aligns with your passion, we hope this post was helpful in thinking about your own definition of success.

Are you in the process of defining what makes your business successful, and do you have anything to add? We'd love to hear from you. Reach out to us here

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What Were We Thinking?! - Is Amazon FBA viable for Digital Nomads?

Amazon FBA for Digital Nomads is part of a series titled, What Were We Thinking?! The first part of the series covers the obvious alternative to launching our own business, which is Amazon resale and its viability over the long term. This series will unfold to tell our story and cover some of the common questions we've been asked about our business.


The first stat that any small business owner is confronted with is one from the Small Business Administration, which states that roughly 50% of small business will fail in the first 5 years.  

You've probably heard that figure at some point. Maybe you were thinking about launching your own business or you had a family member who unfortunately became part of that statistic. 

We'll admit we were pretty intimidated by that 50% as well. We set out to launch a business that would basically ignore the practices that made Amazon and Walmart so successful - control the supply chain, drive selection, and offer the lowest prices anywhere - which puts us at even greater odds of failure, right? 

Well, it just so happens that having the largest and cheapest selection aren’t factors in why businesses fail. The top five reasons are:

  1. Starting a business for the wrong reasons (i.e. make lots of $$, go viral, more time with family)
  2. Lack of Passion
  3. Insufficient Capital
  4. Location, Location, Location
  5. Lack of Planning

Here's another lesser known fact: 100% of businesses that try to compete with Amazon will fail. 

Okay, so I made that last one up, but seriously, no small business today can compete with Amazon's model.

So as the old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them, right? Well, many business do and have achieved thier own version of Amazon success. We’ve met other digital nomads in Chiang Mai who are raking in $100-200k revenue per month selling beauty care products and garlic presses made in China. Pretty exciting! 

Well, let's switch gears for a minute and return to the reasons why businesses fail and see how the Amazon reseller model holds up over the long term. 

  1. Starting Business for the Wrong Reasons: Entrepreneurs often go with selling private label products on Amazon because it's generally easy money and requires little work once you have the product ranked. Kind of a set it and forget it approach. This easy money translates to obtaining more of what they believe money can buy (i.e. time with family, time to travel, time to relax). We'll come back to this one.

  2. Lack of Passion: We have yet to find an Amazon reseller talk our ear off about their passion for garlic presses. In fact, many resellers never even see or touch their product, but plenty have a passion to find their next money making product. This begs the question, is passion for making money sustainable?

  3. Insufficient Capital: A common problem among Amazon resellers is cash flow. To make money, you have to keep purchasing product to feed the sales cycle. At a certain point, you run out of cash. Granted you're making money, so it's not a reason to fail, but a lot of capital may tied up in product. This one gets a pass.

  4. Location, Location, Location: This is the kingpin in the whole ecommerce game, that is you either get ranked on Google or you leverage Amazon to drive traffic to your product. Amazon sellers are essentially renting their prime real estate without a lease. That is, anyone can move into their location at any time without notice. This could be Amazon themselves, literally or by way of policy, or other sellers looking to tap your market segment. In short, you have no location other than what has been achieved today. Tomorrow your sales rank will move, for better or for worse.

  5. Lack of Planning: This one can creep up on you as an Amazon seller. If you are not working on your next product launch, then your existing products lose market share over time with increasing competition. If you're constantly working on finding your next product, then are you succeeding in the reason for starting the business in the first place? (i.e. more time)

There are plenty of sellers out there who are killing it and I don't necessarily want to discourage others from having a go at it. It remains one of the most viable options for making money while living location independent today. Check out the links on our Remote Businesses resource page for podcasts and tools for going this route.

I also have faith that those who are making it as Amazon resellers today will muster the same courage and creativity that delivered their success and pivot as needed to avoid the pitfalls I mentioned above. 


In the next installment we will discuss how we settled on a definition for success and what we hope to achieve with Nomadica. 

Subscribe to our newsletter in the footer below to receive updates on this series and new products we add to our store. We generally publish fortnightly. 

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Happy Birthday Nomadica!

Welcome to the journey. We're excited to travel with you. 

Nomadica was born in the air, at hundreds of miles per hour. We were on a 16 hour flight with our 1-year-old from Cape Town, South Africa, to Atlanta, Georgia...

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