Selling Shovels to Digital Nomads


Fred Perrotta

During a gold rush, you’re better off selling shovels than panning for gold. Finding gold is lucrative but unlikely.

Selling to a steady stream of customers is where the money is.

Every miner is looking for the jackpot. He’s going to be rich… once he has the right pickaxe and the right jeans.

This story played out during the gold rush. It’s happening now in Silicon Valley.

Most entrepreneurs angling to build the next Facebook or Twitter fail. Meanwhile, successful businesses are being built by catering to the growing number of startups, programmers, and entrepreneurs who are eager to spend their VC money on tools and software to (hopefully) strike gold.

Heroku and GitHub come to mind. YC startups are often each others’ first customers.

The Next Gold Rush

The location-independent, digital nomad movement is getting more momentum and press. As a result, more products are being built for this audience.

Many of the people going nomadic are entrepreneurs and programmers themselves. They’re building the tools they need then selling them to their friends.

The first wave of community-specific tools are all about finding places and people. NomadList and Teleport will help you find the best cities in which to live and work. The Nomad Project and the Dynamite Circle will help you connect with other digital nomads online or in person.

Informally, I was recently invited to two different working retreats with other entrepreneurs. Without traditional offices, these ad hoc coworking arrangements will become more common. Jeremy and I did something similar in Mexico. This is another opportunity begging for a tool to organize the events.

As more people become entrepreneurs and digital nomads, we’ll see increasingly sophisticated location independent businesses. Distributed companies like Buffer are already accomplishing a version of this.

We’ll soon see nomads moving from dropshipping and online marketing to building more physical product companies (like Tortuga and more tech companies.

Nomads are already building plugins and web apps. Other companies have built teams in Southeast Asia. As these trends come together, we’ll see larger-scale businesses with more complex products.

The future is bright. Let’s build it.