Episode 94: On the Road with David Couillard – How to Run an Ecommerce Business while Traveling with Family
Many of you might have read or at least heard of Tim Ferriss' famous 4 Hour Workweek. It might seem like a crazy idea, but you've probably seen many people pull it off, quitting their day jobs and “living the dream” — sipping margaritas on a beach somewhere in the Pacific while money continues to flow into their pockets. But for us running ecommerce businesses and probably with a family to take care of, is it even possible?
In this episode Dave and I interview an ecommerce entrepreneur who was able to make such a lifestyle possible. David Couillard (yes, that's two Daves in one episode) has been on the road for 4 years now with his wife and kid, with another one on the way, while managing his ecommerce business from his RV. He has been hanging out with us here in Hong Kong and we got a chance to ask him about how he was able pull it off.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
- How Dave and I met
- The frustrations of getting work done in a trailer
- How living on the road has changed over the past couple of years and making this lifestyle possible
- What motivated Dave to sell everything and live a nomadic lifestyle
- Our Dave's recent move to China
- My experience living on the road
- Dave's biggest challenge doing this for the past 4 years
- Time management and juggling work and family
- Is this lifestyle sustainable with more than one kid?
- Is there a limit to how big of a company you can run when living on the road?
It's true that such a lifestyle is not for everyone, but many of us dream of having lots of time to spend with family and maybe even to travel the world. We now have more ways than ever to automate our businesses and run it with fewer hours on our end. If you can do it now, why wait?
This episode's release is on a Monday and we have another episode coming out on Thursday. That's right, we're upping the podcast to twice per week with new episodes released every Monday and Thursday.
Please leave us a review on iTunes and send us your thoughts over at firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to hear from you. Thanks for listening!
Full Audio Transcript
Mike: This is Mike.
Dave: This is Dave.
Mike: And welcome to this edition of the EcomCrew Podcast. We have another podcast that we are recording here from our Hong Kong Palace, on the 50th floor of the Sorrento Tower. We have a guest with us here who has been hanging out with us all week, someone that we've known for quite a long time, a good friend of mine from the industry. I learned that I've been pronouncing his last name wrong this entire time. I was pronouncing it David Coullard, but it's actually David…
Mike: Couillard. So it's French, but David is someone I met back in I don’t know 2015 maybe at one of the ECF live events. And then we had a private mastermind up in Montana, got to hang out there for a few days, and just a great guy. He sells hard cases and has a really interesting background that we just want to chat with him today. He has a lot of things in common with me. I've actually done the RV thing and did that for a while. But he's really committed to it. How long have you been out on the road for now?
David: It’s going to be four years now.
Mike: Four years, and he's doing it in an Airstream, done in an upgraded Airstream. But let's just talk a little bit about like life on the road. I mean four years without having a home base, and working on an internet based business on the road, how has that been?
David: It's been amazing. Great learning curve at first, but it's a home. It's not away from home. Our trailer is our home now.
Mike: Yeah and it's — I mean I did it myself. I mean for me the biggest frustration was internet. How has it been getting on internet and getting work done in a trailer?
David: I guess Mike you did that a few years before we started doing it. So probably the internet was not as good, as reliable. I mean there's more Wi-Fis available in coffee shops and places like that. I still don't trust the Wi-Fis at the campgrounds that we go to. But my phone like tethering through my phone, it's now available pretty much everywhere, like even in the deserts and mountains sometimes.
Dave: They have Wi-Fi at campsites now?
David: Yeah, I mean it's pretty bad. But I mean it could be useful. Some people like stream Netflix or something.
Dave: Wow, it shows how long it’s been since I camped. I had no idea they have Wi-Fi at campsites.
David: They have to.
Mike: It’s competition. I mean if one guy does it, everybody else has to do it.
David: Yeah definitely.
Dave: So what motivated you to kind of sell your home, sell everything and basically live the nomadic lifestyle, because when I first heard about your story – I’ve heard a lot of people doing the four hour work week, being nomads and traveling the world. But what really kind of caught my ear was the fact that you're doing it with a kid, with a wife, and like a full family, not just a single solopreneur, but entrepreneur and a family traveling the world. So what was your motivation to sell your home and everything else and do what you're doing?
David: I mean there's a few things. You start looking at traveling around the world and say you're freelancer and so on, like oh maybe we could do a month somewhere, check Airbnbs. And we looked around, saw some trailers you could rent down in Spain in the mountains. So we kind of got interested in the trailer thing. And then you start going down the rabbit hole, and then you see these families like who own let’s say an Airstream or trailer and they're on Instagram and they're living around the US.
They go across Canada all the way to Alaska, and they go down to South America, and they seem really happy. It seems like they’ve been doing it — we met some families that had been doing it for eight years, and yeah, that got our attention. We got pregnant also at the same time, and I was like I want to spend more time with this kid, because my dad actually got sick.
He got cancer, and he had just retired. Four years later he gets this sad news, and it did affect me, because I thought that at 63 years old, he hadn't lived his dream yet. He wanted to travel, and then this happens. And he passed away while we were traveling our first three months. Well my girlfriend was pregnant, so he never got to see my son. And I was like I don't want to wait until that could happen to me, you never know, and I want to be there for my son as much as possible.
And I was putting a lot of hours into my work. So I knew that the pressure of having a mortgage, paying for the bills, the taxes and all of that just would have put a lot of hours away from my son's early years. So I decided — with my girlfriend we decided to sell everything and just start traveling.
Dave: Yeah, I don't think you know this, but actually your podcast you did on the EcommerceFuel Podcast with Andrew, that was one of my motivations for kind of doing what you're doing now. And me and my family picked up our lives in Vancouver and we're moving over here to China for the next six months. And you are actually the sole motivation for that, just for the fact that like I mentioned, I've heard people do it on their own. But doing with a family, that was a really big motivation for me that, oh hey you can actually do this with a family, and actually have like a lot of experiences that you couldn’t have living in a house.
And living in a house and that is fine, but like you mentioned we're fairly young, we don't have anything physically that's happened in our lives. We're fully physically able people that we can actually do it now. Why wait, why hope that things are still the same years from now? If we have the opportunity right now, why do it? And you're the sole motivation actually for me doing that. So, thank you on that regard.
Mike: And as you get older, I mean some of the things that I know that we did when we were out on the road in the RV, you just physically can't do when you're older. I mean if you're going to go out and do like a ten mile hike and hike up the side of a mountain, you can only do that when you're a little bit younger. When you hit 60, 70, a lot of people get retired and do this. They're basically just driving around the country.
And while it's beautiful and everything, you don't get to see all the beauty and experience some of the more fun things like jumping off rock formations into a lake or something like that. I mean that's just something that only young crazy people do. And as Dave said, I mean just like you never know, I mean life is short, you can get hit by a bus, get hit by a meteor or whatever might happen.
And it's one of the main reasons why you might — my wife and I did the RV thing. It's why even though we do work hard in our current business; we take the time to take vacations. And I don't look at what I do necessarily completely as work. I'm a little bit sick and twisted. I actually really enjoy what I do, which is really important. I think that as soon as it isn't fun anymore, it will definitely change my perspective on it.
And the business allows us to do things like be here right now in Hong Kong. And to me like this is what life's all about and meet people like Dave. And the other Dave — they're both on the podcast today, but just a lot of the other people. I’ve probably met 50 to 100 other e-commerce sellers I've talked to over the last few days, to just get different perspectives, and enjoy different cultures and food.
And people just get stuck in a job where they get one week of vacation, and that's all they get in their lives. And they're stuck in a car commuting first thing in the morning and get home and they're exhausted and watch TV, and then go to bed, doesn't seem like the lifestyle that I certainly want to be living in. It's like you said next thing you know, it's just it's over, right? So you got to get yourself out of that trap.
We try to make sure that our employees don't have to live the lifestyle I'm talking about as well. We try to make sure that they have a good work life balance and vacation time and stuff like that as well, to not just be the only person in the company that gets to enjoy those things. I think all that stuff is important.
Dave: Yeah. So what has been the biggest challenge doing this for the last four years? I know you have a pretty sick set up with you actually — you don't have one RV, you have two RVs that you trail around the country.
David: That's new. Yeah, my son's going to be four. We left when he was eight months old. At first it's fine because he's small, he doesn't need too much. But then he starts having his little toys, and he starts taking a little bit more space, and we have 140 square feet, not even in the main home Airstream. So as much as I like to be with him, I felt like there were moments where I could be even more productive by being on my own.
I could try to work for eight hours with him next to me and not get anything accomplished, or I could work for two hours really intensely and then have another six hours with him. So it became a lot more productive to have my — it's a really small trailer. And it's like my little office that I go to, and we usually either travel both of them together, or I'll store one and will travel with the big one. And I'll probably work from my car or a coffee shop if I have to, but having this little office kind of made it…
Dave: Portable man cave.
David: Kind of, and it feels just right. And at the same time like I said, I feel like I have more time with him even though I get away for maybe two or three hours a day in my man cave like you said.
Dave: So, you’re having another kid coming along here shortly, do you think that it's sustainable with two kids?
David: Yeah, I mean we actually meet a lot more families that have like two, three, four kids, and they live it. It seems like the more kids you have, I guess you must like it if you have a lot of kids. But then the people who have so many kids, they want to be together. And big families, they usually have these dinners all the time together, they're rarely separated. So living on the road like this just keeps them inside that little cocoon. And I mean you have the outdoors to go and explore.
Dave: Have you met anybody else in a similar situation to you, because I think what makes you unique is — to give some background of David, he actually has a pretty big stake in a fairly large pet company. He also has his e-commerce company. Have you met any other people, which are actually being fairly successful from a business standpoint, or does it tend to attract the kind of the carefree? So I guess the best word is hippy.
Dave: The hippies. Are there a lot of successful business owners who are still maintaining that business on the road?
David: Actually we've met some business owners who were maybe in stocks, so they have good investments. So they barely work anymore. Those are the people that I think have a little bit more revenues. There's also other people who are young, retired and retired. They had a big condo down in San Diego, sold it, and figured out without the numbers how they could just stop working, or barely work, just do the things they really like to do.
And that's it because you expect your life to be probably around 84, that's the average I guess. So if you make the numbers right, why would you keep working harder if you don't need the money after you're dead. So this couple actually is don't have any kids, so they decided that around 48 to retire completely. So they're not old. They're not the usual retiree.
And then there's other people just doing like good work, either even working full time for other companies with good salaries, but they can really work remotely. So that permits them to travel around. So I mean — and there's definitely other entrepreneurs that I don't know about. But you don't need to be making a hundred, $1,000 of money to do this lifestyle.
Dave: Yeah, it's absolutely incredible that you've managed to live this lifestyle.
Mike: Yeah, and I think that society in general especially in the US, I assume it's the same in Canada, you always like measure success by like how much money you have, or what kind of things you have. And there's also this other cliché saying of money doesn't buy you happiness nor things. And I've definitely had a heck to learn in this journey on my own. I can tell you, I've been most happy when we were living just out of a suitcase.
I mean there was four or five years of our lives where we were living abroad or living in different places, and the only possessions that we had were what we could carry with us in one trip on the airplane. So it was basically two huge carry-on bags, and maybe have a third bag that we paid extra for. But you try to accumulate things; it just makes your life more complicated, so more things to move, more things to store.
It gives you — it's like a drug like anything else like buying stuff feels good. So you end up going and buying more things, or you do it not to suit for yourself, you do it because you want to show off to others, or to keep up with the people in your social circles, and it's a very easy trap to fall into. And luckily for me, it's something that I broke myself of. I can definitely say that when I was younger that was definitely all I really cared about.
It was just getting a bigger house. I would joke about this bigger house, a bigger boat, a bigger stereo, a nicer car, whatever it is. And now it's like the things I just really don't care about. I don't ever really go through a mall or go through things and be like, I want this, I want that, or whatever. And I think that that's just a much better way to live. If you can get to a point where David is in, I think that we might — we regress back to that “regress back to that,” and sell our home someday.
And I've joked with my wife, more than joked I guess. I personally love to get into a tiny house, and which is very similar to a trailer lifestyle where it just gives you less responsibility. It has nothing to do with the fact of whether or not I can afford it or not, I think it's just a better lifestyle. Like it gives you — like your mental capacity is freed up without having to worry about a mortgage, not having to worry about electric bill, not having to worry about that bill, this bill or whatever, not having to worry about — when you're in a trailer, I know when we were in the RV, we would go to fairs, we would go to a mall, and there just isn't any room to put it. So you just don't buy it, right?
Like you just — it's like I can't buy that because I don’t have room for it, which is actually kind of liberating in a lot of ways, right? I mean it forces you not to make decisions that accumulate things, which at the end of the day does nothing. I’ve really switched my life to accumulating experiences which is something that can never be taken away. I mean like being able to be in this room right now recording this podcast to me is an experience.
And I'm looking out the window at one of the tallest buildings in the world, and just an amazing skyline, and just thinking back on the last week of being here is worth way more than buying some gold watch to me. So it's just a different perspective on life.
Dave: Yeah. I guess a question for both of you; do you think there is a limit to how big of a company you can run while living that kind of nomadic lifestyle? And I think Mike you're getting closer to ten million dollars revenue now. David I don't know if we're going to share your revenue numbers exactly, but you are probably in that low seven figures range, or high six figures. Do you think there is kind of a cap at how big of a company you can build while living on the road, or do you think that's endless?
Mike: Yeah, I'll speak to that first. I mean for me we kind of I went from this David lifestyle of living on the road and being somewhat nomadic and having little responsibility to this current situation which is the opposite of that. I can say that you could definitely build an 8 figure business with David's lifestyle. I just don't think that it's possible in e-commerce. At least with the kind of business that we have where I think if you were just on Amazon, it could certainly be done. But we have all these other responsibilities and stuff.
And for me I also take what is given to me in life. I've talked a lot about this. I mean entrepreneurship is a journey; it's not a straight 45 degree angle up. There's a lot of ups and downs, and you'll do a lot of things in your entrepreneurial life that just won't succeed. And for me, when we stumbled upon e-commerce, I see this as something, as a once in a decade possibly even once in a lifetime type opportunity, and we're going to seize it. And for us right now that has meant kind of getting rid of that nomadic lifestyle.
It’s been settling down in San Diego of all the places in the world to be stuck, I want to quote stuck, and that is not a bad place to be. I really like it there, and quite frankly after ten years of moving around, I think that David might find eventually it might be something you get sick of. For us I certainly enjoy being in one spot, around the same group of people all the time, strengthening friendships with non e-commerce and non-entrepreneurial friends.
It's just something that is more difficult on the road. That was part of the things that became frustrating for me. And just taking what's been given to us in life at this moment, and making sure that I'm also enjoying my life and not making myself miserable by being stuck, one foot stuck in one place, and having a warehouse and stuff.
But for us it's certainly we have definitely crossed that threshold of we are no longer nomadic, and can't be that way. I feel an immense responsibility to my employees and to our customers and to our fans and everybody, it’s just how I am to do a good job with what we're doing until we sell this business and move on the next thing. But for right now this is a big priority for us.
David: Yeah, I think Mike is right like eight figure and having all these responsibilities that he's getting into, we all know about all these projects going on here and there. It might be a little bit hard because you have to be in a lot of places eventually and you have to probably you have some people full time helping you around you. So you want to be there with them. But in my case I think a seven figure business, like a bottom seven figure could definitely be something that you can do on the road.
I think if you have higher priced items, that could help because if you have to sell a 100 items a day to get to that number, then you'll have a lot more customer support, and maybe more phone calls, more stuff to manage. So maybe people in your office would be something you need. But I think with the automations today, and the VAs that you can work with, or the employees that you can get abroad, which I actually work with, and it's perfect for my lifestyle right now.
Ad I wouldn't need the eight figure. I mean if it gets there with my automation I'd be happy, but I'm not looking to that. I have my goals in what I would like to have in my account later on in a few years, and I have my goals of what I need every year to live this life lifestyle. And I'm actually just over these goals for the yearly goal like lifestyle style. I think you can definitely have less than what I'm making right now and be happy with it.
Dave: Yeah. How many hours a week are you working, or how many hours a day? Are you actually working nine to five day out of the trailer, are you working an hour a week and hiking the…
David: Really like these days I feel lazy, I don't know why. I've put a lot of the hours away and spending more time with my family. So I would say maybe two hours a day answering a few emails, making one little to do thing on my list. As long as that thing gets done and maybe my sales come in throughout the day, like as long as I have this goal done, I'm like yeah I’m happy.
Maybe I'll wake up in the morning and my sales are already done. I'm like you know, let me have a day off today again, or go do some exercising or check my son when we go to the little gym with him or things like that so I'll spend more time with the family like this.
Mike: And there's a lot to be said though about – I mean you work two hours a day, you're probably really highly motivated and focused. I think that a lot of times working two hours a day is more productive than working an eight hour day. You end up, you know that you have – you have to go to little gym to pick up your son at XYZ time, you're about to get started in your work day, which might only be two hours. You're going to be highly productive. You're going to bang things out as quickly as you possibly can, probably get four hours worth of work done in two hours kind of thing.
And I find when I'm stuck in the office, I actually become less productive. It's one of things that I've talked about with our new director of e-commerce; just different people work better in different environments, in different ways. And for me, I work better in spurts. I find that I'm really highly productive for a couple of hours, and then that tails off really badly after a while. And it would be better off for me to just leave the office, go play tennis, go get some exercise, whatever it is, come back, do another couple of hours or whatever.
And it's not that I don't want to do the work, it’s just that I do happen to operate better in that environment. And the whole thing about our business is that we do run a globalized business. So we have hours of me to work in the evenings as well, and I can see myself working two-two-two-two hours and taking breaks in between. So it all just kind of depends on your lifestyle. But I think people would be surprised at how much work you can get done two hours a day, seven days a week.
And that's 14 hours of highly productive work versus in a corporate environment, you think about how much time you waste at the water cooler talking to a coworker. You kind of drift off and space out for a little bit because you just got to eat a big lunch with a bunch of carbs, and you get back and you’re just like on carb overloading. You're like reading about news or something, or you get stuck on Facebook. And you just end up not being productive for a lousy eight hours. So, more power to you man. I think you can get a lot done in those couple of hours.
Dave: And that's something I've noticed too even traveling around Asia here. I guess we’re a little bit over a month now is, I mean trying to really focus on doing not quite a two hour work day, but a four hour work day, just for the fact I've noticed like you guys mentioned that the rest of the day, if I'm sitting at a computer, I'm trying to look busy, but I'm really not doing anything. But we go through this kind of spinning in the mud. So I don't know if I can get that two hour work day, but definitely I think a four hour workday, I find I can get just as much done that I could eight hours pretending to be productive.
Mike: Yeah, I think that's the key is you pretend to be productive. I probably just need to go through like a productivity course. Like sometimes Dave is like, tell me like what is it that you're just doing right this minute? It's like ah probably nothing that’s important. Re-hitting refresh on my Amazon listing for the 47th time today to see if I got up ten ranks or down ten ranks, or if I got a review or not. And I get obsessed about doing things that probably aren't productive. I think it's part of some of what makes me successful, but also I know that I could be more productive as well.
Dave: Yeah well and I think it comes down to being aware of when you're productive too, because I think everybody has different times of the day that they're most productive. And just kind of becoming aware of your own personal biology and when you work best, and not just try to work a nine to five schedule because everybody else is if you don't necessarily need to.
Mike: Cool. Well, Dave I can't thank you enough for coming on the podcast. I know we got to kind of squeezed your arm a little bit to do it, but I think you did a great job. I think it's an interesting story that a lot of people can hope to relate to someday. So thanks so much for coming on.
David: All right, thank you guys.
Dave: Thank you very much David.
Mike: Just a quick reminder that the EcomCrew Podcast is sponsored by AsiaInspection. Head over to EcomCrew.com/inspection. It will get you a dedicated account manager. Again it is an affiliate link, we like to disclose that. It does help the podcast. But if you need to get inspections done in Asia, it is what we have used, Dave and I have been using for a number of years. We don't talk about things that we don't personally use. I highly recommend AsiaInspection, it's been great for us.
And also Stamped.io, which is a review platform for Shopify. I'm sure that if you've been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you know how important reviews are for conversion and social proof. And if you're not using Stamped.io, you're leaving money on the table. So check them out if you're on Shopify. Thanks again Dave and Dave for being on the podcast. It is time to sign up for real from Hong Kong.
At this point we have 39 minutes before we hit check out of our Airbnb and there is stuff scattered all over the place. I haven't showered yet. Life on the road, but we’re going to miss Hong Kong, going to miss being all together. But until next time guys, we'll talk to you then.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the EcomCrew Podcast. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/ecomcrew for weekly live recordings of the EcomCrew Podcast every Monday. And please, do us a favor, and leave an honest review on iTunes, it would really help us out. Again, thanks for listening, and until next week, happy selling.