Richard Ablewhite, App Store Entrepreneur, Talks About Life as a Digital Nomad

Richard is a true App Store success story. He started developing apps as a side hustle in 2010 and within six months he was earning more from apps than from his day job. In 2012 he finally quit the office and set off on a year long round-the-world trip. After getting back the to the UK he ‘settled down’ and bought a house, but still has the travel bug and takes month long trips multiple times a year.


What was your main reason for wanting to live this sort of lifestyle?

I never asked for this lifestyle! I was happy, I had a job, they occasionally let me go on a trip, it was all good. I’d always wanted to go around the world and had a crazy plan to take 12 weeks holiday and hit a few places around the globe, I’d even let my old company know that was my intention about 6 months before I eventually quit.

When the iPad launched I started making apps in my spare time, solely motivated by technical challenge. After one of my apps started getting a good number of downloads I decided I should start charging for it and made a “pro” version. Before selling apps I wanted to protect myself with a limited company, so one Sunday morning I woke up with a hangover and founded a company from my bed. Within about 6 months my app was doing well enough to support me and I’d effectively quit my job.

I’d worked to make the apps and that brought on the lifestyle, rather than working towards a lifestyle making apps.

How do you make money?
I make Mac, iPad and iPhone apps.
/me How do you lose money?
I make Android apps :DDD [Editor’s note: Email Richard not me!]

Initially my income came from a single app, a free app with an in-app purchase and a pro version. Within a few years that app started to come to the end of its life so in 2013 so I started working on new apps with continuing revenue models instead of the one-off payments. Our aim now is to get recurring income from many different sources so we don’t become reliant on a single app again.

Do you do the same work as before you became a Digital Nomad?

Yes and no. I’m most productive as a coder from my office at home. I have a good environment and I can be completely focussed on work, my lifestyle is very similar to when I had an office job. Apart from now I’m addicted to travel and I’ll likely have a browser on kayak.com open 😀

When travelling I’m not as productive a coder, but I have more ideas and I think make more balanced decisions. I probably work less than half the time, maybe less than that. At home I feel bad about working weekends and try and stop by 6pm. When I’m away I work any day, any time, whenever I get inspired (or when something breaks and needs fixing). But when I’m travelling I’m always feeling bad about working and not getting involved with a new place or just drinking it in / drinking in it.

What do you enjoy about the work? What do you hate about it?

I love the freedom my work gives me. I also hate the freedom my work gives me. The traditional 9-5 life is very good at giving structure, security, removing distractions and focussing on work. There’s hardly any decisions to be made outside of work when I’m at home.

The nomad life gives me many, many more decisions to make every day – it’s awesome but it can be stressful. If you can be anywhere in the world and you’re sat at your desk on a rainy grey day in England, there’s always a pressure for me to get off my arse and book a flight. But I have to balance that with the knowledge that being away all the time means missing out on a lot of the things I love about home – like social events, parties, gigs and dinners out – unless I commit to being home.

How do you stay productive?

Staying productive can be hard, I think I’ve found it harder this year than in previous years. I only work on my own ideas and don’t do any client work, which is great as I have no one to answer to, but also means there are no demands/guidance/feedback/inspiration on my work.

The problem with only working on your own ideas is that not all ideas are great; inline with the 80/20 rule, about 80% of my income comes from 20% of my ideas. That doesn’t mean 80% of what I do is a failure – projects build on other projects, I learn more, and a lot of the time If I’ve made an app I’m happy with then that’s enough. But I definitely have worked on projects that are crap, and several times I’ve realised an idea is bad halfway through completion, and that’s destroying.

I’ve heard interviews with successful writers, some only work on ideas they know will be successful, and others lock themselves away and work, continuously writing and developing ideas until they have something good. I’m definitely in the second category, keep working, creating, building, until something comes out of it.

What tools, equipment or tactics do you rely on for working while travelling?

I mostly work from hotels or cafes, I don’t use too many co-working spaces. Most of the time I have no problems working with just a Macbook and headphones. The only regular battle I have is with connectivity – there’s nothing more frustrating than flakey wi-fi.

I always use a VPN, so much so that I founded my own VPN network (flowvpn.com). Even if the wi-fi is good and you have a fast connection showing up on speed tests, often international bandwidth is terrible – most normal ISPs have great bandwidth within their own country but poor international links as international bandwidth is much more expensive. So, if you’re in Thailand and you want to access a server in Europe your local ISP will send your traffic across a cheap, poor quality, high latency connection. In the case of Asia a lot of ISPs send traffic to Europe via the US as the links across the Pacific and Atlantic are cheaper than across the Middle East, meaning your traffic goes around two-thirds of the globe unnecessarily.

Our VPN network fixes this by having servers in 40 countries around the world that are networked across premium bandwidth, so if you’re in Thailand and want to connect to a server in Europe then you connect to our server in Thailand and then we pay for the fastest/highest quality link we can get back to Europe. I’m in Indonesia at the moment and get about 30-25% faster connection to the UK across the VPN, more consistent/reliable connection whilst also keep traffic encrypted.

Other geek things that are useful:

Travel router and 4G modem – Great for getting reliable wi-fi in hotels, find a space in the room with the best signal then the wi-fi is repeated to all your devices. If the wi-fi has to be logged into through a web browser and limits the number of devices, the repeater can often share one connection to everything.

Another pro tip is combining a ‘travel safe‘ with Insomnia X for OS X. Insomnia lets you keep your MacBook running after closing the lid, so you can set a download going, lock up your laptop and leave it working. I probably only use it a few times per year but when you have a big up/download to get done it’s a life saver.

Also, in OS X, turn off all auto-updates to stay in control of bandwidth.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Every day is different. At the moment I’m in Bali sat at Hubud co-working space. Today’s routine was to wake up, eat fruit and muesli for brekkie, swim, walk to the co-working space, then work, coffee, lunch overlooking the rice paddy, then a bit more work before going on a tour to see some of the island. I’ve found a hostel bar that is pretty sociable, so I’ll probably hang out there after dinner. Finding places to socialise can be a challenge if you’re always on the move.

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you were starting out as a Digital Nomad?

Chill out! The physical stuff has been way easier than expected, I’ve travelled through 30 countries and so far had very few problems with security, being ripped off etc. I’ve travelled through some very poor countries with a bag of expensive equipment but the only thing that’s been stolen was by an English guy in Edinburgh.


Well that wraps up another great interview, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. This is the second in a series of interviews with digital nomads working in tech.

As he mentioned in the post, Richard’s VPN is particularly well suited for DNs in Asia because, apart from all the usual security benefits, you also get a much faster connection. He’s offering a special deal for Digital Nomads right now, visit https://www.flowvpn.com/3offer/ 1 for details.


  1. I don’t get a kickback from this. I should have a word really