How Two Millennials Made +$700K In Five Months By Bringing Together Successful Entrepreneurs
If there is anything that spending nine months circumnavigating the globe by staying with people in my social network has taught me, is that our vision is only as strong as our network. The people that we choose to surround ourselves with — and the type of relationship we ultimately build with them— are key to influencing the decisions we make, the actions we take and the speed of our success.
In my case, successful networking has quite literally helped me travel my way around the world. Since quitting my corporate New York City job in 2016 to become a digital nomad, I’ve witnessed firsthand how smart planning and strategic networking can help millennials build successful businesses and make a great living while traveling full-time.
Case in point: Lars Blokdijk and Michael Tesselaar, the Dutch entrepreneurs behind Coworkparadise, a business mastermind retreat designed to bring together successful entrepreneurs from all over the world. Too often, working and traveling full-time is associated with financial struggle, but these two millennials have found a way to make it work by tapping into networks of fellow entrepreneurs and learning from them. Despite only being in their mid-20’s, Lars and Michael have figured out how to travel the world full-time … while each owning his own business (in addition to Coworkparadise) and earning six figures.
Lars and Michael share insights about life as remote entrepreneurs, how to build thriving businesses on the road, and why networking with like-minded people is crucial to success:
Celinne Da Costa: What is your entrepreneurial background?
Michael Tesselaar: I was that guy who sold lemonade to his neighbors at the age of four. By 12, I was buying and selling small motorboats, and at 14, I started my first business selling customized men’s underwear online. I traded a lot online and ran many other projects to make income before getting my Bachelor’s degree in Small Business & Retail Management.
I also spent some time studying entrepreneurship in Bali, Indonesia. As soon as I returned home in 2012, I founded MijnCadeau, an online customized gift company in the Netherlands which I am currently CEO of.
Lars Blokdijk: I knew from a very young age that I wanted my own business someday. I always had ideas for small businesses: I painted shoes, put strings in tennis rackets, sold photos at sports events, gave iPad lessons to seniors and helped artists market their work. Though these ventures had very little to no success, I learned a lot during that period.
After majoring in Commercial Marketing, I freelanced in consulting and online marketing. This was the hardest period of my entrepreneurial career: I wanted to build a business but had no idea where to begin. I didn’t want to build a company just to make money, but rather to serve my vision of traveling remotely while also loving what I did to the point where it didn’t feel like work.
I eventually co-founded a social game company, Vertellis, which is a physical card game that lets groups of friends or family reflect on their past year and look into the upcoming year.
Da Costa: What are you currently working on, and how does it let you live remotely?
Tesselaar: Living remotely has always been a priority for us, so we shaped our business models around that. In addition to running our separate ventures, we founded a company together – Coworkparadise – which really embodies our passion for remote work. We organize retreats in which we bring successful entrepreneurs from all over the world together for a month in Bali. This October will be our fifth retreat since 2015.
Starting this joint venture gave me the final push to make myself fully location independent. Since I was making decent profit, I decided to bite the bullet financially and hire people to run my factory in the Netherlands so I could continue growing. I am now responsible for the marketing, finances, client relationship management, and business growth – all which can be handled online. It’s been more than worth it!
Blokdijk: Everything I’ve built has been in service of fulfilling my dream to experience the freedom that accompanies working remotely. I outsource Vertellis’ production in the Netherlands and remotely handle business development, customer experience, and marketing.
For Coworkparadise, I’m responsible for online marketing and Michael takes care of the finances. The rest is done together … as you can guess … virtually! We Skype interview our candidates and run the full retreat in Bali physically. But, it’s Bali, so we don’t mind being stuck there for a couple of months every year.
Da Costa: How were you able to take your businesses from small freelance gigs to jointly earning over $700,000 in just a few months?
Blokdijk: I’ve found that a huge part of being a successful entrepreneur is constantly listening to and absorbing knowledge from smart people around you. There are opportunities everywhere if you are paying attention.
Vertellis, for example, started out as a small side project but ended up being a huge success. I met a Dutch top performance coach and his girlfriend during my ten months traveling, and together we had the idea of creating a product that could spark personal, meaningful conversation with friends and family.
We decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to test the product before investing funds into creating it. We pitched the game on our website and committed to producing it if we pre-sold at least 500 units. We ended up selling 200 units just from targeting social media groups, friends, and niche pages. I was also reaching out to potential manufacturers looking for a foot in the door, and something incredible happened: a manufacturer really liked the product and decided to pre-order 300 units to give away to their customers as a New Year’s gift.
You have to realize that as a freelancer who was making a couple of thousand dollars a month, selling 300 units at $5,000 in a matter of minutes felt amazing. This gave me some funds to advertise on Facebook, where I taught myself to scale my audience and convert. As a result of my efforts and the many people who were supporting and advising me during the process, I went from making $1,500/month as a freelancer to earning over $100,000 in revenue in just one month.
Over the next three months, the product launch was such a success that we sold an additional 25,000 units, with total of $400,000 in revenue. Since then, we created three new products and are now preparing to launch all over the US and Europe. To think that all of this started from connecting with and brainstorming with like-minded, ambitious entrepreneurs (and fellow travelers)!
Tesselaar: I experienced something similar with MijnCadeau, which I have been running for five years. During one of our retreats a couple of years ago, I met an experienced entrepreneur who taught me the importance of tracking my metrics and daring to take bigger risks. I started designing my own products (rather than emulating competitors), worked with Lars and fellow entrepreneurs to thoroughly learn Facebook marketing, and last February, I finally felt confident enough to spend $10,000 on strategically created Facebook ads (that same month, I saw $100,000 in revenue).
As a result, I went from making $50,000 while in college to $100,000 last year, and $250,000 between October 2016 and February 2017. I greatly attribute this success to the learnings I gathered from other entrepreneurs and having a mentor to guide me along the way. My biggest lesson? Growing a business is not necessarily about how much you spend, but rather about the results that investment brings you.
Da Costa: What was your vision behind creating a business that brings together successful entrepreneurs, and how are you profiting from it?
Tesselaar, Blokdijk: We were having a beer back in 2015, and we asked ourselves: “if everything was possible in life, what would we do? What do we care about the most?” We came up with three core values:
- Be around like-minded people who will grow and progress us in our entrepreneurial ventures (and vice versa).
- Travel the world and be location-independent.
- Maintain the freedom of making our own choices, especially when it comes to business.
From a young age, we both felt that we could not settle for a regular 9 to 5 corporate job. We love traveling and experiencing different cultures, and having only a few weeks a year of vacation to do that felt too restraining. We wanted freedom, which to us means having the ability to pursue our passions in whichever way we see fit, in any place in the world, while also enjoying our lives. To do that, entrepreneurship felt like the only option.
We thought it would be epic to find a way to make money from doing what we naturally love: bringing ambitious entrepreneurs together. That’s where the idea behind Coworkparadise came from. We suspected that gathering brilliant minds to collaborate for a month in Bali (we chose this location since we have both been there and Michael spoke the language) would result in mutual benefits and business progress for everyone involved. We were right!
It was a risky move financially – we absorbed all the costs upfront, in addition to extra costs such as advertising. The first couple of times running the retreat, we only broke even. As we received feedback from participants that they found much more value than what they paid for, we improved the experience and raised prices.
Our last retreat made $64,000 in revenue. This retreat is not something we hinge our livelihood on – rather, it is a passion project that we nurture to expand our network and learn from amazing entrepreneurs around the world (as well as give them a chance to meet each other).
Da Costa: Your retreat does not focus on digital nomads – only successful entrepreneurs who make over $250K a year. Why did you make this decision?
Tesselaar, Blokdijk: Our first retreat hosted both entrepreneurs and digital nomads/freelancers, but we set a revenue minimum of $250,000 a year after we learned that there is a notable difference between the two groups’ mentality. The biggest being, entrepreneurs are not trading their time for money anymore. While freelancers mostly sell their time for services, entrepreneurs focus on setting up processes to generate money. We wanted to create the type of environment that was conducive to big thinking – building empires rather than just figuring out how to get by financially while traveling.
There are one thousand and one ways to sell a product or service, and bringing together a group of entrepreneurs who already have successful money-making systems in place is an amazing way to accelerate one’s growth. It’s easy to keep doing what you know, but you may lose a lot of opportunity by only sticking to that. Sharing best practices and finding innovative solutions to approaching similar problems with a network of fellow entrepreneurs has done wonders to our business growth.
Da Costa: What are the biggest fears and challenges you face as entrepreneurs?
Tesselaar: When I was 17, the founder of the company I was interning for gave me a Richard Branson book and wrote in it: “It is not fear that holds you back, it is the possibility of failure that paralyzes you. Hear that voice, go on, you can do it!” Those words deeply influence me to this day.
The fear of failure is one we are all familiar with. But, I think that everything that is truly awesome lies on the other side of fear. I faced the most challenges with Coworkparadise – starting this business was truly a big experiment. We took an enormous financial risk up front and there were a lot of knowledge gaps in the beginning since we didn’t have much experience with organizing trips of this caliber or managing big groups of people. Our launch was terrifying because we kept questioning what people would think, how they would react to what we created, and whether they would be satisfied. The scariest moment was when the first attendee booked her flight and the other 11 spots in the program were still not sold. We couldn’t cancel the retreat anymore, so we had to have faith the spots would fill.
The point being, fear is a constant in entrepreneurship. It was scary to hire my first employee, but it significantly liberated my time to focus on more important projects. It was intimidating to rent a space for my production facility, but it made my company’s growth possible. People told me that launching a retreat was crazy, but now it’s generating profit. I was concerned about spending thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, but the results made it more than worth it. Any of these tactics could have gone horribly wrong – but they didn’t, because they were strategically thought out and cross-checked by people who I trusted. Fear is everywhere, but the magic only starts to happen once you step out of your comfort zone. When your mind screams “stop!”, think again… it may just be an opportunity in disguise.
Blokdijk: As an entrepreneur, I constantly doubt whether people will like my products or services. From this fear came an important business insight: confirm whether people would actually buy your product or service before investing money into making it. It’s scary to sell a product that technically doesn’t exist yet, but it’s a better option than spending massive amounts of time and resources working on a product and later finding out it’s just not right.
I also learned that fear puts you in action mode. For example, when we were scared that only a handful of participants would show up to our first retreat, we experimented with all sorts of strategies we may not have otherwise to reach our target audience: posting on different websites and Facebook groups, Facebook ads, advertising in live events, attending meetups, etc. When the pressure kicks in, you can either panic and freeze or take massive action and succeed. I suggest you do the latter.
Da Costa: What advice would you give to Millennials who want to be location-independent and have high-paying jobs?
Blokdijk: Take a close look at all of your interests and ask yourself: what truly gets you excited? If you can create a business from something that you love, you’re not really working. Don’t let money be your sole driver or you’ll find yourself losing motivation. Believe it or not, there is much less effort involved in doing what you love.
When thinking about what business to create, have a clear picture of your goals and why you’re pursuing them. Ask yourself: why does this product or service exist? The answer should be a strong message that will motivate and keep you on the right track when obstacles come your way. This will inevitably happen, because there is a boring, less exciting side of entrepreneurship, especially in the beginning. While I love being an entrepreneur, I cannot tell you how much crappy work goes into success.
When you are just starting out, I suggest teaming up with somebody who also shares similar interests. This will help you keep each other accountable and have a mutual support system to discuss challenges with. Two smart minds are better than one when it comes to finding solutions to business problems! Also, it’s much more fun to have a partner to celebrate your wins with.
Tesselaar: Make a list of goals for what you want to achieve in life: this includes how much money you want to make, what you want to do with your money, and how you want to grow personally and in business. This list should contain everything you would like to achieve from today to a year from now.
Then, make another list with big dreams you would like to accomplish before you die. Make goals so clear that you already see them happening (e.g. ‘’I am going to sell my company for $5 million by 2022”). Take the items from your dream list and find ways to break them down into smaller steps for your goals list. For example, if your big dream is to become a paid speaker, add “give five presentations for free this year” to your goals list. Network with people to find a way to get on a stage, no matter how small. Once you start ticking off small goals, you are on your way to fulfilling a big dream.
Da Costa: What are some key lessons you’ve learned from your extensive networking with fellow entrepreneurs?
Tesselaar: Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I fully believe that. Successful people think in similar ways. They have the same routines, determination, positivity, and goals. It’s been documented that many successful people incorporate exercise and meditation into their day. They support one another. They outline their goals, make commitments to fulfill them, and take action. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people who think like that not only because they motivate me, but also because opportunities naturally start popping up when I’m around them.
I categorize people into three lists: those who positively affect me, those who negatively influence my life, and those who I’d like to spend more time with (even if I don’t know them yet). I’ve found that life significantly improves when you cut out anyone who doesn’t support you and your dreams, and spend time with those that do. Always make an active effort to connect with people who inspire you towards achieving your dreams. You never know, you may be able to help them as well!
Blokdijk: If you surround yourself with successful people, you automatically start adapting their mindset. I learned from the support people have given me while I built my businesses that I should not only think bigger but act bigger. If you want success, you need to constantly step out of your comfort zone. Setting bigger goals automatically pushes you to do that.
Another key lesson I’ve learned is that there is always enough business and opportunity to go around for everybody. Don’t keep valuable and helpful knowledge to yourself – rather, look for ways to grow or collaborate with others. Networking is a powerful tool, and when we help those around us do better, people will, in turn, be more willing to help us.
Originally published on Forbes.