Ep: 170: How this former corporate worker creates passive income through his online drop shipping stores with Johnny FD
In this week’s episode, I speak with Johnny FD who is an online entrepreneur.
In 2013 he started his first online business through publishing a book on Amazon Kindle, then replaced his 9-5 income by starting a dropshipping store which he later sold for $60k which he invested into growing passive income.
Since then he has generated well over a million dollars in online business and has sold three more stores. Johnny has been earning over six figures ($150,000 or more) each year while traveling the world and have visited over 50 countries.
Now he spends his time traveling the world as a digital nomad, living off of and creating new streams of passive income, investing, and giving back by hosting the annual Nomad Summit conference.
Listen on to find out how Johnny has been able to live his dream by creating multiple streams of passive income with his dropshipping stores.
Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to be with Johnny today. Hey Johnny, how are you?
Hi Debbie, how’s it going?
I am great.
Can you tell us more about you, Johnny, and why you live an offbeat life?
I grew up in California, I had a great California life but I, honestly, wasn’t that happy. I had everything I needed: had a nice car, had a good job, I had the cool clothes, and gone to nice clubs on the weekend, but something was missing and I didn’t really realize what that was.
I started traveling. I went to Thailand for the first time and I realized there is a different life and know what kind of everyone else lives.
Yeah. It’s always something that we go through when we make this transition and start living a life that most people would say you’re crazy to do. When you finally realized that this is really something that you wanted to go into, how did you do it? How did you prepare for it?
I would like to say I prepared but really didn’t. I bought a plane ticket, I went to Thailand and it was only supposed to be a three-week trip. But when I was there, I just fell in love with scuba diving, I fell in love with the great weather. And even though in California we have good weather, Thailand is another level especially down in the islands. It feels like how’s in Hawaii.
The difference is: Hawaii is expensIve and Thailand is really, really cheap. And it’s the same with the islands of the Philippines. And there are so many places in the world where for $1,000 a month, you can live a very nice life on the beach with great weather year-round. And to do the same thing California would cost easily five times that amount of money.
Yeah. And it’s so crazy what your money can give you when you start living outside of it.
Now, when you were there, you were in Thailand, is that when you finally thought to yourself, “Okay, I’m not going back to California. This is it I’m leaving everything behind because I don’t want to leave paradise”?
Yeah. I mean, I didn’t think it was an option when I first went there but I met a guy named Renee Kristoff, he was my scuba diving instructor and he had been living there for 10 years. I had asked hIm how much he pays for rent, the cost of living – and it was so low.
I think he was spending $400 a month in his apartment and the total cost of living was less than a thousand. And I thought, “Man, I’m pretty sure I can just work for a few months to save up money and then go live in Thailand a part-time.”
My original plan was to fly back and forth every 3 or 4 months. And it sounds ridiculous now ‘cause it’s such a long flight but actually, financially, made sense. For $1,000 to fly round trip, I can go home, work for a few months, save up a few thousand dollars and then go, release, and enjoy myself. Scuba dive and live an alternate life – an offbeat life.
Once I did that the first couple times, I realized, “You know what? I don’t even want to fly back. I don’t want to go back. Let me figure out: is there a way where I can earn money and develop doing?” I wish I would have said, “By the way, I create some kind of an online income,” but I did it.
In the first four years, I was taking people scuba diving which actually turned out to be probably even better. And I would say there’s no way I would do that now for a thousand bucks a month ‘cause it’s a lot of work, but I’m so happy that I spent 4 years doing it ‘cause I had the best time of my life.
At least, you were able to take your dream and make it come true. And a lot of times, like, if you realize it at that moment and then you start talking to people who are remote workers or even ex-pats who are able to do this and do It full time, like you said, its so much less money.
I’m based in New York, usually, and you were from California and we literally grind every single day just to keep up not even to enjoy anything. And you have to work extra hard to do it and then, here, you’re going to Thailand and then you realize people are actually living a very good life.
We think about it, we’re so privileged to have that option to actually go to a different country and live so much better than what we actually are doing in the United States, which is ironic, right?
Yeah. And I think when you’re in the US, whether you’re California New York or another big city, it’s really hard to control your finances ‘cause there’s always something to buy, there was always the new restaurant going to try, there’s always have a new style, the new fashion that you want to keep up with the new car.
A lot of people think they save money but I remember trying to put aside $200 a month was really hard. Even though I was making 50,000 a year, I was barely able to save $200 a month. I had nothing in savings and I think most Americans, 95% of Americans, have less than a couple thousand dollars in the bank.
And in Thailand, all of a sudden I realized, “Hey! If I can just make a thousand dollars, I can live here forever.” If I can make $3,000 a month, which really isn’t that hard to do, that’s like making $36,000 a year back home, it allows you to, not only just live a great life now and enjoy life now, but if you can save the other two-thirds and invested, use it to buy a business, or level up your skills – that really is the hack. That is the ultI’mate life hack.
Yeah. So, now, Johnny, once you finally decided that you needed to do something else aside from scuba diving, what was it that you actually did to make this more sustainable? So you can, maybe, travel around. As a scuba diver or an instructor, there’s a lot of places that don’t really have that option. So how were you able to make this more sustainable for you?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved those 4 years. I lived on a bunch of different islands, I worked all over Thailand but also in Borneo, the Caribbean – it was a really great life. But it’s like, I did all the great things I wanted to do and I’m like, “Okay, what’s the next chapter?”
And I did that before I got burnt out and it’s very important because there would always be one other guy at the dive school who was very unhappy and grumpy all the time. It’s always a different guy but it was always kind of the same persona.
I would say, “Why are you unhappy? We have the greatest job in the world. All we have to do is scuba dive every day, we have sunset beers, we meet people from around the world. It’s awesome.”
But after about four years, I realized, “If I had to do this every day for the rest of my life, and I didn’t have any savings, I didn’t have any extra saved, I couldn’t afford a plane ticket back home, I couldn’t afford to save up for health insurance or kind of emergencies .” And I realized I don’t want to get stuck in that position.
So, I literally Googled how to make money online, and going through the list, I was thinking, “I don’t have the skills to do any of this.” But, luckily, the very first thing I did find was you can write an online book, an e-book.
And I thought, “You know what? It. It took me a long time to figure out how to live cheaply in Thailand and explore these passions whether it’s scuba diving or doing Muay Thai – both things that I did for years while I was there. Maybe somebody was interested.”
So, I sat down, I spent two months, I wrote a book called 12 Weeks in Thailand, the Good Life I’ve Achieved. I put it on Amazon Kindle and wallah! All of a sudden I thought, “Wow! If I can make $200 a month from this, I can just write 3 more books.”.
But I also realized that maybe there’s another path. Maybe that can take me a lot of time. Maybe there’s something else I can do awesomely to make money online, but that was definitely that first big step.
Yeah. And you become so much more resilient when all of these different obstacles are thrown your way because it’s either make It or break It time, right? And you really have no choice. And, I think, it’s a really good thing because you end up realizing that you have so many knowledge and skills that you can actually create income from.
So, once you realized that writing an e-book is not going to float you for too long. Otherwise, you’re just going to be writing all day everyday. What was the next thing that you did?
I was very really lucky. I actually met a guy named Anton during my trial. I was asking hIm how I can sell my books ‘cause, at first, I thought the answer is I just need to learn better marketing. So, instead of selling $200 a month’s worth of books maybe I can double or triple that. And maybe I can just live forever off of 600 bucks a month – the good life on the cheap.
And thank God, I never tripled my book profits because I probably would still be trying to scrape by in $600 a month today. Instead, I met this guy in Anton and the best marketing advice and tips ever.
I asked and I said, ”How do you know all of this? What do you do?” He said, “I also sell stuff online.” But instead of him selling $10 books, he was selling really expensIve furniture in the US.
And I remember, we became friends, and I started to see, it wasn’t phone notifications, it was on his laptop at the time, they’re like a pop up saying, “New sale $400. New sale $800. New sale $1200. This would come, probably, every 20, 30, 40 minutes. And the most surprising thing to me was he was completely oblivious to it.
Youll be watching, like, a stupid cat video on YouTube or something and notification pop-up for $1000 sale. And for me, it was like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing! And for hIm, he like, “Clear and erase so we can get back to the cat video.”
And that’s when I realized, “You know what? I think with the same skills it takes to write a book, the same amount of time it takes to write and market a book, maybe I can create a website where I can sell products and make a lot more money.
I love that. I love how he was clearing all of his sales out so you can watch cat videos. That’s awesome.
It just really blew my mind.
That’s what happens when you have this all figured out. It’s just like second nature to you. You don’t even think about it anymore.
So when you were talking to hIm and you really wanted to understand, especially marketing ‘cause that’s one of the biggest issues a lot of online entrepreneurs are really facing. Because you can have this huge and great idea for a business or for a product but if you don’t know how to actually market, it’s not going to go anywhere.
So, when you were talking to your friend, what were a few of the most mind-boggling things that he actually shared with you that really helps you create a successful business and market it well?
Part of the biggest lesson I’ve learned from him is it takes the same amount of work and the same amount of effort to sell a $10 item than it does to sell a $500 item, and maybe even $1,000 item. Maybe the $1000 items are a little bit more work ‘cause it’s such a big purchase. But people buy things that are a few hundred dollars online all the time.
And they put in the same amount of research and effort as they do when they buy a cheaper item. And that’s when I realized, “Huh. Maybe instead of having the mentality of kind of staying in the lower end of cost, why not move up?
And it took a long time for me to realize for myself and, it was when I started making money, that people who have the money to buy more expensive things, they’re very clear and they’re very smart about what they want.
As long as you can offer exactly what they want, they are very cooked on buying versus someone, if your kind of pondering to the lower end of the market, people that don’t know what they want, they spend a lot of time and energy trying to get that free information, trying to figure out, trying to get a better deal.
If you can sell to people that have money and know what they want, it makes your life so much easier.
And it’s not about chasing things, right? It’s really nice when people find you and find the product that they really want to buy. And you don’t really have to oversell too much because they already know that it’s what they want. So that’s a really good marketing strategy.
Yeah. And the good example is now, I’ve been dreaming about van life. I’ve been doing this digital nomad thing and traveled around for 10 years and I really love it. But at some point, I want to travel in the US as well and, with van life, there are kind of, like, really cheap, budget vans.
So, let’s say, people who don’t have a lot of money, right? People want to self-build it, they want something used or they just want the cheapest of the other ones on the market. There are people who want to spend anywhere between $10,000 – $20,000 up to maybe a maxI’mum of $50,000 – $60,000.
But then, for the same size vans as in category, the same type, like, class v minivans, there are vans that are $120,000 – $150,000. I actually have a friend who has bought a Storyteller Overlander and it’s an easy sell because it is perfect. It is the best.
Built on a Mercedes Sprinter, it’s beautiful inside, it’s really really well-made. And the marketing sells itself ‘cause people will just tell other people how great it is. But also, if you run an ad to acquire customer, you can afford to spend a lot of money on ads and on creating good advertising because its $150,000 ad
To run ads to someone looking for a $50,000 van, it ends up costing you pretty much the exact same amount of money. So, instead of spending $100 to get the eyeballs of someone with a $50,000 budget, why not spend that $100 to get the eyeballs of someone who has a budget three times as much?
There are so many things there, right? Because we are always thinking that we need to sell, like, low budget items. And it’s going to be harder to be selling all of these higher-priced items and we can’t even fathom it in our mind.
But then, someone like you, Johnny, is able to do this and then, your friends have been able to do this and now it just creates a bigger and bigger dream for you. And then, you actually make it happen which is incredible.
It’s been a big transition. It almost kind of goes from the backpacker traveler to someone who’s working online and earning a normal US income. I remember the first time I tried replacing my US salary, I started making $50000 a year.
But while in Thailand, all of a sudden, I felt rich. I could afford to go anywhere I wanted, I could afford to stay in a nice hotel if I wanted, eat at any restaurant and not look at the prices, I can afford massages everyday, go on trips.
And a big part of the reason was even a fIve-star resort in Thailand is way cheaper than even a 3-star hotel in the US. But the fact is my base monthly expenses were so low that it just gave me all this extra money to be able to either save and invest or to spend.
It’s funny that you say that you don’t have to look at the prices when you’re eating out anymore because that’s how I feel. You know that you are good when you don’t have to look at the price of the food anymore. I’m like, “That’s the life. That’s the dream.
Yeah. I had this scale. It sounds almost ridiculous but I wanted to be able to order extra guacamole with every meal no matter how much it cost. And I remember going to Chipotle and just happily saying like, “And I’ll have double guac on that.
Lik go to some Mexican restaurant and be like, “Yeah, give us a side of guac.” ‘Cause the thing is that I know that it makes me happy and healthy.
I love that. I think once you start doing those different types of actions. And really creating that life that you only thought would be possible once you retired, right?
Because a lot of people think that you need a ton of money to be able to have a lifestyle of the rich. But you can actually obtain that when you go outside of the US and its so much less money and you’re able to enjoy your life so much more.
Yeah. And to give you an example, for the last 2 months I’ve been here in Sri Lanka living right on the beach and literally walking across, surfing, hanging out, running on the beach, exercising on the beach.
And I have a nice hotel room – the place I’m staying in. And now, people probably called it villa ‘cause and I’m sharing it with some other people but it’s 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, there’s this giant garden, there’s a huge open space with hammocks and it’s literally on the beach road.
This would cost a couple of hundred bucks a night, $300 a night easily in the US and here, in Sri Lanka, the total amount I’ve spent, including food and eating out at restaurants, cost of living was less than $1,000 a month for the last 2 months.
And part of that, I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand living an amazing life. Everywhere I live, there’s a house cleaner.
Yeah. It’s such a better value and it’s not even a sacrifice. It really is a better life.
Yeah. I mean, that’s what we all want. So you’re really selling this for a lot of us here, Johnny.
Yeah, thanks. And one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing this is because I know that if I had stayed in California, I would probably be okay-happy but I’ll probably be in debt. I probably wouldn’t have taken a vacation in two years or maybe longer. And I would probably be kind of just drowning in things: responsibilities and car payments.
Here, I have no stress, I have no debt. And I’m going to have a really good retirement in the future because I’ve been able to save 80% of my income for the last 5 years.
Now, Johnny, right now, because we often see this a lot when we see someone like you: you live a very great life, you’re in Thailand right now, you’re by the beaches. But it’s not always peaches and cream, right?
There are also setbacks that you go through and, like with anything else, there’s a lot of little hurdles or maybe big ones that you encounter. So, what has been the biggest one that you have encountered recently as a digital nomad and as an entrepreneur and how do you handle them?
It’s funny. I was really thinking about this. There used to be a lot more hurdles when I was first starting. Things like… I want everything to be easy and convenient or I want to have access to my favorite brands, my favorite foods, or have the convenience of DoorDash or UberEats.
And I would say, not only in Sri Lanka, but in a lot of other countries, even in Europe, they just don’t have as many conveniences as in the US. In America, it’s so easy just to sit on our couch, order groceries, order food, have a huge TV with Netflix, and just kind of be lazy.
And sometimes I kind of miss that. I miss having a big couch on a big TV. But, at the same time, when I really think about it, I actually need to just lay on my couch and order the crap off of Amazon to get delivered in 2 days. Like, no, I really don’t think those things make us happier.
Now that I’ve been traveling carry-on only for the last 2 years and just really not having things at all – really being a minimalist. I am much happier. I walk around in shorts, usually don’t even wear a shirt because we’re on the beach, eating just local food. And then, once in a while order a pizza or something, but it’s not like I used to really miss having my Popeyes Chicken.
And even though I still like it, I enjoy it when I go back to the US once a year to visit friends and family, I know that by not having easy access to these conveniences year-round is actually healthier for me and my wallet.
Yeah. And you really appreciate it more too when you only have these a certain amount of time in the year. So that’s always a good thing.
Yeah, exactly. So, when I go back, have my in and out, I’ll have my Popeyes Chicken. It’s okay to think about it for the year and look forward to it again. I really don’t need to have it, I won’t need access to it through an app.
So, Johnny, let’s fast-forward to 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
It’s funny. I think sometimes I question myself, “Am I living a fulfilled life? If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I have regrets? And I really want it. I feel like I’ve lived the life of 10 people already. I’ve seen so many amazing places, had so many experiences and I’ve documented all of it.
My YouTube channel: Johnny FD, the blog as well. I’ve written extensive guides with my favorite restaurants, places to stay, and my favorite things to do in so many countries. And I feel like all of that is going to be there forever.
I hope I don’t get hit by a bus in 10 or even 30 years but If I do, its there. And I have two books: 12 Weeks in Thailand as well as Life Changes Quick, I have hundreds of articles in my blog and hundreds of videos on my YouTube channel and I hope that people go through and look at it and say “Wow! This Johnny FD guy lived a really amazing life.”
And not feel bad, maybe feel bad that I die young. But if I can live to a normal age, I would have felt like the most last person in the world having all the experiences I’ve had.
And, I think, especially now, during this pandemic, we really think about our mortality a lot more. There’s a lot of people from the old to the young who have passed because of what’s happening currently, but you never know.
You never know what’s going to happen and it’s always great to really do what you want to do and live a life that, like you said, you won’t have any regrets even if something happens tomorrow, which is a morbid thing to think about or say but it’s true.
And whatever it is that we really feel like we want to do – it is possible. Maybe it’s not possible to have it right away. But if you’re taking those steps even one thing every single day, it’s going to really accumulate to becoming bigger and bigger and you finally accomplish that.
Yeah, I definitely agree
And I know how fortunate I am when I go on my yearly big scuba diving trips. I’ll be on the boat with people who saved for years, at least plan for the entire year to go on this wonderful vacation. this one trip. And it’s their one time to take ten or twelve days completely off of work,
Their two-week vacation takes a few days to travel there and a few days to get back. It’s basically their entire year’s vacation and it costs a lot of money – it’s their few thousand dollars.
And I’ve now been fortunate enough to do this trip: these islands in Costa Rica and Mexico where we dove with hundreds of sharks, dolphins and manta rays, Vinsen Komodo in Indonesia, the Maldives, and Thailand.
And everytime I’m in the boat, I almost feel bad telling people that, “This isn’t just a 2-week trip for me, this is my entire life.” For the 4 months or 6 months before that, I was already in Thailand hanging out or already in Mexico living near the beach.
And when they have to fly home, I’m just going to stick around and hang out for another couple of months.
Do you find it sometImes you actually don’t tell people what you do because sometimes you do get a judgment from it? Because, with me, I have done that. I kind of not really told people what I do and kind of put it in the low down because I have found that unless you’re in our type of field, you’re not gonna understand.
And then, sometimes it’s just better not to have that conversation because you do get the looks and then, like, the judgment or maybe some jealousy that’s happening.
It’s pretty crazy what happens sometImes when you tell people that you are living an offbeat life and you are actually creating income from this and they’re, “Yeah, sure, whatever. That’s not true.” And you’re like, “Yeah it is. I’m actually living it.”
Yeah. It’s funny.
Even when I meet people traveling, I’ll not lie but I’ll downplay how long I’ve been traveling for. Because, technically, I’ve been traveling since I left in 2008 and I haven’t lived back in the US for more than a month or two since then.
And yeah, I like slow traveling. I normally spend two to three months in each place, getting a nice apartment or Airbnb and putting down routes to get to know the place. And I think that’s the hack to longevity.
Not being in a plane all the time, really spending 3 to 6 months in each location, but moving when the weather is not good. Or moving ‘cause I really want to be in New York for the Summer for example or the surf seasons is over here in Sri Lanka.
So, when I meet people while traveling then they ask, “How long have you been traveling,” I’ll normally just say, ” Whenever I was last in the US.” Even though that trip back to the US is only, like, a month-long.
It’s kind of sad that you have to do that sometImes when you have to downplay ‘cause of what you’ve done. Because a lot of people don’t understand it even now. But, hopefully, because of everyone working remotely, they will understand that this is so much more sustainable now and everyone’s getting to see that.
Yeah. I definitely agree.
The one good thing that’s come out of these whole people who are locked down is how many people have started working remotely now. Out. And how commonplace has it become and how common apps, like, Zoom and Slack have become.
Where people realized, “You know, what? There’s not really a reason to commute to work everyday.” People were spending 30 minutes to an hour each way. That’s an hour or two hours of your life every day that you just sit in a car and hopefully do something productIve like learning a new language, listening to an audiobook or at least, a podcast like this.
But for a lot of people, it’s more than two hours of just misery during the commute. It could be on a train, it could be in the car. I haven’t commuted for more than 5 minutes for years now ‘cause I normally choose a place that’s near my gym, near my co-working space, or my favorite café.
And if you add all those hours in a span of your lifetime, that’s ridiculous. That’s so crazy.
Yeah. I absolutely agree. And I think that’s why I have so much free time to do things, like, learn languages, build businesses, or do these hobbies. A lot of people think I’m not working but I still work 20 hours a week and it’s enough because that’s 20 hours of productive work a week.
And I’m not commuting, I’m not attending meetings, I’m not doing any of that crap, I’m just doing what’s necessary. And I’m able to earn a six-figure income, not only while spending a tiny fraction of it. Spending $1,000 a month when I’m making closer to 10,000 a month.
But I’ve also had so much free time that I can surf literally every day. I can go and hang out with friends for hours a day and spending a day learning the language. It really is a great life.
And that’s a life that a lot of people really want to live. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to actually achieve that if you do it in a different way.
Well, thank you so much, Johnny, for being here with us and for speaking with us. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
So, if you guys want to listen to my podcast, I interview other location-independent entrepreneurs and digital nomads. Subscribe to the Travel Like a Boss podcast. And if you want to find out more about my life and how I’ve been living and how I built my businesses, you can go to my blog, JohnnyFD.com, or look for me on YouTube.
Perfect. Thank you so much, Johnny. We really appreciate you being here.
Yup. Very welcome.