Laptop lifestyle (noun): Running a business that you operate entirely from your laptop, that lets you live and work from anywhere in the world.
Browse the 1.3 million posts tagged #laptoplifestyle on Instagram, and you’ll discover a world filled with tropical destinations, motivational quotes, and cups of coffee propped up next to computers in trendy cafes. When I checked, I even found a video of a smiling mermaid enthusiastically tapping on a laptop under water. It seems like everyone is dreaming of the laptop lifestyle.
And for some, like Ryan Carroll from Los Angeles, that dream is a reality. When I called him up to chat about his experience running his own ecommerce business, it was clear he’s making the most of this lifestyle.
It’s a cold, rainy winter day in Berlin where I’m calling from, and by 4 pm when I make the call, it’s already pitch black outside. Ryan answers our video call and I’m greeted by the flood of bright sunlight and blue skies behind him. He’s in Miami, enjoying the winter sunshine.
After graduating high school, Ryan wasn’t sure where to go next. His family wanted him to go to college, but he knew it didn’t feel like the right fit for him. “I had this gut feeling, I was like, ‘I can’t do it. There’s just something better out there,’” he says.
The Rise of the Laptop Lifestyle
With innovations in technology freeing us from the shackles of the desktop computer and plug-in internet connection, there’s a new generation of entrepreneurs who are realizing it’s possible to run their businesses from anywhere in the world.
Tim Ferris arguably deserves some of the credit for kick-starting the laptop lifestyle movement. His 2007 best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week challenged the idea that the only path to success was one spent toiling under the glow of fluorescent lights in an office. He dismissed the idea that a worthwhile life was one spent climbing the corporate ladder, and instead challenged people to create their own meaning of success.
Ferris teases a dream where you can work only four hours a week, while your business operates in the background, automated and earning you money while you’ve got time to pursue the stuff you really love.
And that dream? Thousands of people have began to bring it to life.
Businesses That Allow You to Work From Anywhere
It’s true, the laptop lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Working or running your own business from anywhere wouldn’t work so well if you are, for example, a baker, retail store owner, or a dentist.
Let me explain for a moment. The key to finding a business that lets you work from anywhere is to ensure you’re not tied to a location by any inventory, tools, or specialized equipment. The baker and the retail owner can only run their businesses if they’re near all their inventory. The baker can’t sell bread if they don’t have access to their flour. The retail store owner can’t make sales without products to hand over to the customer.
And the dentist? They’re reliant on a whole lot of specialized equipment to help them do their job properly. A dentist that tried to set up their practice next to the pool in the hotel? Yeah… no filling for me today, thanks.
But if you’re the operator of an online-only business? With your laptop in hand, you’re free to work on your business from anywhere with a wifi connection.
These online-only businesses are already common. Think freelance writing, affiliate marketing, consulting, or ecommerce businesses built with dropshipping.
Dropshipping, unlike traditional ecommerce business models, doesn’t involve the store owner holding any inventory. Instead, their supplier will hold all the inventory until they’ve made a sale, and will ship the product directly to the final customer.
That means with no boxes of stock, or warehouses or mailing envelopes to worry about, the dropshipping business owner is free to work from anywhere in the world, and truly live the laptop lifestyle.
Which brings us back to Ryan.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Ryan had always been drawn to the idea of entrepreneurship and the potential freedom it offered. So in late 2016, he began exploring.
He’d heard about the dropshipping, and was intrigued by the low startup costs and flexibility of the business model.
When deciding what to sell, he looked towards the things he knew best. “I lived by the beach and I had worked at a surf shop,” he explains. “And I saw how much all these girls just love swimwear. So I knew it was a big market, and I knew the margins were really good on swimwear as well.”
At the beginning he admits he was a complete newbie, and the learning curve felt steep. “In the beginning, it was a tough,” he says. “Because I didn’t know Facebook ads, I didn’t know social media marketing or anything like that.”
But he was obsessed, and spent hours pouring over blog articles online and watching YouTube videos sharing ecommerce advice.
“After the first two months, I really got the hang of it. That’s when sales just started doubling every month,” he says.
In the first month he made $2,000 in sales, and the second month this jumped up to $12,000. After scaling up the store rapidly, after four months he’d made $60,000.
And just as things were ramping up with the swimwear store, another opportunity appeared over the horizon.
He’d been offered to invest in a business selling ebooks, one that was already generating good money but needed a cash injection to scale the business.
The plan sounded like a winner. “I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna sell this store, I’m gonna invest what I make from it and do another business that’s already making money, and then I’ll build another store,’” he says. “So then, I’ll just have two streams of income – a store, as well as the ebook.”
He sold his store on Exchange Marketplace and invested all of his profits from the swimwear in the ebook business.
“And then the e-book just… it just failed.”
“I just didn’t do my due diligence,” he says. “It was just a bad business that I shouldn’t have bought. I pretty much lost out on all my money on my early businesses, so I had to start over from scratch after that.”
After building up so much success from his first swimwear business, he’d lost it all.
“I was just naive,” he says. “But in the end, I knew what I knew.”
Starting From Scratch
Looking back, he can now see the mistakes he made investing in the ebooks business. But at the time, the setback really stung. He decided to step away from online businesses for a while to try something new.
He spent most of 2017 dabbling in real estate, trying to learn the industry and see if he could make a living selling houses.
But it became clear pretty quickly that the life of a real estate agent wasn’t for him. For one thing, it kept him tied to one place.
“I really understood after doing real estate that I wanted to run an online business,” he says. “Because it gives me freedom to travel everywhere, and just run a business on WiFi.”
And so in pursuit of the laptop lifestyle, he jumped back into the ecommerce game. Hard.
Next he built the general store. Then a menswear store. Then a men’s accessories store. And so many others.
“I’ve probably built 25 stores,” he says, laughing. “There’s been times where I would build a store for two days, launch it, run Facebook ads and everything. I’ve sold in every type of niche, ever. But some things just don’t click.”
In the end, he was drawn back to swimwear.
“From running the other stores, that’s when I could tell I really understood the swimwear market,” he says. “You have to talk to the market in a certain way to sell to them, right? With the ads you’re running and everything like that. And so growing up by the beach and working at a surf shop, I felt like I understood the swimwear industry more.”
So in early 2018 he launched Bali Babe Swim, a swimwear store that evokes the idea of lazing in the sun on a tropical beach.
He’d learned from experience some of the things that had gone wrong with his previous swimwear store, and wanted to make sure he did things right this time.
“With my first ever ecommerce store I didn’t really think about if the products could be the wrong sizing and bad quality, and I got a lot of complaints,” he says. “This time around with Bali Babe Swim, I made sure the supplier was spot on with sizing, everything like that. Obviously, we got samples. My friends tried them on and they said they fit well. That’s when I knew it was good to go to push out Facebook ads.”
One of the drawbacks of dropshipping products is that many other sellers have access to the same products as you. This means that if you’re using product photography provided by your supplier, you run the risk of looking the same as your competition.
Ryan knew this, and knew he needed to do something to stand out.
“A lot of people I know who run swimwear businesses, they just run basic photo ads on Facebook,” he says. “But I actually shoot custom videos and photos with all the swimwear we get. We order all our swimwear, we shoot everything ourselves.”
For his first ads, he turned to his friends for help.
“My first ever video ads I shot, I was actually at Coachella this past year and those model friends were with me, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot some video ads for the free swimwear giveaway we’re doing where the girls just have to pay for shipping.’ And so I got the models to wear the swimwear and shot a video of them saying, ‘We’re at Coachella and we’re out by the pool. We’re doing a free swimwear giveaway.’”
The result was an ad where customers could see real people wearing the swimwear. They were able to get more of an idea about how they would fit, as well as creating an aspirational image around the product.
“I launched that ad, and literally within a few days, I did $10,000 in a day,” he says.
This is something he suggests every store owner replicates. “Custom video ads will completely set you aside,” he says.
Living the Laptop Lifestyle
Ryan’s store Bali Babe Swim went on to make more than $300,000 in revenue in 2018, and he’s been using the financial freedom to live the laptop lifestyle and travel extensively.
“This whole past year, ecommerce literally has enabled me to travel everywhere, for the most part,” he says. “In 2018, I went to New York, Cabo, Hawaii, Tulum. I also went to Paris, and the south of France, just kind of everywhere.”
And because he can operate his business entirely from his laptop, it means he doesn’t have to choose travel over work. He can do both.
“When you’re running a dropshipping ecommerce store you can make so much more money and have time and freedom to travel whenever you want. You can just live the laptop lifestyle of being able to go wherever, and not be tied down by some job that you really don’t like,” he says.
“My average day nowadays is pretty chill,” he says. “When I’m home in LA I have a home office where I run all my ecommerce stores.”
And when he’s traveling, anywhere with a good wifi connection turns into his office. “I do all my work from hotels or coffee shops when I travel, but if I’m somewhere like Paris I’ll enjoy work over a glass of wine at local restaurant,” he says grinning.
The Impact of Becoming an Entrepreneur
Whenever he takes a moment to reflect on the life he’s built for himself, the reality of how far he’s come sinks in.
“Doing this has 100 percent changed my life. This is something I wanted, because before I was always struggling,” he says.
“I never went to college or anything like that and all my family wanted me to go. But once I got the hang of it, I realized I’m really able to make more money than most of middle-class America. It’s over $100,000 a year easily, which is what everyone strives for when they go to college.”
And it’s not just the financial freedom that has transformed Ryan’s life. He’s found his life opening up in so many unexpected ways. “Once you get the hang of it, running an ecommerce business opens up so many other opportunities as well. Because you can not only run your own ecommerce stores, you can go help other businesses, start an agency, or run marketing for other companies too.”
For anyone who is starting out with ecommerce, Ryan suggests matching what you sell with your passions and lifestyle.
“The reason I think swimwear clicks for me is because it is reverse-engineered into my goals of being able to travel. I feel like if you really love what you sell or the industry, and it all kind of clicks,” he says.
Ryan knows as well as anyone that at the beginning, it can feel overwhelming to be faced with everything you don’t know. At times it can seem like you’ll never figure it out. But his advice is to keep pushing.
“I would say learn as much as possible, and don’t give up in the beginning,” he says.
“People like catching on things quick, and they’ll give up quickly if it doesn’t work. I think you should literally read books on marketing – I’ve read a bunch of books on sales and marketing, copywriting, everything like that. You should also watch as many YouTube videos, and learn from as many mentors you can. Then just start testing it out yourself, and play around with it. Eventually you’ll start finding your own little strategies as you just get better at it.”
And with each piece of the puzzle that begins to fall into place, you’ll find yourself edging closer towards finding your place in the laptop lifestyle.
At the end of our call, he shares one final piece of advice.
“You just have to start and stick with it, and not quit, because there’s no point in quitting. In the beginning, I could have quit after I made $12,000 in a month. That was cool. But it’s like, ‘Why would I do that?’”