By: Thoughts of a Random Citizen Podcast
My guest today is Shlomo Freunde, an entrepreneur, author, mentor, speaker, and digital nomad. He has founded Free Financial Self, where he acts as a financial coach for ex-pats. He's also created a regulatory app in China that helps other apps get listed in the Chinese marketplace.
So, being an entrepreneur is difficult enough, but I want to focus on how you found success in being an entrepreneur with an emphasis on digital nomad. Can you walk us through the setup and lifestyle you've created for yourself?
First of all, I am intentional about how I do things, but some of the things you do mean to happen, some of them, you don't. It's a process over the years, but I feel that we nailed it for ourselves with our lifestyle at the current stage. We are based in Israel, but we do vacations one or two times a year for several months. We are homeschooling our kids, and both my wife and I are working remotely. So we manage to split our day to take care of our girls and work. This is more or less the framework of how it works. As you mentioned, I have my business, which is Free Financial Self, and I also have my niche website investment; these are the websites I'm operating. My wife's working for a remote company, so she's also flexible about timing.
You've said something about mentally, financially, and socially putting the pieces together of this remote work-centric travel lifestyle. I wondered what specifically the struggles are, and advice on that lifestyle around the world, traveling internationally, continuing to work, and especially having two girls that you have to look after.
For us, the challenges are changing, especially with the girls now. When we travel, we also want to find good places for our girls, specifically our six-year-old, and we have a one-year-old. The thing is that they want to have friends, do stuff; and just staying at home the whole time is not that much fun. For example, we were in La Herradura in the south of Spain on our last trip, and there was a wonderful homeschooling community. We were there for about a month. We made a short trip, which is not really being a digital nomad; it was a skiing trip to Bansko. There was a homeschooling meeting of the world's schooling community for about four months, and we were there only for a week because that was what we could do on that trip.
It's part of the decision-making of where we're going. This is definitely a challenge. Then there are the general things for every entrepreneur and digital nomads. It's a matter of finding the right place to work or the right department. Our schedule changes a lot when we travel. We can do the same thing here, in Israel, or somewhere else, splitting our day and schedule. So that's usually not a problem. It's more about finding the right setup.
So, as remote work expands, something that you're obviously quite skilled in doing for so long, how do you juggle, move, and plan to move to another country for however long, especially with a family of four?
I wouldn't want to do short travels with my family. That last one was definitely an exception, and it was only with my daughter. It was specifically for skiing. Nevertheless, for us, the whole point of going to another place is to feel the place and understand it, not about touring it but about living there. We're living somewhere. It needs to be worth the time and effort we do with all that. So before we go, when we decide that we're going, we need to prepare the house we're renting out. We buy the ticket. We find a co-working space, or maybe not. I'm more comfortable or okay with even working at home. My wife is either in coffee shops or co-working spaces; it depends. Here, she works in coffee shops. Whereas I bounce, balancing between coffee shops and home. Just before we started recording, I was sitting outside. That's my office. Israel is quite warm, so most of the year, I'm out there, and when it's too cold, I'm up here, but it's just a few months.
When contemplating traveling internationally, it's a big thing for a lot of people that they don't have the time to plan. They don't know how to plan, and they don't know what to even look for. Considering you've traveled to more than 32 countries, do you have any advice on that?
I need to know a specific difficulty, and then I can answer because, for us, it's fairly easy to get along anywhere that we're going to go. We feel it will just be okay. Maybe it's just us; maybe it's just me. We love the process; we love the traveling. One of the exciting moments when we travel is figuring out, the first day or two, where's the supermarket, buying a sim card, understanding what's around you, things like that. I personally really like that process of not knowing anything and discovering what's going on.
I completely agree. Maybe it's just a mindset knowing that you're going to have to tackle that one way or another. That mindset helps people get through. Have you ever found major difficulties with the language barriers being to over 32 countries? How have you tackled the language barriers going to a place? Because I'm assuming you don't speak 32 languages.
No, I don't. I didn't really have language barriers; to be honest, it was just fine. It was challenging in small villages in Sri Lanka but not impossible. I still trust the process and the goodness of people and nonverbal communication, and it works. However, what we also do, or try to do, is at least go to a basic language class in that place. Just to know a little bit about it, just to speak a few words, it also helps to break the ice sometimes when you're speaking with somebody.
I went to Sri Lanka with my daughter, and she was three back then. We learned some words, colors, and to write a little bit and we bought some books. A month ago in Bulgaria, she went to a Bulgarian class. We teach her Spanish here in Israel; she learns online. We want that ongoing communication wherever we're going. I'm not going to lie to you that we are fluent in all those languages; we're not, but it's something, and we still get to feel something about the country.
Moving on to what you do with the company you created, Free Financial Self. Can you walk us through what that is? Why did you decide to create free financial stuff?
I wanted to combine two things that I love. One is traveling, and the other one is finances and investment. From a very young age, I was interested in reading the newspaper's financial section first. About five years ago, I had the time, and then I decided it was about time to open that company and help others align the lifestyle that they want for themselves. Perhaps it's traveling, perhaps it's not, but something that it's really important for them, and then help them do this through their finances, so that isn't a struggle. I help them create a plan for the next 20 or 30 years of important things for them in life, and I help them achieve that. What they need to do today to reach all those financial and life goals. That's what I wanted to create.
What was the focus on? I believe there is a focus on ex-pats and international travel. What led you to find that niche specifically when helping people with their finances?
I am that person, not so much of an expert, but more of the nomad/remote work. By the way, I found that people sometimes define themselves with a different word, but it's actually the same thing. It can be an ex-pat location independent, digital nomad, remote work, or others. People affiliate themselves with those different definitions. So I speak the language; I love talking about this. We have the same feelings about things. It's not per se that I cannot help people who have a day job and do all that. It's a matter of deciding that this is the audience I want to work with. This is what I love.
How have you seen the growth of this industry develop over the past few years since you've created this? How do you see it moving into the future post COVID?
Part of my work and understanding of how I talk about my business to people became me helping promote workers organizing their finances to reach financial freedom faster. Still, after the pandemic, remote workers are now just people because it's everybody. So maybe I need to do some fine-tuning there, but this is how it feels.
I had an interesting discussion yesterday with my best friend about this whole work revolt and whether they should move to another position that is not fully remote as they do right now. Seeing all these advantages of doing remote work, I don't understand why somebody would go the other way. I know that some people want office time, but I don't see companies asking their employees to be at the office all the time, surviving these days. Of course, there are places that you can do. Let's say that you have to go to a development lab or electronics or things like that, that you just have to go. I understand that. Still, you have to come to work nine to five, five days a week as a rule of not giving that flexibility. I don't think that can work anymore for many companies.
One thing that we talked about just before this was the environment moving forward cross-border, how Spain and Italy are creating these new visas designed around remote work. Have you seen that anywhere else in the world? Do you think that as we move into the next ten years, the capabilities for remote workers to travel across borders will be created?
I definitely see this expanding. I know people working on that with governments, consulting them on how to do remote work visas or digital nomad visas. I think there are around 15 countries with digital nomad visas these days. UAE is there, some countries in Central America, you mentioned a few in Europe, there'll be more and more. Also, these are people who work, who bring money to the country, so why not?
It doesn't hurt. They buy your goods. I don't see the issue at all of that.
They might not pay the taxes, which is part of the perk, but they're still spending their money there. These are people who have money and come in, bringing in money.
Of the few you mentioned in UAE and South America, are you seeing these visas created for longer than a travel visa, or is it the same time?
No, longer. I've seen one to two years visas. I don't remember where, but they're definitely longer.
Pivoting a bit. Being based out of Israel, I'm curious about the entrepreneurial environment in Israel.
It's very vibrant, and Israel is the so-called startup nation. There is a very large scene here because a lot of the things that people make are the technology coming out of the army, and then they implement this for the civil market. Even without it, there are still many things regarding entrepreneurship. There are a lot of groups and a great ecosystem; it's all built very well.
To be completely honest, I don't feel part of that community right now because I'm more part of the digital-nomads international community. After and while I was in China for about a year, I worked on bringing Chinese investors into Israeli companies. So I was very involved back then. Still, the ecosystem exists, and it's really big. About 200,000 people in Israel work in high-tech out of a population of 10 million. It's about 15% of the GDP.
You have a very nice English accent. It's almost indistinguishable from mine. Can you elaborate a little bit on the culture in Israel and how welcoming and easy it is to travel from Europe or the US?
There isn't a visa problem, especially if you're in Europe or the US. There's no problem. I think you get a 90-day stay. People are very friendly; people know English, so getting along is not a problem, especially in big places like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Israeli are very warm-hearted, and they like seeing others and meeting others. It's a friendly place.
I know you live in a yurt in Israel, which is comparable to glamping for those who might not know. What was the decision to have this lifestyle?
When my wife and I want to go on vacation, we start looking for places that look like our house, which is nice. A yurt is a Mongolian tent with a wooden frame, and this one has a PVC outside as the walls. Still, it comes from Mongolia and Kazakhstan, so it would usually be covered with animal skins and things like that. However, this is a glamping one, so we have electricity, air conditioning, toilet, etc.
We decided to do that because both my wife and I thought about building one somehow, and when we met and had the chance to build it here in Israel, I thought it's affordable and looks really nice, so why not? It's not huge, but it's still good for what we need. We're not into big places. This one is 50 square meters at the bottom and another eight at the loft. It's not that much, but we have a yurt, and for now, it works. Don't get me wrong, there are challenges. We have two kids now, so we'll see where we go with this, but for now, it works, it's fine, and we love it.
You said you don't need anything too fancy. How can that tie into the way you've found financial freedom within yourself? Applying that, how do you help others find financial freedom with your company?
Financial freedom is how you define it for yourself. Some people see financial freedom as having piles of money pouring from the sky, and some people think it's just having a good, sustainable lifestyle, which is what I believe in. We're not big spenders. We love our travel. We're not spending on fancy houses and fancy cars. We have a rather small old car, and that's totally fine. We're much more into having experiences than stuff. That's more important for us. This is what we try to teach our daughters about what's really important. Not to mention the hassle of carrying, storing, and moving things. Once you have a bigger house, everything fills up with stuff. So maybe it's just better to have the smaller one. Not to say that there aren't a lot of things here, because we have a six-year-old, so things happen. Still, we always try to keep this mindset of not needing a lot and being okay.
How does that apply to how you help people and coach people with their finances? Is that something you instill in people, or how do you approach that?
I'm not forcing this approach, but part of the exercise that I do with people is asking them: What are the things that you love to do? How would you spend your perfect day? They find out that the things they like and how they want to spend their day are rather simple and many times free. So they don't need that huge house or that mansion or car or whatever. They really don't need that.
Then you start speaking about how you get there financially. So I help make the plan and help find the right investments to get there. It's also about understanding what things are really important for you in life. I don't need a Porsche, it's okay to have a Toyota, and when I want to drive a Porsche, I'll just rent it for two days. It will be cheaper, and I'll have the experience. Or having a smaller house, and when I want to have luxury, maybe I'll take something somewhere for a week. It will cost less. So you bridge those two things. How would I get there financially? How do I make more money, set expectations for what's important for me in life, and bridge these two things?
You said that you assist people in making the right investments and strategies. Can you elaborate on your mindset when approaching investments?
For investments, there is no one size fits all. That's the bottom line. When I work with people, I build and go through a strategy on a roadmap that I developed. Part of that is defining that future lifestyle that you want for yourself. You're defining the end goal. I teach them some basic finances that they really need. I help them control the numbers. Then I create the plan, which aligns their lifestyle goals with their finances. That alignment entails that a specific investment will fit a specific bucket on your list.
So if you have a long-term goal, you can probably invest in the US stock market or an ETF. That's rather simple, and you're still going to get 7% to 10% on average if you have a long-term goal. Short-term goals make things more complicated, but you start adjusting all these investment options and put them in different buckets of what they fit. This is how the plan is generated. There are also investments that people are not very familiar with. These would be the website flipping I mentioned, the crowd investing, peer-to-peer investment, and crypto. These things are assets that people can learn about and see if they fit their strategy.
The more you dive into investments, the more you find out that there are thousands of different kinds of investments. You said that website flipping is a passion of yours. Can you elaborate on what website flipping is?
Think of real estate; you have a rundown house, you renovate it or add rooms, and then sell it for a profit. It's the same thing, but with a digital asset. You buy a website already making money, and you find ways to add more monetization channels, content, or traffic; maybe you combine two websites or have some partnerships. Each website is different. Then you can either hold it and have the cash flow or sell it.
I must say, it's not that there's this magical word: passive income. It doesn't start with passive income, and it's not going to get fully passive. It's very debatable, by the way, if there is such a thing as passive income. Still, you can make it in a couple of hours a week, and that will still work. If you're using VAs, that also works. There are marketplaces to find those websites and our private Facebook groups or personally knowing people and buying from them. There are endless niches for finding websites. I'm all into finding a niche that you love and then working on something you love and earning income from that. That will make you more enthusiastic about the work that you do.
I want to focus on the holding of those websites. Obviously, you said it's not very passive; you'd run a website. I have a website, and it's definitely something that requires work. When you find these cash-flowing websites, how much work is required? What do you do at that point to continue that cash flow or flip that website?
It depends on at what stage you're buying the website. Buying websites can be from $100 to $10 million, or maybe more. It depends on what you need to do for the website. It's about finding how you can make the growth there. If you just want to maintain a website, you can add some content over time. It will probably maintain it but is not going to grow it significantly. There is always a chance that Google will change the algorithm, and you'll drop, or stuff like that. That also happens. That's a risk right there.
If I'm thinking about time, it can be from 2 hours a week to 20 hours a week. Of course, if you have a VA, it's a different story. Some people make their living only from holding websites. That might be their job. That might be what they're working on. It's very flexible, and I think it's very creative. I enjoy this work a lot. I currently hold two websites, and I'm always looking for abandoned ones. So if you want to sell your website, I might buy it; let me know. Still, I usually look for big websites with everything already, with traffic and some income. Then I figure out how to monetize them better or improve them.
You mentioned holding a VA; can you explain what that is?
VA is a virtual assistant, somebody who helps you with different tasks can be personal or business tasks, whatever setup you have with that person. You can find them all around the world at different price ranges. This could be only for a couple of hours a week, or it can be full-time. We can have a team of them. It depends on your needs.
How do you find cash-flowing websites? What comes into what makes a website cash flow?
They already make cash flow, and there are marketplaces. I can mention a few here. Empireflippers.com is one of the most familiar ones. Flippa is also a big one, but the websites are not vetted there as they are in Empire Flippers. There are about ten marketplaces for buying and flipping websites. They already list how much that website is making. It's usually around 35X of the monthly revenue.
That's how much you pay for it?
Yes. That's about how much you pay for it. Stronger websites will have a higher multiplier. Websites that are downward trending will have a lower multiplier. It depends on the website's current situation, but this is the bulk number. A website making $1,000 a month will normally cost about $35,000, but it can range between $20,000 and $50,000. That's a big range here.
When going and finding these websites on the marketplaces you mentioned, how do you ensure that is the cash flow? How regulated is this industry to make sure that somebody is not saying a website cashflows $2,000 a month, and then after you buy it, you find out it cashflows $50 a month? What's the regulatory environment behind that?
It depends where you're buying the website from, and even then, it's not completely safe. You have to do your due diligence. If you buy from websites like Empire Flippers, where they verify the income and the website's owner, that's one thing. When you're buying from Flippa, and they do improve the process, it's still the wild west, where people say what they earn, but nobody is checking this. So you need to do your own due diligence, find out who the seller is, and if their website is really theirs. Eventually, you'll have to take some risks and jump into the water after getting enough experience and understanding what's working. What's okay and what's not. If there are red flags, then just don't do it.
Jumping back to that question I was asking about cash-flowing websites, can you give us some examples of websites that make money? Is it just any niche across anything? Do they offer services, and then you have to take over those services? Is it advertisement from those websites? Can you walk us through that?
I'm talking about content websites and any niche.
Yes, but it can be people who created that for flipping the website. So it's not like somebody created a travel blog and then abandoned it, and somebody else buys it. It does happen. Still, sometimes it's a review website about travel shoes, so there'll be information posts and reviews of different products. The website is making money from ads and affiliates, usually Amazon associates. That's the field program of Amazon. Other affiliate programs may pay more because Amazon is not paying well, but they are easy to integrate. That's one example. However, you can add more monetization channels. It can also be that you are developing a newsletter, and from that newsletter, you're selling a product or selling leads, if this is a service niche. So you can take it in a lot of directions.
Another kind of website is the SAS, which could be a tool or something that people pay a subscription to use. Nevertheless, these have higher multipliers because they're more stable. You can see how many subscribers there are and then anticipate what they're going to make next month, more or less with less risk. It also takes expertise to run them because sometimes you need a developer. Sometimes you need more tools, platforms, and things like that, so it's more complicated. There are also marketplaces for that, microacquire.com is one example. Bits x Bites is another example.
What do you prefer as this is something that you do? What do you go and look at? Are you a fan of SAS companies or SAS websites? Are you a fan of advertisement websites? What do you narrow down, and what do you specifically look for?
I am looking for growth on a website to see if it's under-monetized and how I can grow it even further. If I see I can move it from one ad network that I know is not as good into another ad network, that's a good thing. If I can build a mailing list and then think about how to monetize that list, that's another example. It needs to have enough traffic and make some income. It's easier for me to put a price on what I can pay and make an estimation. If not, it's rather hard. Although if it's a website with traffic, but not monetization, there is still something to talk about because there's traffic, so you can do something with it.
I also do a risk profile. You look at the links on the website; if these are good links from other good websites, it means that it's a stronger website, and Google will see that as an authority website. So it's less likely for it to be hurt with a Google update for some reason. I have a whole workshop on understanding the right thing to look at and what to avoid in these websites and marketplaces. I'm definitely not an expert; there are people who are. I follow amazing people that do it, I've learned a lot, and I love that niche.
So as we move on to website flipping and remote work in general, what are some of the things that you find are the most important factors when considering creating this remote lifestyle that you've created? What are the essential remote-first practices that you typically utilize?
I feel that people say that they don't have enough money to travel and have this lifestyle. I see a lot of benefit in planning towards it. That's what I do. Align your lifestyle with your finances. However, just to start, it's not that hard. You don't need so much money to start doing this lifestyle. You can get a remote work. It's not that it's instant, but it's not that hard. There are a lot of options out there to make money online.
The easiest two I can think of are writing content for niche websites, so anything that you have expertise on, people will pay for it, and teaching a language, we all speak something, so you can teach that, and you can do it online. These are two easy things you can start to do. You might not be the richest person on the planet, but it's something that you can start with. Maybe with some other income or savings, you can go to a country that is not expensive and kind of make that bridge and have the feeling of this lifestyle. So don't be afraid to jump into the water and try it.
I want to highlight the cost of living in a lot of these other countries, Bali being one of them. It's so much cheaper to go live in those countries; even if you're making half or even a quarter of what you used to make in a full-time job, you're very wealthy in these other countries.
Definitely. Israel is one of the most expensive countries in the world, so wherever we travel, we think it is cheap.
Sweet. I appreciate so much having you on Shlomo. I always ask a few questions to wrap up the episode. The first is if you could take all of your life experiences, turn around and give somebody one piece of advice based on those experiences, what would that piece of advice be?
I think that the most important thing in life is our experiences. Just have more new, adventurous, exciting experiences. Don't be afraid to try it out and jump into the water. This is what we live for. Some people like their regular life and everything the same. I understand that, but I would still say: try some experiences or things you've never tried and see if you're into it. Just jump.
I've noticed from traveling that there are either two things that happen: you absolutely love it, you find new cultures, and it's very exciting, or you appreciate your home and want to go back. So there's really nothing wrong.
Lastly, where can people find you? Where can they reach out to you? Get in contact with you? If they're interested in learning more about what you do.
First of all, I mentioned that I made a special freebie for your listeners to help them start with their remote work/digital nomad financial journey. This is to help them calculate their net worth. They can find it at freefinancialself.com/toarcunited. You can also go to my website, freefinancialself.com. I'm also on LinkedIn as Freund Shlomo. You can find Free Financial Self on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. On the YouTube channel at youtube.com/freefinancialself. Just reach out. I love speaking with people and connecting with people who listen. So please do that.
Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.