How Pieter Made Millions From His City Directory

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Who is Pieter

If you’re on twitter, you’ve probably heard of Pieter Levels, aka levelsio.

For the last decade he’s been building internet products. And he now has a portfolio earning him $2-3 million a year.

He also was one of the first people to popularize the digital nomad lifestyle back in the early 2010s. A crazy idea back then.

But what really put him on the map was NomadList in 2014.

Somehow, he was able to grow a travel site in a crowded market that now has 30k+ users, millions of monthly views, and earned him millions of dollars. How did he do it?

Let’s find out.

NomadList

NomadList is a directory of global cities with city stats for digital nomads.

It ranks cities based on digital nomad factors like weather, safety, and cost of living.

It also includes a community where digital nomads can meetup around the world, and a job board for remote work.

All together it’s giving him about $30k / month.

But how did he make it so popular?

How Pieter started and validated NomadList

In 2014 Pieter went viral by saying he was going to build 12 startups in 12 months.

These were more like MVPs than startups. But if enough users signed up, then he’d build it out into a full product.

After a couple failed ideas, his fourth was NomadList.

For an MVP he sent out a simple excel sheet on twitter, and asked other digital nomads to enter info on cities they’d traveled to.

The tweet got great feedback.

So, he decided it was worth his time to build out.

After a month of building, he finished it. But without knowing, he accidentally uploaded the site to his server one night.

And next thing he knew, it went viral.

People caught wind of it, and posted it on their sites. One user posted it on Product Hunt, and it grew to number 1.

Since then he’s been adding features (like a slack community, meetups) and grew it into a full hub for digital nomads to hang out in.

The key here is his launch process, and it’s a great playbook for how he launches all his products.

Build a shitty MVP, and post it on twitter or some other social media site to gauge interest.

If you don’t get a good response, then ditch it. This is way better than spending weeks or months building a full product, only to have no one use it.

If you do get a good response, then you not only have the confidence to build it out. You also have early users who can help guide how the product should be built.

And you don’t need a huge following, you can get a great response on sites like Reddit and HackerNews with 0 following.

For example check out the founder of Gumroad’s initial MVP post on Hackernews.

Getting Customers

Pieter’s twitter is his main lead generator for all his products, including NomadList.

And he’s a whiz at promotion.

Most of his tweets are insights on his business. And by offering that unique value for free, he’s grown his following to 400k+.

Pieter uses a common strategy I’ve found in other successful builders on twitter. It’s a “buildinpublic” mindset.

You tweet the highs and lows of your projects. As well as secrets and tips people can’t find elsewhere. And this gives tremendous value to people.

So once in a while when you throw out an ask, people are way more likely to welcome it.

Outside of twitter he posts on (basically all) social media channels to reach audiences: Twitter, blogging, Hacker News, Product Hunt, Tik Tok.

He posts where his customers hang out.

Monetization

NomadList currently has a one time payment of $109 (after a 50% off promo).

In the past he charged monthly and iterated on the price.

When describing his strategy on pricing he says, “I usually start with a low price and then slowly raise it until I see a big drop off. Not scientific in any way but it works for me.

How’s that for some advanced pricing strategy. Keep it simple.

Lessons

There are powerful lessons we can learn from Pieter. Here are my biggest ones:

1. Don’t be a programmer. Be a maker.

Pieter doesn’t describe himself as a programmer.

He’s a maker first. And uses programming as a tool to build his products. This is a powerful mindset difference.

For engineers especially, it is so easy to fall into the engineer-first trap.

When you’re building, you’re not an engineer anymore. You’re a maker. (see the popular Patrick Mackenzie’s “Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer” article)

A programmer spends time making the most efficient product. They test out different frameworks. Or they optimize the product for a million users when they have none.

A maker, on the other hand, spends their time validating the idea. Ensuring revenue. Reaching an audience. Getting traction.

They spend as little time building as necessary to get customers. Who cares if the product is optimized if no one’s going to use it?

2. Build an audience by offering unique value

We all have unique value we can offer.

No one is going through the same exact journey we are. So share your unique learnings with others.

Make it a habit to build in public.

This could be on twitter, a blog, a newsletter, vlog, etc.

In return, you get a loyal audience that will be receptive to the next product you create.

Learn More About Pieter

https://twitter.com/levelsio

Pieter’s book on being a maker

Pieter’s blog

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