Lenilson

Hello, I'm Lenilson ๐Ÿ‘‹

I'm a freeelancer developer and maker currently in . I live out of a backpack and usually travel around the world to find nice food and fast WiFi. You can get to know more about me here. ๐Ÿš€

My 2018 was crazy. Here's my year in tweets

31 December, 2018

I can totally say 2018 was the best year of my life so far. Of course, that doesnโ€™t count for much since Iโ€™m just 18, but using a parallel of how most of my friends are living (not to compare myself, but just as a pure exercise of gratitude), Iโ€™m doing pretty fine.

My year didnโ€™t start good.

It started out in Petrolina, Brazil, drunk and in a family party I didnโ€™t want to be in.

Looking from the outside, it would look like I didnโ€™t have much to complain about.

I had a pretty stable job and was slowly decorating my place in Recife.

However, I was miserable. Nothing was happening in my life. Everyday looked exactly the same. Same places, same people, same conversations, same everything.

My hobby? Crypto trading (as everyone at the time, I believe.)

Man, I was horrible at trading.

I lost almost everything that I โ€œinvestedโ€ in crypto this year. But I kept doing it, because I needed some sort of risk in my life.

At that point I had zero risk going on. I had a fixed salary, fixed rent, fixed groceries, fixed routine. Everything was in its place. And as someone who had quit high school a year before to do startups, I was getting crazy this way.

But that was about to change. Radically.

It was in January that I met a guy on Twitter named Joshua Voydik. Joshua led me to another guy on Twitter named Pieter Levels. Pieter led me to a Telegram community named WIP. And WIP led me to a french maker named Leo Baecker.

From this point on, this ignited the biggest mindset change I ever had about money, traveling, startups and friends.

But it started small.

I became Leoโ€™s HyperPing first customer (crazy to think that this probably ignited a series of events in his life too), and he convinced me to pay for a WIP membership.

Before 2018, my entire reality was the reality of most tech workers in Brazil: bullshit paychecks, bullshit startups, long commutes, bosses who clearly needed psychiatric help, and an overall stressful life.

And then I met these guys, from a total different dimension, who made money from their own stuff, full-time or part-time, some of them were at home, some of them were traveling the world. WIP changed my life.

From that point, all I wanted to do was to escape 9-5 and build my own products. I had a purpose now besides working five days a week to get drunk on the weekends.

While still in Petrolina, and with only a 3G connection, I started shipping my first side-project after WIP: ScreenMug.

The language was Portuguese, and the idea was that you could order a mug with any image on it.

I didnโ€™t really care if it was going to work out or not (maybe I cared a bit). I knew I needed to create momentum before anything else.

So I launched it. It of course didnโ€™t make any sales, but I shipped the product. And that was enough to keep me going.

That launch was especially important to me, because in December 2017 I had put a small side-project out there, a simple crypto-portfolio tracker, and the only feedback I got from the outside world was this:

Yikes.

ScreenMug was also important because it launched just a few days after I had a incredible 10-hour panic attack because of my 9-5. I really thought I was going to die that day. I couldnโ€™t stand up, I couldnโ€™t control my breath. For ten hours. One full night without any sleep, just panic.

That was my final wake up call: leave your job, leave Recife, this path is not what you want.

To escape reality while I didnโ€™t have the courage to leave my job, I started spending most of my days with virtual people.


But I knew my time was coming.

On February, I got a notice from my boss for screaming in the office while this was happening:

Falcon Heavy launch (a literal launch, so to say) totally blew out my mind. Damn, big things are really possible.

I would talk everyday with my friend & coworker Everton about how what I really wanted was to leave my crappy PHP job and do my own thing. And everytime he told me to โ€œjust do it, because youโ€™re youngโ€.

And he was right. There was nothing stopping me besides the idea that I had something to lose. I had nothing to lose.

The corporate world creates a kind of fear in you that makes you emotionally dependent on companies. They make you think that you have something to lose: money, reputation, status.

The truth is that I could do pretty fine on my own, but my confidence was so low after 2017 that I didnโ€™t really see that.

Before March I took a quick trip to my hometown to see some friends. They had just rented an apartment in a upscale building in the city, and were planning to turn it into a โ€œcode houseโ€.

So an idea popped up in my mind: I donโ€™t really know what I want to do with my life (besides the fact that I wanna be location-independent), but I do know what I DONโ€™T want (which is to stay in my job), so I might just move in with those guys and see what happens.

And thatโ€™s what I did.

On March 1 I gave a 30-day notice to my boss.

March was a strange month. I was still afraid of leaving my job, I was still afraid of doing my own thing, but I took the first step, and I just needed to play along.

I decided to go full minimalist, and trashed a lot of my stuff before leaving Recife.

It was also in March that I bought a MacBook, one of my best decisions in the year.

I also discovered that I love working from coffee shops.

By the end of March, there I was. Excited with something for the first time in months.

Still, I had the same level of fear as before. It was no coincidence that I was moving back to my hometown. Yes, it was scary to leave a life Iโ€™ve been building for almost a year, so I needed a safety net, and being in my hometown, near people I knew, and near my parents, gave me the security I needed.

On this Tweet, Javi gave me the best advice I could ever receive at the moment: figure out stuff as you go.

I left Recife in a total indie maker mentality. I didnโ€™t want a 9-5 job again, ever, and I wasnโ€™t excited to get back on freelancing any time soon.

I had a shot. A place to stay, a few weeks of runaway and a laptop. And that was enough for me to try my chances and see if I could ship a profitable product.

One of the very first things I did when I moved in with Rannyeri and Luan (my new flatmates) was to turn my wardrobe grey:

I still have the same 10 t-shirts btw.

The life in the apartment was exactly as I imagined. I wasnโ€™t paying a cent of rent, just sleeping on a couch and sharing pizzas with my friends.

Life there felt good for the first time in months.

I couldnโ€™t escape freelancing tho, my fear of running out of money still existed (and was quite real), so my days were a mix of doing my own stuff and doing stuff for other people.

I spent a total of one month couchsurfing in their apartment. Working on chamados.io and a few contracts. By the start of May I was sleeping on my old bed at my parents.

But the truth was that my hometown was boring af. At least in that moment of my life. I wanted to be anywhere in the world but there.

I was scared of being trapped again.


So I decided to go to a tech conference in Salvador, with a few friends. A fairly short trip to renew my energies.

At this point my entire life could fit inside two backpacks, and I could work from anywhere. Still, I had a strange impostor syndrome that didnโ€™t really let me call myself โ€œa nomadโ€, because I didnโ€™t even have a passport yet or because I wasnโ€™t in Bali like all the cool kids.

Salvador got the job done. This 4-day trip was enough to give me a taste that there was LOTS of places to see in the world. I felt totally renewed, and I definitely didnโ€™t want to stay home.

But I still had plenty of problems to take care before really hitting the road.

  1. I wasnโ€™t making enough money to sustain a full-time travel lifestyle (or so I thought, one of the things I realized by traveling more is that traveling can be as cheap or as expensive as you want)
  2. I didnโ€™t have a passport, so I was limited to traveling in Brazil. And traveling in Brazil has two problems: flights are crazy expensive and internet access mostly sucks.

It didnโ€™t matter. I just couldnโ€™t stay in my hometown (see how most of the time I was just running away from some demon of my own creation? Thatโ€™s how anxiety and comparing yourself to others feels like.)

So I bought the cheapest one-way ticket I could find, $60 to fly toโ€ฆ Petrolina! The city where my year started. And also the city where my sister lives, which meant I could couchsurf again and avoid spending my runaway.

I spent two months there, from June to the end of July. I was slowly building confidence to travel to other places.

Petrolina was cool. I had visited the city a few times before, but never experienced actually living there.

It was also cool because I used those two months there to get closer to my sister and my nieces.

It was also around this time that I started realizing that if I really wanted to experience a culture impact, I had to stop bitching around and go international.

Problem? Money.

All my clients paid me in BRL, all my bank accounts were in Brazil. So my first task for the next two months: internationalize my freelance business.

I started working harder on contracts and side-projects, building up a cash reserve I knew I was going to need.

As I saw money coming in and products coming out, my confidence started growing. For the first time in years, I felt I was capable of accomplishing anything.

WIP was especially important here. The feedback loops there, and the feeling of always having friends on my pocket everywhere I go was awesome. We even watched the World Cup together using Telegram.

Around that time I started asking other freelancers in WIP about how I could improve my lead generation, get more contracts and how to better price my hourly rate.

And then another mind-blow realization happened: I have been heavily underpaid my entire life!

No, really. Do you know how much I made in that job in Recife that I hated? R$2.000, or about $500, a month, to work 8 hours per day. That was about $3 PER HOUR!!!!

Was I underpaid? Depends on the referential. For my Telegram friends, I was a slave. For my Recife friends, I was a yuppie.

I worked in an office with about 15 other people day to day, and 99% of them made the same amount, sometimes less. So from my referential, considering I was 17 and they were 25~35, I was rich af. Lots of my coworkers had masters and one of them was even accepted into a PhD program. Still, they were making $500 a month.

My referential was the problem.

And when I say that WIP changed my life, Iโ€™m not lying. This realization that with the same skillset I had I could make about 40x more just by working to overseas clients changed everything.

I calculated my costs and decided that I would no longer work for less than $25 per hour. This basically meant I had to totally replace my freelance clients, and simply give up the idea of working to any local company.

I did find some clients who would pay my rate in Sรฃo Paulo, Curitiba, etc. So I kept those.

I pinned this Tweet in my profile, updated my website, reached out to a few friends, and in a few weeks international leads started coming in.

This basically annihilated any belief that money was a problem to travel the world. The problem was that I was building my castle in the wrong place. This simple idea of arbitrage changed everything.

So I got a passport in Petrolina, and took the leap: bought a one-way ticket to Madrid to travel together with Everton and Allan (both former coworkers who also decided to go nomad), on Dec 4. Why the huge space between booking the ticket and actually flying out? I still had to build income and get clients paying me in a stronger currency.

By the end of July I decided to fly back to my hometown with a clear goal in my mind: use these four months before my trip to totally internationalize my income.

I got this done by September, when I landed a flexible position as a contractor in a remote-first software studio, paying 10x more than my position in Recife.

On the first week I knew we were a match. The team is full of makers, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads. We really attract what we emanate.

On October I turned 18. That didnโ€™t really change anything for me, since I was already legally emancipated since age 16. Still, it was a reminder that lifes goes faster than you expect.

The cost of internationalizing my freelance biz was that I was no longer working on my own projects. And I was kinda freaking out a bit. My ideal lifestyle is a balance between doing my own stuff and freelancing.

So by the end of October I started to look out for stuff to ship.

It was frustrating, I didnโ€™t actually ship anything. Momentum for my side-projects was totally gone.

So I decided to try the co-founder thing once again, and by November I joined Expire as a co-founder, with two other nomad friends.

The startup was actually founded six months before I joined it, but Heitor and Maria are biz & marketing people, so after six months they had an audience built for the product, but no real product shipped.

And thatโ€™s why I accepted working with them. Because we complement each other. Being a solo founder works depending on how mature you are, and Iโ€™ve come to the realization that my biz/mkt personality still needs a lot of work. And is there any better way to learn something than by closely watching people you admire doing it?

Weโ€™re on the verge of launching a product in the Brazilian market, I hope to talk more about Expire here on the weeks to come.

By December I was getting into the longest flight of my life (so far). GRU-MAD.

In madrid I met Javi IRL!

In Portugal I finally met @gvrizzo IRL, and even did an interview about my story:

And now Iโ€™m in Bucharest, writing this one day before 2019 starts.

Surely, when this year started I had no idea whatsoever of the ride I was going for, and I canโ€™t exhaust how grateful I am to everyone that was a part of this crazy ride. I love you all.

Bring it on, 2019.