2017 Nomad Summit Review, Recap and Lessons Learned!

This is our 3rd year running the Nomad Summit, which is the largest digital nomad conference in Chiang Mai, and this year was completely different. The previous two years was actually pretty easy to organize, but this year, the theme was "leveling up" and I wanted to do the same with the conference. In 2015 the Nomad Summit was held in the cheapest seminar room I could find, with low ceilings, room for just 120 people and was completely donation based. In 2016 the Nomad Summit upgraded to a room that doubled in size, but I knew that this year we would outgrow that with ease.

So I took a leap of faith and put a non-refundable $10,000US deposit on the biggest convention center I could find in the city, which happens to be the same place TEDx events are held. I also wanted to make sure we included lunch, coffee, water, juices, and snacks throughout the day as I knew that keeping people inside the venue would give people more time to get to know each other, network, and meet potential lifelong friends, travel buddies, business partners, or even their soulmates. I took a few big risks with speakers and topics this year, and really tried to curate a lineup that would benefit both people just starting out as well as those who were already making over six figures a year. Here is my full recap of what I learned from all 9 speakers, what I failed at, and what I envision for 2018.

2017 Nomad Summit

If you don't know much about the Digital Nomad Summit, I founded in 2015 with the hopes to get digital nomads to connect and share what has been working for them. I've always known how important in person networking events are, and in 2017 when there is more and more negativity online, meeting each other in person has become more and more important.

As much as I don't like to dig up the past and regret ever being a part of the scene, if it wasn't for speaking at and co-hosting the PUA Summit from 2007-2010 I never would have had the skills to be able to create the Nomad Summit today. It really shows that even poor life decisions can ultimately lead to good things in the world as long as you admit when you've messed up, learn your lessons and move on to better things.

Here's a behind the scenes video that one of the attendees, Chris the Freelancer shot that really showcases what the event was like:

Hanne Vervaeck - MVP vs. MMP

The first talk of the day was Hanne who works for Thrive Themes a multi-million dollar wordpress themes and plugins company. She was there to represent the remote workers and show that there is an alternative way to being able to live the location independent lifestyle than starting your own business.

I loved her topic this year as it went into why MVPs are no longer good enough which is ironic because my talk last year was all about creating a Minimal Viable Product. Here's my full length talk from the 2016 Nomad Summit. Hanne's video as well as the others from this year are still being edited and should be ready in 2-3 weeks. I'll be sure to share them here on the blog and through the email list when they're up.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hanne's talk and took a ton away from it. Being just good enough is no longer a reason for someone to buy something from you in 2017 when there are so many alternatives out there. If you want someone to buy your product over an alternative, you really need to be better. This doesn't just apply to software as a service products, but literally everything.

White labeling crappy products from China to sell on Amazon FBA, or scraping websites and uploading a bunch of crap to dropship may have worked a few years ago, but more and more people are expecting and demanding something better.

Lesson Learned:  I'm super glad we had Hanne on this year and plan on keeping the category of remote workers for the 2018 Nomad Summit as I know that the digital nomad movement is more than just people that want to work for themselves. The only thing I would have changed is having Hanne talk a little bit more about her personal story and what it's like working remotely for a big company.

Leanne Beasley - Tools and Tricks

I really loved Leanne's talk as did the majority of the audience voted Leanne's talk as one of their top 3 favorites.  Leanne is the founder of which is like the Tripadvisor of coworking spaces which just got valued at $2.5 Million Dollars during their last round of funding. Her talk was how she was able to use online tools and templates to make her business look professional even though it was really just her and a tiny team bootstrapping while living as a digital nomad around the world. 

Thanks to her, we've learned how easy it is to use complicated tools like photoshop, adobe illustrator by using drag and drop templates and how even starting out as a freelancer can level up their income by being able to offer high end design services using these skills.

Lesson Learned:  I loved having Leanne here and realized how important it is to share the tools and tricks of the trade. I've added it to my speaker recommendations for 2018 to ask people to share theirs during presentations. 

David Dang Vu - Creating Courses

I've gotten to know David as a close friend over these past few years and was super excited when he agreed to fly back out to Thailand just to speak at the Nomad Summit this year and help me out! The reason why I wanted him to speak so badly is because meeting him was what really opened my eyes to what's possible with online business. I went from thinking everything online was a scam and that nothing worked, to realizing that there are guys like David making over $100,000 a year from doing things like selling gift cards, ebay arbitrage, creating courses on Udemy and even arbitraging AirBnb rentals.

My favorite thing about David's talk was the fact that he combined inspiration about how he grew up and developed the hungry immigrant mentality but also the exact steps he took to create the #1 business course on Udemy which makes him over $100,000 a year alone on top of all of the other businesses he has. David's talk was also voted as one of the top three talks for 2017 by attendees.

Lesson Learned: Encourage 2018 speakers to have more of a 50/50 blend of inspiration and action.

David Dang Vu

Watch this awesome behind the scenes video that David made at the Nomad Summit:

Quinn Zeda - UX Design

I loved having a designer as one of the speakers this year as she inspired both people who wanted to learn more about user experience for their own businesses but also the creatives out there that want to see what it takes to build a big design agency like she has. I also really liked the case study she did on one of her clients site's and the ROI they gained from it. 

It was also cool that in the spirit of leveling up, she included the UX (User Experience) Hierarchy of Needs. She was voted for one of people's top 3 favorite talks. Her slides were super well put together, she offered a ton of value, and I'm glad we had her come speak.

Lesson Learned: I'm going to make it a priority to have more talks like hers in 2018 as according to the surveys a lot of people wanted more in depth talks like that showcase current trends and tools. 

Riley Bennett - Living the Life

When I asked Riley to come speak at the Nomad Summit I knew that his personality and his talk wouldn't appeal to the vast majority of attendees. But the reason why I took the risk and invited him to speak was because that there's an entire generation of up and coming digital nomads that we don't understand and can't connect with. Riley was supposed to be our gateway into the Snapchat generation. 

Unfortunately, according to the post-summit surveys more than half of the attendees didn't like his talk. In retrospect I still would have had him on, but I would have had him talk more about how to use Snapchat, build an audience on there on top of what he talked about with Youtube and had him talk way less about living that life...which unlike people watching the videos at home, people in the audience have already made the leap and are already living abroad, traveling and living that life.

I have a feeling that people watching the talks at home are actually going to love his talk as it'll inspire a lot of people to travel and get started, but agree and understand why the audience didn't like his talk. It was my fault for approving his talk and not focusing a topic change. In the future we will focus on presentations that help live attendees and not worry so much about people watching it at home. 

Lesson Learned: Have speakers focus a lot more on actionable tips, tricks, tools, and other actionable content in 2018 and less about travel and lifestyle. 

Riley Bennett

March Brenwall - From VA to Boss

Probably the most inspiring speaker of the year, March shared her story on how she went from being a Filipino VA making $300 a month to being a successful entrepreneur today and now having employees of her own. Even people who otherwise came just for the actionable content loved her talk which reminds me how important it is to have a mix of both.

I have a feeling that her video has the potential to inspire millions of Filipinos, women and minorities around the world and give them the hope, courage, and drive to create their own success.

Lessons Learned: Her talk reminds me why having a mix of inspirational stories along with the technical how-tos is vital to have at next year's conference and every other year in the future.

Emma McLaren - Happy Nomad

I actually invited Emma to come speak on the topic of "Creating your Dream Job that doesn't yet exist." She's a sustainable seafood consultant which I thought was amazing as I'm a huge believer in saving our oceans from terrible commercial fishing practices. 

But a few weeks before the Nomad Summit she insisted on changing her talk to "Happy, Healthy, Nomad" which I ended up approving because I knew how important it was for long term digital nomads to take care of themselves and not get burnt out. Unfortunately, along with Riley's, this was the only other talk that overwhelmingly got voted people's least favorite.

I still think her topic had a ton of potential and is super important and so did a few of the attendees. But according to the feedback, the vast majority of people felt that she wasted her time slot bragging about herself and boosting her own ego instead of getting to her final slide which is where she had the tools and tricks for self care. Even with letting her go on longer than her time allotted I don't think she ever really got to her point and that's a shame because the topic was so vital. Some blamed it on her not having her notes, but in all honestly, it due to her lack of preparation not knowing her presentation by heart, missing rehearsal, skipping the AV test the day before,  and not testing her slides during the 30 minute break directly before her time slot.

Update: I wasn't going to be so publically harsh on her, but after talking to her privately, sharing the survey results with her I expected her to rationally say, "Sorry I messed up and dropped the ball." In which I would have just left it as everyone makes mistakes. But after reading her blog post about how her talk was "good enough no matter what" and that she got exactly what she needed, I really got annoyed, especially now that she's using the Nomad Summit to further her speaking career. I respect the need for self love, authenticity and empathy, but a truly authentic person would first admit when they messed up before moving on.

Lessons Learned: Next year i'm going to have a dedicated tech person on staff to test all slides and have a stopwatch on stage. I'm also going to make rehearsals mandatory and cancel speaking slots if they come unprepared.

Emma McLaren

Jubril Agoro - Think Outside the Box

I was really excited to have Jubril come speak at the conference this year as he just happened to be in town and was a last minute bonus. His talk was on optimizing and targeting with facebook ads but also included a bit of inspiration on how he's traveling the world with a full time video crew so he can create his own Travel Channel quality content which is actually a channel that reached out to him to become one of their hosts.

The only problem with having Jubril come on as a last minute speaker was trying to squeeze him into an already super tight schedule. I didn't want to cut the breaks shorter as I'm a huge believer that the true benefit of conferences like this is the in person networking, even more than the talks. So instead we cut out the Q&A sessions which allowed for another great talk while missing out on people getting to ask questions.

Lesson Learned: Have a strict maximum of eight speakers next year to make room for some type of Q&A time.

Johnny FD - Leveling Up

It's a bit strange to review my own talk, yet alone my conference, but I can pretty easily see what areas I could have improved on. According to the surveys, even though most people got a lot of inspiration from my talk, it didn't have enough this is how you do it business advice. To be honest, I purposely didn't talk about dropshipping because even though it worked for me and I had great success with it, I know it's not for everyone. I wanted people to have the framework of each step and how to level up, while being able to think for themselves and plug in their own business model.

But I've also realized that by holding back information just so you don't piss off the haters, you're also hurting the people who genuinely want that information.

Lesson Learned: You can't please everyone, so focus on the positive people and ignore the negative ones as they'll never be happy no matter what you do.

Overall Thoughts on the Summit

Even though I have a massive list of things I want to implement for next year's event, overall 82% of attendees rated it an 8 or higher which is fantastic as I know how hard it is to please everyone. People appreciated the fact that no one on stage tried to sell them anything and that there was a wide variety of speakers. They also liked the networking both at the conference and the days before and after.

However, I know there's still so much to improve on and that we have such a unique opportunity to really do amazing things. The mission of the Nomad Summit has always been to bring together digital nomads from around the world and give a platform to share and learn from people who have been successful. But I think more than ever, it's my responsibility to also give people a reality check that even though this lifestyle is 100% possible, that it also requires a ton of hard work to get it started. It's a difficult balance between lifestyle element of the 4-hour workweek which inspires people to get started in the first place or put in the effort to have it be a goal and the business aspects which are vital for making it actually happen.

My commitment going forward  and for the 2018 Nomad Summit is that we're going to start focusing a lot more on the business building aspects than the lifestyle. I think we've done our job these past three years convincing people that this life is possible, now it's time for us to focus on energy on showing people how to build and level up sustainable six figure businesses while continuing to live remotely and travel aboard.

Big thanks to our sponsors Iglu and Empire Flippers. Stay subscribed to the email list below to get first access when they are out!

Also I want to thank everyone who helped volunteer at the Nomad Summit this year as it really wouldn't have been possible without you. It's amazing to be in a community of like minded, generous and helpful people. I truly hope that the Digital Nomad Community continues to grow and prosper as it's truly something amazing to be part of and help lead. Here are the survey results from attendees of the 2017 Nomad Summit.

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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Post a Comment

  1. Very nice post, and I look forward to seeing the video(s) you mentioned that will be ready soon.

    For me personally, being a beginner taking action steps now and wanting the dream so badly, the 2018 conference will serve a great motivating goal - I want to a part of it next year.

    I see that at the summit video (summary video) posted on YouTube there are already several haters/losers who are bringing profoundly ignorant comments and negativity to something so awesome.

    Unfortunately that's how the weak and insecure are - and they'll be in the same place in their lives next year, while we roll forward and get closer and closer to getting the most out of life. Their way of thinking is what I call the "loser mentality."

    Thanks for a great post, the info/presentation reviews, and I bet it was excellent being there!!

    1. Really glad you loved the Nomad Summit this year! Thanks for coming out! I agree it really sucks how many people hate on an event they've never even been to when overwhelming the people that actually attended like you got a lot out of it.

      Hopefully that'll change, but more importantly, I'm just glad people like you ignore the haters and don't' let them deter you from a great experience yourself.

  2. It was a great event. March was the standout for me, so inspiring and Leanne. Also agree about Emma. I enjoyed Riley's talk, but I I can understand if some felt it wasn't what they wanted. But, I think the people checking out the videos on YouTube who have not taken their first Digital Nomad steps when they are published will be inspired by his story. Just like I was inspired by the videos from the 2016 event, especially the the boys of the Tribe.

    1. Hey Ace, thanks for your input. I also really enjoyed March's talk and really feel like her story has the potential to inspire millions of people.

      I also agree that Riley's talk is going to make more of an impact to people watching at home than the people already made it out to the event.

  3. I've been to Chiang Mai before but this trip out for the summit exposed me to the 'nomad' side of Chiang Mai. And it convinced me that this lifestyle is truly possible. I've set 2 goals to complete so that when I come next year, I can truly say I've made x amount online. It makes me green with envy that you have events planned every week at coffee club that I can't go because i have a full time job.

    Thank you Johnny for putting the nomad summit together!

  4. Hey Johnny - thanks for all the work that you and the team put together for Nomad Summit. Really appreciate your efforts to be transparent and to provide value-first. Most people don't bother taking the time to do that so this blog post was an awesome reflection of you.

    People can say all they want, but I'm sure everyone who has felt your impact appreciate the value you provide the DN community!

    1. Hey Victor, I appreciate that! My goal is to make the Digital Nomad community better and better as much as I can.

  5. Hey Johnny! Thank you for writing this post man.

    It really is important to be reminded of lessons learned along the way. Especially if the goal is to improve the community, as such, an honest and detailed review is necessary. It was especially cool hearing some of the back story from you! Had no idea you put down a $10K deposit even before the fact. Guts!
    My favorite lesson learned must be what you said at the end,
    "But I've also realized that by holding back information just so you don't piss off the haters, you're also hurting the people who genuinely want that information.
    Lesson Learned: You can't please everyone, so focus on the positive people and ignore the negative ones as they'll never be happy no matter what you do."

    So key. While I was fortunate enough to chat with you about some of these technical aspects of your online business in person, I hope you might consider a webinar or youtube content to cover some of what you might have went into at the summit, but didn't for the reasons you described. That way the people who are looking for it will find it from you anyway.
    I know the 2018 Summit can only get better and look forward to seeing whats in store! ;)

    Thanks again for everything Johnny, and keep rocking it!


  6. It was my first Nomad Summit and hopefully not my last (I will be in SA next year at this time). It was really a well rounded conference with a little for everyone and a lot for most people. If I was to make a suggestion it would be to make it a 2 day event because a lot of people come a long way to attend. Also make the meetups schedule known in advance. Perhaps some beginner workshops on the side. But no complaints and it was a great event!
    Robert Taylor

    1. Hey Robert, thanks for the feedback! I've added it to the recommendations for 2018 list! I'm glad you enjoyed the Nomad Summit, looking forward to seeing you again!


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