Nomad List

A Google Sheet to $800K ARR.

The initial version of Nomad List

Product: Nomad List is an indie project created by Pieter Levels. He is the sole owner and maintainer. The site started as a Google Sheet. It now does over $800k in ARR and gets 250k unique visitors a month. Frontend framework? None. Database? SQLite. Number of unit tests? 0.

It is a site for digital nomads to learn and connect. It aggregates data on cities pertinent to remote work like cost of living, internet speeds, and weather. Members can connect via chat or on forums. Nomad List makes its money by charging a membership fee.

Brief History: After pumping a year into a product that never caught on, Pieter publicly committed to doing 12 startups in 12 months to “learn this startup thing”. After mixed success with a handful of ideas, Nomad List was born. Pieter is a digital nomad. Nomad List was a solution to a problem Pieter faced. In his words:

While traveling and working from different places in the world I met lots of other people doing the same thing. They were freelancers, remote employees or startups founders. I knew some cities had entire communities doing this like Chiang Mai, but it was hard to figure out what other cities would be suitable. I heard for example some people trying to do this in Medellin in Colombia and Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. But what other cities? I thought we needed a city index for remote workers.

He started collecting data points on cities in a spreadsheet but that was too time consuming so he tweeted out the spreadsheet. People shared it and started adding data. That was enough validation for him. Inspired by BetaList and ProductHunt, he built a basic version of the website with 25 cities and a couple data points. He launched the website a month later.

It took off. It was #1 on ProductHunt and was the 5th most voted product of all time. Within a few weeks he had thousands of visitors. He added social features and continued to add cities and data points. He monetized early and revenue has grown consistently. Today, there are millions of data points on thousands of cities and a vibrant community.


Nomad List’s MVP was a Google Sheet. As he does with all his projects, Pieter built Nomad List with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. No React. No Vue. No Angular. He wrote the backend using PHP and SQLite.

Pieter’s development philosophy is “use what you know and ship”. I wish I had this understanding earlier in my career. It’s what I’m hoping to push with Monolith. Speed and value are the focus. Too often people, myself included, get stuck on specific technologies and tools. Time spent on these is time not spent creating value. In his words (edited for clarity):

I’m not religious against all these new JavaScript frameworks and hip stuff. I might sound like it. I'm just saying they're attacking me for using basic technology that runs most of the Internet. PHP runs most web sites, to be honest. And it works fine. So I’ll just tease them like, okay, you know, React is a hip framework where it takes 60 lines to write Hello, World which is really funny for me. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't use React. You should use whatever works for you. And this comes from art as well. When you see a cool start up, you talk to the engineers, like, what's the stack you’re using, like what’s going on? Do you use React? If you go to an artist of an exhibition, like paint artists, do you go in, is the first thing you ask is, which paint brush do use? It's an outrageous question. It's absolutely ridiculous. What does the paint brush have to do with it?

Pieter hacked together social features using Slack and Typeform to keep people engaged. He later used the Typeform to monetize. His explanation:

If you want to keep people coming to your website, you need to make the site sticky. So you need to either ask them for their email or you need to have social features that they sign up right? I didn't know how to make a login form or user database stuff. It was really hard. So I was like, okay, Slack was coming up back then so I was like I’ll just use Slack. I made a Slack group. I started inviting my friends and then that grew within months, grew to like 500 people and then 1,000 people. I kind of connected it to the website but really shitty again. It hardly worked. It was like a Typeform. Then I remember getting spammers on Slack because everything was free. So I charged five dollars. With Typeform you could add a Stripe box really easily so they would pay money and then the spammers were gone. And then there were more spammers again. So I charged 25 dollars, and then 50 dollars, and then I think 99 dollars.

Nomad List has no unit tests:

Once Nomad List got some traffic he updated his uptime service to check that certain words appeared on certain pages. For example, that “Bangkok” appeared on the Bangkok page to ensure that the page loaded.

Nomad List runs SQLite. SQLite is a database that stores its entire content in a single file:

SQLite does not compete with client/server databases. SQLite competes with fopen().

I think of SQLite as being a toy database which shows my ignorance. From its website:

SQLite works great as the database engine for most low to medium traffic websites (which is to say, most websites). The amount of web traffic that SQLite can handle depends on how heavily the website uses its database. Generally speaking, any site that gets fewer than 100K hits/day should work fine with SQLite. The 100K hits/day figure is a conservative estimate, not a hard upper bound. SQLite has been demonstrated to work with 10 times that amount of traffic.

Nomad List is a testament to the scalability of SQLite.

My take

I love the simplicity of Nomad List. It speaks to the value it adds. There was enough demand for connecting and sharing knowledge amongst digital nomads that it didn’t need a complicated feature set. This trend seems to be particularly true for communities: Reddit, HackerNews, ProductHunt, and IndieHackers are all simple applications that were created for niche communities.

Links / Resources

You can find Pieter at his blog or on Twitter. He’s also written MAKE: The Indie Maker Handbook.

I have no intentions of monetizing Monolith. My only ask is to share Monolith when it makes sense with someone who you think would enjoy it. Thank you 🙏🏻