In the third installment of our Digital Nomads series, iQ spoke with jetsetter-cum-entrepreneur Konrad Waliszewski about his wandering ways and the role technology plays in powering his journeys across the globe. The COO of Speek (a startup that provides conference-calling solutions) is currently embarking on what he calls the “World Venture Project,” through which he details his ongoing “quest to visit every country in the world,” while observing “how technology — particularly the spread of Internet connectivity and mobile — is changing the world at unprecedented speeds.”
How did you get started as a digital nomad, and when did you realize it was possible to work from anywhere?
In my prior company, I had an intense day working on three different projects with companies spread out between the East and West coast. At the end of the day, I sat back and realized that I never actually had to leave my office to do that effectively and could have been anywhere.
So then I thought, if I could have been anywhere, why was I sitting in Chicago (where I lived at the time) — especially during the winter? Unable to come up with a good answer, I sold my car, canceled my lease and set off around the world. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I figured the worst case scenario would be that I lose all my revenue, burn through my savings and have to come back.
I figured that it was a risk worth taking for such an incredible experience. I just made sure that I was always available by phone and email during U.S. hours. None of that happened, and I never missed a beat.
What surprised you the most when you embarked on your nomadic lifestyle?
I assumed traveling the world would actually increase my expenses, but it would be worth it. However, they were actually lower and my savings increased. The cost of living is generally much lower throughout the world, and I no longer had expensive rent, car payments, cable bills and other living expenses.
What are some of the most fascinating places you’ve been to?
Having visited approximately 50 countries, I’ve been fortunate to have many fascinating experiences. Some of the ones that come to mind are traveling through rural Mozambique by land, exploring Petra in Jordan, running with the bulls in Pamplona, staying with a Maasai family in a remote village in Kenya, road trips through Slovakia and Ukraine, learning to surf in Costa Rica, experiencing the nightlife with some locals in Soweto (South Africa’s original township and Africa’s largest), reggae block parties in Jamaica, playing tejo in Colombia, sailing through the British Virgin Islands, traveling through India by train and scuba diving in the Maldives.
Is it viable to have a successful professional career without settling down in one place?
Absolutely. This is something I am very passionate about and write a lot about it on my blog. Too many people look at travel as something to do before they start working, after they retire or in very short vacation bursts when they need to escape from the office for a week of recovery.
I love my work and love building companies, so I don’t want to only be a vagabond. However, I think there are so many personal, educational and professional advantages of travel, that it’s a shame to not do it more throughout your life. And fortunately with technology, “work vs. travel” does not have to be an either/or proposition these days.
What specific technologies do you use the most when traveling and working remotely?
I use Speek for all my conference calls and screen shares. I may be biased as COO of the company, but that’s why I’m there. We enable you to easily communicate and collaborate with people all over the world, without making location a burden.
I use Yesware to make my email much more efficient and create templates to take care of the repetitive parts of emails that I’d otherwise end up typing 10 times a day in different emails (“Our company provides …”). Truly a huge time-saver.
I outsource a lot of my tasks to my virtual assistant at Zirtual to free up my time (I also use oDesk and Fiverr for certain projects). I use Dropbox to back up my files and make sure I can access them from any device if something happens to my computer. I also share folders with people I work with so they can access files without asking me for them each time.
I chat with people throughout the day on HipChat. I have an unlocked iPhone as well. I use Verizon’s global roaming plan for short trips, but always get local SIM cards if I am in a place more than a few days (or if Verizon’s plan isn’t covered there). Finally, I always make sure to bring an external battery pack. Nothing kills your productivity or responsiveness more than a dead phone, and power outages are common in many places in the developing world.
Do you think we’re seeing less need for physical workplaces? Are we entering an age of work-from-anywhere?
I think employees can be more productive and more personally satisfied if you let them work from where they want. Plus, you save money on office space and employees don’t waste as much time commuting. Many managers think that the lack of oversight will cause people to slack off, but that is a problem with hiring, not location. If someone is going to slack off while remote, they will also slack off at their desk. You have to trust your employees and measure performance based on results, not face-time.
What’s the one thing you never travel without?
A laptop, cell phone, Kindle, backpack rain cover, external battery, extra cash and downloaded offline maps. Besides that, I make sure to always travel as light as possible.
Images courtesy of Konrad Waliszewski.