PJ Manning | Founder of Travel Developer
Success leaves clues.
Finance Strategists sat down with PJ Manning, founder of Travel Developer. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the insight he gained from running the business.
Who is PJ Manning?
Q: Who are you and what’s your background?
I’m from coastal NJ – no not the ‘Jersey Shore’ – although the cast now has infiltrated my hometown. I don’t really mind because after graduating from Elon University (North Carolina) – I haven’t lived in the US much.
Immediately after graduating from Elon with a pretty useless Business Admin degree, I started working at an inlet-side bar while teaching myself to code during the day…then Hurricane Sandy hit. My bar was demolished and the town was without electricity for weeks. During that time, I decided to book it down to Costa Rica and live my dream of surfing all-day, everyday. While things took awhile to get back to normal in NJ, I started to offer some of my newly found skills to businesses in Costa Rica. I wasn’t very good – but the tech scene in CR wasn’t much to compete with – so I found myself a super good niche.
After a few years, I came back to the States for my annual rainy season migration and got quickly picked up to work for Jet.com pre-launch. It was then I realized working from a laptop doesn’t have to mean you’re a bum if you truly love the work you’re doing. After 9 months at Jet I quit to get back to surfing and working around the world and haven’t looked back.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?
Honestly – I can’t think of a single person that’s really had a substantial impact on my life. Sure there’s been tons of smaller influences – I remember reading Tim Ferris’ 4-hour Workweek back in the day and that was an eye opener, but not really anything that special.
It took a lot of listening to myself and what I really wanted – I probably had 99% of friends and family telling me I was crazy, being irresponsible, not knowing what I was doing, etc. I started to even keep a list of the quotes of what people had said to me. It was REALLY hard to go in the opposite direction. Think about your parents, grandparents, friends parents, girlfriends parents, etc. ALL pretty much disagreeing with you. You feel super lonely and hurt that they don’t trust that you know what you’re doing. One of the biggest influences was the community of people I found in Costa Rica – from all different walks of life and work. They helped with that feeling of community so that I knew I wasn’t embarking on this journey alone.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself when you were in your twenties?
Just go. One of my best friends that really helped me learn to surf gave me that advice and it couldn’t be more true. Hesitation is what hurts you the most. I had a fire inside of what I wanted to do – and it was only external influences that were holding me back. It seems so stupid now looking back.
I guess one of the mistakes I made in the beginning was not being such a great entrepreneur when it comes to knowing what to charge. Some of my first customers are still using architectures I built for them 8 years ago for the price of a surfboard or a few nights in a hotel. But hey – you gotta start somewhere 😉
Q: What is Travel Developer?
Travel Developer is an all-in-one, online course that teaches the essentials of designing, building and marketing websites as a freelancer. It covers all of the basic building blocks of being a freelance website developer including HTML, CSS, JS, designing with best-in-class design software, as well as offering SEO services.
Q: What makes your company different from its competitors?
What makes Travel Developer stand out from other schools, online courses, and mentors is the fact that it focuses on remote work. I’ve been working remotely for over 8 years and have as much experience as anyone in the field. Due to that real-world experience, the course focuses 50% on hard skills and 50% on ‘soft skills’ – such as project management, sales, marketing, finances, and other tips on how to work remotely. As any freelancer can tell you – it’s these skills that will make or break your freelance career.
Q: What led you to start Travel Developer?
I started Travel Developer after a long struggle to become a profitable freelance developer. It took me years and shouldn’t have. I must have taken 15-20 online courses in various fields and had no direction of what to learn next, at what point I was ready, etc. There simply wasn’t any specific information on what I knew was so many people’s dream work/life balance.
After failing and succeeding over the course of a few years, I finally got to the point where I noticed a change in the questions my friends were asking…not why are you doing these things but how? People wanted to know how I found clients, how I budgeted, found housing/work spaces/etc. It was then that I realized rather than have the same conversation over and over I thought it’d be easier to say “well I have a platform for that, check it out 😉 .”
Q: What has the experience of building the business taught you?
It’s not all on the quality of your product/business. Marketing has been more and more important over the past decade as it becomes easier to create content. As someone who is very product oriented that took awhile to get used to. I’m very much in the boat of just building an amazing product. And while that works for some industries, it doesn’t work for all businesses. It’s super important to target your marketing to specific niches and not try to grasp too large. Having a few dedicated customers in a small niche will help spread the word more than wasting money on ads.
Q: Where do you see things headed for you in the next 5 years?
Since Corona, I’ve stressed to my students to not feel the need so much to work in dev/design to be able to work remotely. Any job done on a computer can be a remote position, so I will be directing Travel Developer more towards giving students the resources to find companies who are hiring remotely and what to expect with working remotely (if they never have before). I also plan to do some consulting to companies who are looking to hire and work remotely as I’ve already heard and witnessed some terrible rookie mistakes by some of even the biggest tech companies in the world.
For more information, see pjmanning.dev/travel-developer/.