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I have started a new chapter in work and in life … I will no longer be traveling the world as an independent SEO consultant! Instead, I have accepted a position as Head of SEO for PieSync in Ghent, Belgium.
This job with PieSync has been in the works for more than a year. It’s an interesting story, and I think an example of how good networking can lead to opportunities. And sometimes that happens in the long-term not the short-term.
Planting the Seed for New Opportunities
In 2017, I was working remotely for Zapier and started traveling with remote work groups WeRoam (now defunct) and Hacker Paradise. This community turned out to be valuable in many ways. And one of the things I learned from traveling with other remote workers, is that updating your location on LinkedIn as you travel is a great way to make new contacts. So every time I went to a different country, I would update my location to that city or country. That way, if people were searching for an SEO in their area, my name would come up in their search results. And this is exactly how I first connected with Fortino Capital, an investor of PieSync.
When I first shifted gears and started traveling on my own after my time with Hacker Paradise, I went to Belgium to stay in Brussels for a week. And because I had this habit of updating my location on LinkedIn, I soon heard from a venture capitalist there who was looking for an SEO to support one of the companies in his investment portfolio. He asked me if I wanted to meet up, so we had a brunch meeting at his office. It was a great meeting. We talked for a couple of hours about what I do in terms of SEO, and the future of remote work. He was really interested in the SEO work I’d done for Zapier, and how they run a successful company with a fully remote team.
After that, he connected me with PieSync, an online software platform that synchronizes customer data between cloud business apps. They were interested in connecting with me, so we talked a few times and worked on a deal for me to take them on as a client. But that never worked out.
I had also been talking to Tray.io around this time, and I signed with them first. PieSync wanted to sign me as well, but when I talked to Tray about this they flagged it as a possible conflict of interest. The manager I was working with at Tray agreed with me that PieSync was not technically a competitor, but he thought it was too similar an industry. I disagreed but respected their perspective. Tray increased my billing hours so, and I decided to focus on them.
I felt pretty bad about this. We had negotiated everything and I was ready to sign with PieSync, but I ended up having to decline at the very last hour. I tried to connect them with a good friend who also does SEO, but that also didn't work out. They spent the next year running the company without anyone specific doing SEO for their site. The timing was just bad.
The Right Place, The Right Time
Last year when I was in Playa Del Carmen, I started thinking about slowing down a bit in terms of how frequently I traveled. That didn't happen right away. I started 2019 in the US, visiting Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, among other cities. Then I headed back to Malaysia for a bit before moving on back to Europe.
Since I'd been traveling around so much, it was interesting and lucky that PieSync reached back out to me when I was in Amsterdam. He wanted to know if I was available for a quick call to catch up. His timing was interesting because it was a good time for me to discuss joining PieSync.
The company is located in Ghent, Belgium which is only a three to four hour drive from where I was in Amsterdam. So, I suggested that we meet in person. The following week I had lunch with the founders, CEO and CTO. I also visited their office and net with all the team members there. It was great to meet their team face-to-face, and learn more about some of the challenges they were facing as a growing startup.
The day after our meeting I sat down to write one of the longest emails I’ve ever sent. I wanted to follow up with them and recap our two-hour conversation. I was surprised how well I remembered everything we talked about. I did a big recap of our meeting, and outlined my ideas for the company’s SEO & Marketing strategy. After I sent the email, PieSync was ready to send a contract. Within 48 hours, we negotiated the contract terms, and signed it.
My old life as a freelancer and world traveler was about to change.
Transitioning from Freelance to In-House SEO
After I talked to PieSync, I knew I had to make a decision about whether or not I would keep working with freelance clients. I decided to end all my other freelancing contracts. This was a big decision, but in the end it was an easy one for me. You see, when talking with PieSync I told them about my personal goal of living in Europe. They agreed to pursue a single permit on my behalf, so I can stay and avoid juggling with the 90 days Schengen limit. This was a big deal for me. Because the company was giving me a benefit that was more aligned with my personal goal of, I decided I wanted to give them 100 percent of my focus and my energy.
Traveling non-stop has been amazing. And I can technically make more money as a freelancer. But I have decided that it's finally time for me to slow down. After traveling for more than two years full time I am now slowing down a bit. I have been less interested in going to touristic places, and more excited to go places where I have friends I've met during my travels. I will still travel, of course. In fact, right now I am technically still a remote freelancer at PieSync because it will take some time for them to sort out the single permit.
A New Way of Life
When I first started considering emigration, I was open to the US, Canada or Europe. I want to make this change because my country fucked-up right now. It's a mess. I mean, Malaysia isn't the only country that has issues politically. (After all, the US has Donald Trump as a president and there are more than 20 candidates that want to oppose him in the next election.) It's not only the political aspect in Malaysia, but the economy and way of life. One appeal of leaving is that European and North American companies pay more. And they also have much more realistic expectations for how much people should work. Working with Asian companies, even if they pay a lot, expect way more. They expect you to work unpaid overtime to an unreasonable degree. Even as a freelancer I declined to work with companies based in Asia for this reason. And the weather, just so damn hot and humid in Malaysia! I am excited for the more open minded people in Europe and the mild climate of Belgium.
Ghent is a good-sized city in Northwestern Belgium, and the capital of the Flanders region. It's a beautiful place, and the city itself dates back to medieval times. The many historic buildings there have been very well maintained. It's super walkable, and the public transit is very efficient. It's just a good city to live in, in general.
Also, I think this will be a good change for me and how I live my life. This opportunity will provide better structure for me in terms of simple things like going to sleep at a reasonable time every day. (I used to plan my sleep schedule around meetings.) I am also looking forward to having lunch when it's actually lunch, not late at night! These are simple things that most people take for granted. Once you start traveling, it is exciting, but eventually you miss all these little things like having a schedule and sleeping in the same bed every night. Structure is a big factor in keeping you sane and having more balance to life, and in your mental health.
I am really looking forward to having that balance. It's good to accept change, and I'm very excited to see what this next chapter of life in Belgium will bring for me.
Want to talk with me about international travel, or being a remote worker? Feel free to reach out!