This series is about indie makers from the East, with the goal to explore which products they are working on. Today we are going a bit further East, moving from the Balkans to South-East Asia.

Winnie from Vietnam and her husband Minho from South Korea are building some interesting products that are helping digital nomads and travelers around the world to plan their budget while they are hopping from one country to another.

The beginning of the indie maker journey

“I am Winnie, the co-founder of Cat Lab with my husband Minho. After a six-month honeymoon traveling to many countries, we found our passion for traveling and our soul for freedom, we became serious about changing our jobs. We wanted to find a job where could work together and travel at the same time.”

“We tried many businesses but they did not provide us location independence. Then Minho decided to learn how to code because he believed the future is in remote working and that it would allow us to work and travel at the same time. That was the beginning of our indie maker journey.”

“We are running two labs at Cat Lab. The Startup Lab is the place where we experiment with our ideas and ship products to market to see which ones sticks. The Client Lab is where we work on the freelancing projects as a source of finance. We are taking our work seriously but we never forget to have a bit of fun.”

Juggling several products

“We have a couple of projects running. Nomad Wallet is a travel expense tracking app for both iOS and Android. Wabisabi is a zen lifestyle progress Chrome extension. Nhacuaindie is a search platform recommending indie fashion brands in Vietnam.”

“From all of these only Nomad Wallet uses a paid model. Our original main idea behind making the app was to fill our portfolio to get more freelancing projects, but it turned out that we can make money from the products that we make. So now we try to work more on the Startup Lab rather than the Client Lab.”

Monetizing our products

“Wabisabi and Nhacuaindie have no revenue model. We have built them for free.

“But we now only focus on making products that are useful to users and creating good profits.”

“Currently, the Nomad Wallet app works with a one-off payment. We charge only $4.99 per item, but we pay 30% to the App Store and to the Google Play store, so we don’t really make good money at this stage.”

Building a unique product

“There are many finance or expense tracking apps on the market, but there is no app that is designed with specific features for people who travel a lot. Nomad Wallet was built based on our own problems during our six-month honeymoon traveling together.”

“The app is available on both iOS and Android, allowing you to track your expenses during your trip. We add features based on conversations and feedback from nomads and travelers we met.”

Organic growth

We tend to grow our business organically, trying to get some word of mouth going. We had a successful launch on Product Hunt and were featured on the front page. Community support is a very good way to get attention. We were supported by people of Women Make, Maker’s kitchen, Makerlog and many other makers from the community.”

“Nomad Wallet targets users who see traveling as their lifestyle, such as nomads, travelers, and expats, so we got many users from the maker community. Facebook groups of digital nomads are also helpful, but promoting the product in those groups is regulated so we are trying to introduce ourselves and Nomad Wallet in acceptable ways. As indie makers, we think personal branding is the best marketing strategy for our products.”

The tech stack

“We built the NomadWallet app for iOS and Android by using ReactNative and Redux, local MongoDB, and the dropbox API.”

“It’s interesting because we both don’t have an IT background. Minho was a former physiotherapist and I was a procurement analyst. I owned my very first laptop when I was in the first year of university.”

The life of a digital nomad

“We are part-time nomads. We stay some months in Saigon, Vietnam, and travel for some other months. The benefits of being nomads are that we meet many makers in the places we visit, so we can discuss products and businesses. We also meet many travelers who use Nomad Wallet app. They give us feedback about the app, what they like and what they don’t like.”

“If we only stayed inside a room, closed the door and built the product, we definitely would not know if we were building a product which fits the market or if we were wasting time. This would not help us build the product users actually need.”

“Another benefit of being nomads is we always feel fresh when we come to new places. Our life turns to be very minimal so that we only focus on things that matter to us: work, coffee, food, and exploring. Allowing ourselves only a 7kg backpack saves us a lot of time by taking us only 30 mins to pack and go.”

“Minho and I find out that we are much more focused on working and shipping when we travel. There is nothing to worry about, we just work at the coffee shops and hang out at night on the workweek, and explore at the weekend. Travelling gives us opportunities to meet many awesome makers and digital nomads who give us advice about our products and discuss ideas. We believe that traveling is a very great way to build and ship products.”

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