Before leaving Canada 20 months ago, Sebastien Pelletier joined a bunch of Facebook groups, including one for digital nomads curated by a certain Aline Dahmen from Germany. When he pressed the “request to join button”, he had no clue about what he was really getting into.
A few months later, out of sheer online serendipity, he met that very Aline on a beach in Southern Thailand. They talked shortly, mesmerized by how the internet brought them to exactly the same place at the same time, thousands of miles from home.
Then, a few months later they met again, this time, in Canggu, Bali, again by a very fortunate coincidence. A few hours before his flight to Singapore, Sebastien saw Aline on Facebook asking for accommodation tips in Bali. He could not believe his eyes and messaged her instantly:
“Are you in Bali?” “Yes.” “Me too! Let’s meet up!”
It was like the internet conspired to have Aline and Sebastien bump into each other on every island in South-East Asia until they developed the world’s first dating app for digital nomads.
They decided to take a stroll down the beach and, if you happened to be there on that evening, you could have taken them for just another couple of honeymooners enjoying the breathtaking sunset and making plans for the future.
And while the first half of your assumption would have been completely wrong – look, no holding hands, no kissing – the other half would have been spot on. Indeed, the two were making passionate plans together: based on Aline’s Facebook group, Nomad Soulmates, they were discussing the development of an app.
When questioned about the obvious discrepancy between the subject of the conversation and the proximity of a beautiful young girl during a glorious sunset on a fantastic Balinese beach, Sebastien’s defensive statement was short and to the point:
“I’m a geek. Tech is my favorite subject.”
From compulsive shopper to digital nomad. Sebastien’s becoming.
Up until 2014, Sebastien quenched his passion for technology by the means of compulsive shopping. Every funky electronic gadget that hit the market on a Monday was promptly delivered to his office in Montreal on Tuesday. His average crop was three parcels per week. He was making good money working as a software developer, but his finances could not keep up with his shopping addiction. He owed the banks 20,000 dollars and, because of his accumulating debt, he did not go on a holiday for 10 years.
This went on until one evening, his then girlfriend made him watch a documentary called Zeitgeist 3: Moving Forward.
Sebastien: “It was a turning point in my life. Later that night I took the decision to stop spending and pay off my debts. And for the next 6 months that’s exactly what I did. My office mates were shocked that no delivery boy was looking for me any longer.”
A month before settling his debt, Sebastien stumbled upon “The 4-hour work week”, Tim Ferris’s iconic best-seller which popularized the idea of making a decent living outside the 9-to-5 routine. It made Sebastien realize that the rich people are not prisoners to debt and that richness lies in experience and not in material possessions He decided to take one huge leap forward and live a location-independent life.
In July 2015, inspired by German blogger and digital nomad Johannes Voelkner, Sebastien booked a one-way ticket to Southern Spain. As soon as he arrived, he found himself surrounded by people who were living the life he dreamed of: working and traveling around the world.
He spent 3 months in Spain, then after a brief stay in Belgium he flew to Asia. 2 months in Koh Lanta, Thailand, 2 months in Bali, and then back to Thailand, where he intended to just pass through Chiang Mai. It took him 11 months. Then off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and back to Bali, where he took that famous beach walk with Aline.
Getting the bug. Aline’s becoming.
Speaking of which, Aline’s story was completely different. Being 15 years younger than her partner in crime, she did not have much to leave behind. Right after high-school, she took a gap year and flew to New Zealand. She barely spoke any English back then, but quickly found a job as a nanny. (The family she lived with taught her the spotless elegant English she spoke throughout this interview.) She worked, she traveled, and met people from around the world. It was a fantastic year.
Back home in Germany she realized, for the first time in her life, what her real passion was: traveling. She could not re-adapt herself to a sedentary life. She broke her piggy bank open, bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and went straight to the DNX conference.
It was networking at the conference that gave Aline her first jobs as a digital nomad, and it was precisely that conference that got her thinking of a dating platform for digital nomads.
Aline: “I noticed that most attendants were travelling alone and this made me think. They told me that it was hard for them to find someone as nomadic as they were. I saw a lot of potential in this insight and this led me into building my first “start-up”, the Nomad Soulmates Facebook group. It was a decisive point between going back to Germany and studying or trying to make things work remotely while traveling.”
The nomads she had met along the way encouraged her to learn online and develop new skills by the means of practical experience. Her eagerness to learn and her natural ability to connect with people turned her into a sought-after social media consultant. She now helps others manage their online communities.
World’s first dating app for digital nomads.
The online dating market is saturated with apps, but Aline and Sebastien believe that they have some real value to offer. Their website and application will employ cutting-edge technology and a fresh approach to networking. They work hard, they learn a lot and love every second of the process. Their primary and noble goal is to help nomads find nomads.
In the beginning, they went straight into app development for both iOS and Android. Then they realized that it would be more suitable to launch a website first, because the web was Sebastian’s primary area of expertise. They launched a website that is currently only available for users in Indonesia and Singapore. The website allowed them to immediately put out new developments and features and receive a real time engagement and feedback from their users.
Sebastien is in charge of the technical backbone of the project. Aline is the “people manager”, the heart of the 9000-strong Nomad Soulmate Facebook group. Due to her skills and passion, the group sees an abnormally high level of engagement; any post gets hundreds of likes and comments in no time.
Getting the best out of technology.
Sebastien: “Being a digital nomad is a different scenario from being on a permanent vacation after winning the lottery. Can someone be a sustainable nomad without technology? Probably not. Even people whose work is not directly dependent to technology – say, life coaches or yoga teachers here in Bali – use technology to find clients and increase exposure of their projects. If you want to maintain a nomadic lifestyle you cannot do it without at least a bit of technology.
Aline and I belong to different generations, but we both grew up surrounded by technology. And we have become dependent on it now. Take away our smartphones or shut down our social media channels and we’ll feel completely lost, at least for a while.
I have been quite critical of the fact that most big apps nowadays demand so much time and attention from their users. And while I understand that one cannot make money out of an app without driving traffic to it, some apps tend to become time sinks. I am thinking of a way to gamify this so that users will spend less time and concentrate more on what’s best and most useful from the technology at hand. “
Aline: “What I like about technology is that it empowers people to meet and connect. You meet someone online, have a chat, exchange a few ideas and maybe a year later you get to meet in person and maybe do something together, the way it happened with me and Sebastien. Even this interview would not have been possible without us getting in touch online first. I also like technology because it not only allows me to meet other people, but it lets me bring these people together as well. “
Sebastien claims that the new lifestyle has changed him a lot, in the sense that he has more drive, more discipline and, consequently, a higher level of productivity and enjoyment with his work. I asked him to share his ‘secret’ to productivity. He agreed.
“Get up early and leave the house as soon as you can. Leave all distractions you might have at home and go someplace where there is nothing else for you to do but work. If you’re not sure what to work on, you’ll need to find that passion first. Once you’ve got that spark, you can re-ignite it at any time.”
What makes them do their thing, and feel protected?
Sebastien: “For me security is quite important because I’ve never had such a thing. I’ve been financially in the red for most of my adult life and I learned how to deal with it to the point that I’m almost comfortable with it. However, when I left Canada I had this big personal project in mind – which I still have – and this project is the centerpiece of my sense of security. It’s not the dating app, it’s something bigger. It’s my future and my safety net.
Security is a combination of not being stressed about money and the confidence that I am good at what I do and that there’s a strong demand for my skills.”
Aline: “There are two sides to security: financial and mental. Back in high school I lived in a bubble. I just did what the people around me were doing. When I escaped that bubble and went to meet travelers and digital nomads, it felt exciting leaving my comfort zone. I discovered that I could do dream much bigger than I thought. Once you’re out there, you start thinking outside the box and you stop limiting yourself.
What brings me a sense of security is the belief that my projects will achieve great success. I might sound crazy, but I do believe in a billion dollar app. Maybe this one, maybe the next. It’s this strong belief and a strong will that keep me going. My security resides in my optimism and in my ability to take things as they come in a positive and open manner.”
In case you missed our trip through Indonesia’s co-working spaces, here is a quick recap of what has been going on until now: