2019 Nomad Summit Recap, Review and Survey Results!

It's been another big year for the digital nomad conference as this was the first year we had events in both Las Vegas and Chiang Mai. One of my goals for the conference has been to expand it world wide while also keeping main event where it all started here in Chiang Mai. In this post I'm going to breakdown the behind the scenes and survey results of the conference such as the favorite speakers and talks winners as well as share some insights, lessons learned, and goals for the future. Also included are the charts and graphs of demographics and where attendees came from which is always fun to see, especially since the Digital Nomad movement is world wide.

Also shared in this survey are the results of what attendees thought of the conference, both good and bad as well as what we learned and can improve on. I'll also talk about why we chose to have the next Nomad Summit in Cancun, Mexico instead of Las Vegas again and what the plans going forth are for the conference. Here's the Nomad Summit 2019 recap, review, insights, demographic info, country list, percentages of where everyone came from, and summary blog post!

2019 Overview 

This was our 5th annual event held in Chiang Mai, as the first one was started in 2015 with the help of my co-organizer that year Kathrin Folkendt who I still super appreciate till this day for believing in me and helping us get our first sponsor Buffer on board as without them and her help it would have been difficult to pull off. This year I had Alexandra Kozma as my co-organizer with help from Rachel Izzy Yoma for the after parties and events. Also behind the scenes were a ton of videographers, photographers, our MC Luke Walker, floor manager Max Summer, Steve Ruggiero, Ambasador Shayne, and all of the volunteers.

This was our first year doing the conference at the Shangri-La hotel and the decision was for a few reasons including being slightly larger than the Le Meridien to hopefully grow into, having a larger swimming pool where we could host the Sunday pool party, and honestly just because we wanted to level it up and differentiate ourselves. Since we were using the same venue, our photos from 2017 and 2018 started looking similar, especially since other conferences such as the Chiang Mai SEO and Crypto conferences also started using Le Meridien and our same setup we all started looking the same. I'm not mad at them as it's a great venue and we actually took the idea of the venue from TedX Chiang Mai, plus we're all friends, but either case, I wanted to move the Nomad Summit somewhere uniquely ours, and took a gamble going to the 5-Star Shangri-La Hotel and we think it paid off. Here's the video from our official digital nomad documentary style aftermovie filmed and edited by the talented Marcus Villagran who we used for our Las Vegas event last year and flew all the way out here just to take part again!


This year we had a total of 392 ticket sales so we're comfortable saying that it was roughly a 400 person event, and the after parties and pool parties were definitely packed, but in reality the actual number of people sitting in the room at any given time during talks or at lunch was a decent amount lower as otherwise we would have ran out of spaces, especially during lunch. One of our hopes for this was to grow even bigger this year but with higher costs at the new more expensive venue, and other local events that for whatever reason chose the same weekend as us even though we've been hosting on the same weekend for years now and have had our dates published for almost a year, we ended up with just shy of 400 attendees which is similar to what we had in 2018. At the end of the day having the competing events didn't really hurt us but it did hurt the people who ended up going to the cheaper event as even though they may have saved money on the ticket, they may have missed out on information and networking that could have increased their businesses by thousands of dollars.

The fact is, paid events especially onces over $100 are a quality filter for how series an attendee is. It's one of the reasons why very few already successful entrepreneurs go to free meetups, $3 or $10 events. When people pay $150 or $1,500 to attend something they are a bit more serious, already successful, or at least invested in wanting to learn, grow and improve. I know it's a harsh reality for people who are broke or on a super tight budget, but the fact is, you get what you pay for in life. That being said, I never want to turn away someone from attending if they are really serious and really can't afford to attend. I will say no to people who are just being cheap as they aren't the type of attendees that would be a positive asset to networking, but if anyone ever messages us asking to volunteer their skills in exchange for a ticket, I usually say yes, assuming their skill is something that's actually useful like photography, videography, stage management, illustrations, and not just wanting to help check in for an hour as we have enough people to do that already. 

Surveying our attendees, almost exactly half of our attendees same specifically to Chiang Mai just to attend the Nomad Summit or at least came partially for the event with the intention of traveling or staying longer. We had attendees this year from 36 different countries, but with a strong presence by Americans at 50.8% of total attendees. This data was based on the country which issued the credit card or paypal account they used to purchased tickets so it might be slightly skewed if someone is from Peru for an example but has an American credit card. It's also potentially US heavy as a lot of the attendees come from listening to the Travel Like a Boss Podcast which audience is primary American and simply because the USA is such a massive country with a ton of people in the first place. But I am curious if anyone has any international data on where the majority of digital nomads or location independent entrepreneurs come from and if it really is heavily American.

nomad summit attendees

Countries Represented

Out of the thirty six countries where we had attendees the second largest country in attendance would be the UK followed by Germany, Canada and Australia. Judging from the nationalities of digital nomads I meet while traveling, I'd say the conference was well representative percentage wise for all other countries with the exception of America being extremely high. It was nice to see that we had attendees from all across Europe, Russia, the Baltics, and even a few from South America, Ukraine, Asia and Oceania. I was happy but also surprised to see that we had a dozen ticket sales from people using Thailand issued credit cards, but after matching up their names, most were Australians and other expats who have been living in Thailand for a while and have a business set up here. In the actual event aside from the Thai staff, we only had two local Thai attendees which is a shame as I'd love to see more idea sharing and interaction.

I am super curious why there are so many German digital nomads compared to other European countries though. Taking a look at the data below, are there any countries that you are surprised to see or not see represented in attendance?

digital nomad countries

digital nomad map
Map of countries that came to the Nomad Summit 2019

Favorite Talks 2019

This is a bit of a hard category as unlike the country data from above where we were able to extract location data from paypal and our credit card processor to have a good idea of what country everyone is from, the other questions had to rely on survey data and not everyone takes the time to fill it out. The funny thing though is from overhearing conversations and from what people told me and others is that they were really surprised how good ALL of the talks were this year and how much value they got from each and every single one, even though topics they didn't think they'd be interested in. My favorite feedback is when I was in the bathroom stall at the afterparty and I overheard two attendees say exactly that without knowing I was in there listening.

So even though I'm publishing this below, it's more just for fun, and because people are curious at the results. The ones voted highest are often topics that appealed to the most amount of people, while the ones voted least were the topics that didn't appeal to everyone such as selling on ebay or dropshipping. Also some talks like Lydia's I heard a dozen or more people come up to me saying it was their favorite talk but it wasn't reflected in the survey results and to be honest, most people simply didn't fill it out. This year's speakers were all super well prepared and really crushed it on the presentation side so there weren't any boring talks or ones that ran too long or anything.

Here are some quotes from attendees and the survey results:

"No exaggeration, I loved all of them. There was a fantastic variety and I learned something from all of the speakers."

"They were all fantastic actually. I am just highlighting Toms talk as it gave me the most actionable advice."

"I found a nugget of value in every presentation."

Least Favorite Talks

The funny thing is, most people actually wrote in the comment field "no least favorite things" or "enjoyed them all" or even things like "this is a bad question, I liked them all." So I thought I'd use this section to share some of the comments we got from this year: 

"I wouldn’t say it was my least favorite, but Joanne started with a great story and I felt introduction, but didn’t feel she went into great enough detail to be actionable. I was lucky enough to have dinner and get the questions answered I wanted, but think it would have been valuable information for others during the talk."

"I'd say Johnny's talk was the least interesting (sorry!) but that's mostly because its a bit of a dry subject to cover. I do think that the information was good and I commend Johnny on his openness about his investments which was particularly insightful." 

"I actually enjoyed them all so I feel its an irrelevant question to say which was my least favourite." 

However, even though the vast majority of people were super happy about the talks, there was one person who emailed to tell us that he hated the talks and I was super curious why so I am very grateful he took the time to tell us. He wanted to know some very specific things like how many employees each speaker has and how much he pays each one of them and also what specific products people sell in their niche. 

I think a lot of these things would have been super valuable and I wish he would have taken advantage of the Q&A at the end of each talk or the optional small group workshops to ask these things instead of being upset that they weren't included in the talks themselves. I'm glad he let us know as this reminds me how important the Q&A's are and to make sure we have a solid 10-15 minutes scheduled after each talk for anyone who wants to know more to be able to ask the speakers whatever they want to know. 

2019 Attendee Comments

The best news and the most important metric for us aside from everything else we asked is simply, "Would you come back again next year?" as that one question determines everything for us. The great news is that  93.34% of attendees said they would either definitely or at least maybe attend again next year depending on who's speaking and their travel plans.

To us that means that the vast majority of attendees got so much value from the event that they would come again. Another great metric is the fact that 80% of attendees said they have would either definitely or have already already recomend the event to a friend or would at least recomend it to certain friends.

Here's what people had to say: 

"I have not been to many of these types of events, and the ones I have been to have not adhered to schedule, so this was a major plus for me at the Nomad Summit. It was better than expected."

"The venue was awesome. The speakers were much more open and direct than I expected, which was really nice. It was cool to see these otherwise inaccessible people show their humanity and make it seem like I could have success like them. I didn't have many expectations but was concerned that I wouldn't find people I fit in with - this turned out to be totally unfounded because it was big enough that you could find all kinds of people there."

"It was definitely better than I expected. It was nice that you could make it exactly what you wanted; attend things you wanted and not attend things you didn't. I really don't enjoy networking events where it feels like everyone wants something from you or to sell you something, and I feel like this had an overall chill vibe where everyone wanted to learn as much as possible and help others as well."

Some of the attendees from the Nomad Summit

nomad summit
Group photo from 2019 Nomad Summit

2019 Lessons Learned 

As much as I'd love to say that everyone loved the event and it all went perfectly, that's just not how things work. We collected a ton of comments suggesting to us things we could do better or differently and things that people want or expect. The trick is keeping it all balanced as what a lot of people don't realize is that by changing one thing, it often affects something else. One request that we see occasionally is that they want the conference to be longer and have the main speaking days to be two days instead of one. However, some of the same people wanting an additional day or workshops included also don't want to pay more even though on our end basically doubles our event cost which would essentially double the ticket prices. At the end of the day, while we take all feedback into consideration, our goal is to give people the experience that will make the vast majority of people very happy, while not trying to please everyone as that will detract from the overall experience.

Some people want ticket prices to be cheaper and recomend not including lunch, snacks and food or having it at a cheaper venue, while the vast majority love the food and the chance to enjoy hanging out and eating in a 5-Star hotel. The things that we did take away from this year include having the schedule and speakers announced sooner, having longer and more workshops, having more structured networking, especially during things like the pool party, and more pre-conference meetups. Also while the island meetup was an experiment for this year, I think it was a really nice bonding experience for those wanting to hang out longer and travel together, so we'll defientely announce it earlier next year so more people can plan their travel schedule in order to join.

Also another thing we've decided to do is to have more live Q&A time after each speaker so people can get their technical questions answered but not have it published on Youtube. We'll be really focusing more on structured networking as the conference grows as a ton of people mentioned that even though they loved the talks, that the real value comes from meeting other entrepreneurs and digital nomads in person. Overall I'm extremely pleased with the way the 2019 Nomad Summit turned out and the feedback both in person, online, and overheard from others has been amazing. The vast majority of people loved the conference and got a ton of value out of it so I'm excited for the next one!

RSVP "I'm Going" on the Cancun Facebook Event

Nomad Summit Cancún

Our original plan was to have Nomad Summit Vegas again, as the people who came last year loved it. The problem is that it's a pain in the butt to organize a conference in Vegas as it's super expensive and in general just complicated due to labor unions and regulations. Also even though Vegas is a ton of fun, it really isn't a digital nomad destination. However, Playa Del Carmen in Mexico is quickly becoming a new digital nomad hotspot with thousands of digital nomads who live some of the year or are interested in making it their new home base. But since the closest airport is in Cancun and the hotel and conference center there is large enough host all of us, we'll be hosting the main event in Cancun and move down to Playa Del Carmen the week after to go scuba diving, snorkeling, and enjoy the beaches with the rest of the coworking community.

We're also partnering with both Selina Coworking/Coliving as well as the Tech and Innovation Tourism Association of Cancún to make the conference the biggest and best it can be. RSVP on our facebook event page "I'm Going" and invite your friends for a chance to win 1 of 3 free tickets or a seating upgrade. We'll still be having our annual event in Chiang Mai sometime in January 2020 but that won't be announced until later this year as we'll be focused on having everyone come join us in Mexico! We hope to see all of you there! I hope you enjoyed the 2019 Nomad Summit in Chiang Mai and big thank you to everyone who attended and to those who took the time to fill out the survey. I promise that we take everyone's suggestions into consideration and do our best to make the conference better and better each year!

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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  1. Who came this year or wants to attend the next one? Go!

  2. Way cool Johnny. I walked by the Shanri-La every single day way back in 2012, when we stayed at Chiang Mai Riverside. On the way to our veggie restaurant, and Butter Is Better.

    1. Hey Ryan, really cool venue right! I'm so glad we managed to move to the Shangri-La for the event this year.

  3. Thank you very much for the feedback Johnny, hard to get into great details having only 30m, but I will certainly keep that in mind for future talks. > Joanne

    1. Hey Joanne, I wouldn't stress about it, I had plenty of people come up to me, and i'm sure you directly as well saying how much they liked your talk. I think that ebay dropshipping just has such a bad rep online for whatever reason that some people just tuned out and didn't give it a chance even though there was ton of great info and details in your talk. Plus if they wanted more details they could have asked in the Q&A or during the workshop.

      But what we can take away from some of the comments, not just with your talk but everyone's talk is for everyone to spend even more time with specific details, things like how much we pay our VA's, how many we have, when we hire our first one, etc. But then again, those are things that people could have asked in the Q&A or workshop.

  4. Curious.. about the age demographics.. many over 50's?

    1. Hry Marissw, we didn't survey people's demographics but judging from the audience and the people who I personally met, I'd say I met or saw at least 20 or more people in their 50's, but you can take a look at the photo albums to see for yourself:

      For average age range, I'd say that even though it might have ranged from 17-57 in reality most of our audience is between 25-35 on average.

    2. To Mariassw - What relevance does age have to drop shipping/ecommerce ?

      Ecommerce biz results are blind to age, race and gender.... It's the ultimate old school biz hierarchy hack to get through those glass ceilings of progressing your life.
      There was a great article on this in the Guardian UK last week on how mobility into industries was higher, but mobility up in those industries was still blocked due to the "old boy network tools of the trade". In USA maybe less so, as its more meritocratic than Europe....rewarding skilled action leading to progress up the ladder.

      I've lived in Chiang Mai 6 years and unfortunately just found Johhny's blog last year. Am kicking myself for not finding the dropship scene earlier.
      Saw Johhny around before I knew who he was in the 3-floor coffee shop now closed near that cul-de-sac Pun Space co-working space....

      Johnny we should have met earlier as long-term expats in CM and I'd be streets ahead where I am financially now !! ;-(

  5. Hey Johnny, sorry if this has been currently going through all the blog posts and am in the 2014 ones.
    Do you have a niche selection model you could do a post a matrix whereby you filter products based on previous lessons learned... a way of running an idea through a checklist until it checks most or all of the matrix qualifications ?

    "The JFD Niche Matrix 2019.....!"

    It works at the level of a mental filter model where everyone can find their *own product* vs all these youtubers that instantly kill a category sub-niche by sharing their top 10 products of 2019...then everyone is on it through laziness, and it's a dead duck.

    1. Hey CMG, I don't have a matrix or anything, but in general I keep it pretty simple, I just follow Anton's course and his niche selection process and competitive analysis and as long as I see room for a new store or some type of added value I can bring to the niche, then I go into it. Easy examples are things like if the competitor's sites aren't mobile friendly, difficult to order, lack clear info, poorly designed, lists features instead of benefits, etc then I go in.

  6. Thanks, that last sentence is gold in itself.

    Just wish I found this stuff around 2014-15. My fault for not actively networking in Chiang Mai last 6 years with the make money online tribes....ThaiVisa gave the nomad scene such a bad rep. and that put me off in a way..but what do they know...just full of old grumpy men jealous of guys and girls under 50 getting a foot up and living the dream vs waiting till 50 to get over here.

    Thanks again Johnny for filtering through all the BS out there and sharing your know-how.

    I looked at this stuff in 2008 after buying 4-hour Work Week 2007 and most of the courses were hype/incomplete or some unrealistic hump to get over....financially or skills-wise. Of course there were methods back that worked then, but unfortunately I could not dial down to them at that time. It was info overload and circle hype on Warrior Forum etc, so I walked away at that time.

    1. It's better late than never! I'm a pity that some people get turned away from the negativity online as it often holds people back for more. It's like the crabs in a barrel syndrome where if someone tries to do something different or escape, the ones who have already given up try to hold you back.

  7. Great post and advice. These are really great tips to follow. Thanks for the wonderful post.- it staffing company in bangalore

    TeamPlus India


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