Making your millions while working on a tropical beach in your swimwear is the ideal for many digital nomads dreaming of breaking away from the 9-5 for good. As Sirin Kale discovered for Wired UK, dropshipping is one way people have been earning big just by clutching their Macbooks. Dropshipping is a “fulfillment” method where an entrepreneur identifies a product — usually through Chinese eCommerce platform AliExpress — that they think they can sell to European or American consumers. They then create a website using Shopify, and identify and target buyers. You never even see the products you sell.
The town, once a stop-off for backpackers en route to Ubud’s yoga studios and hippy scene, has in recent years become a hub for self-described “digital nomads”. In Canggu’s cafés, barefoot westerners run fledgling companies from MacBook Pros. When not talking Facebook ads or cost-per-click, they socialise exclusively with each other. “The thing is, not many Indonesians are on a level with bule [an Indonesian term for foreigners],” explains one digital nomad over the fart of hot tub jets in Amo, a luxury spa. Around us, statue-like men wander in and out of steam rooms (CrossFit is big here), talking about e-commerce and intermittent fasting.
Inside the city’s co-working spaces (Dojo is the oldest in Canggu, Outpost the new challenger), people are building business empires selling products they’ve never handled, from countries they’ve never visited, to consumers they’ve never met. Welcome to the world of dropshipping.
Those who make it in dropshipping are idealized by people desperate to follow suit. Some dropshippers are adding to their profits by selling courses on how to achieve success to their acolytes, while others have stepped away from a business they now recognize as unethical.
A gruff, profane Australian who speaks his mind, Craig, 41, has banned anyone from selling dropshipping courses in Dojo. “My main gripe is that you’re selling a course for $6,000 to a person from middle America who’s put all their funds into this, and you’re teaching them to sell avocado slicers online with 40 other people who are also selling avocado slicers,” he says.
Some dropshippers are shuttering their stores, and shipping out. Louden is one of them. Despite the fact that he’s earning executive-level pay while wearing boardshorts, he wants to leave dropshipping behind. He’s aware that even the most successful dropshipping store will eventually run out of steam: when the cost of Facebook advertising increases beyond your marketing spend, you’re done. “At the end of this year, we’re probably done with dropshipping,” he says. “I want to build brands – actual ones – that provide value to people.”
I’m reminded of a comment one of the statue-men made amid the ice baths and steam rooms of Amo Spa. I’d asked him if he was a dropshipper, and he’d laughed and said that he wasn’t any more: “I’m doing something ethical.”