Professional Hacker to Location Independent Blogger - Interview with Anil Polat Foxnomad

by Jason -- April 14, 2010

This is a new type of post I’ll be starting — interviews with entrepreneurs and fellow travelers. In this first interview, I spoke with Anil Polat, also known online as Foxnomad. He quit his job as a professional hacker 5 months ago to focus on running his various blogs. He is now officially location independent and runs 4 blogs:

In the interview we discuss how he writes for 4 different blogs, reads over 500 other blogs, travels and still manages to maintain a life outside of the computer. We also discuss his plans to visit Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran later this year. And finally we touch on the success of his first ebook, “Overcoming the 7 Major Obstacles to Traveling the World”.

The interview is transcribed below and the mp3 can be downloaded through the following link.

Anil Polat - Foxnomad Interview — “Right-click” and click “Save Link As” to download

Being my first interview, I would really appreciate hearing your comments. Have a suggestion on better questions or a different interview style? Other people to interview? Send me an email or leave a comment below.

Please tell us about your background

I was born in the US and split my time between Turkey and Washington DC about 50/50 until I was 18. I went to school at George-Mason University, studied Anthropology and Computer Science. After college, I became a professional hacker and held that job for 6 years. My job was basically penetration testing, looking at code and I was even sent a lot of places to try get inside a building by making up a story for example. It was a fun job.

It gave me quite an opportunity to travel. They sent me around a lot of places. And I loved the job. But the blogging started taking off and I wanted to give myself to it and see what would happen and I have since left the job and all I do now is run my websites really. I do take on programming and security projects from time-to-time to make sure that I don’t get rusty or lose my edge or anything like that.

When did you leave your hacker/security job?

Just 5 months ago.

What are the various ways you earn a living now?

The primary way is through my blogs. Selling advertisements and affiliate programs. I have more than Foxnomad. I also take on some consulting projects, but most of it is through writing and advertising.

How many blogs do you have?

I have 4 blogs. Foxnomad, Tech Guide for travel, Travel blog advice, and how to travel with pets. I also have a few adsense sites out there as well.

Were you doing the blogs in parallel with your hacker job?

I’ve been writing on Foxnomad for 4 years. It wasn’t originally meant to be a travel blog, it sort of changed over in the first year. I was away from my friends and it was really a way to keep in touch. But the only person that wrote on it was me. So, I thought maybe I should start writing. And then I really got into it and so I stuck with it. And now, here I am. But it’s been a long time, it’s been 4 years, it didn’t happen overnight.

How have the last 5 months been going?

Pretty good. It’s a lot easier when you have one thing to focus on. It’s always tough to manage a day job and side stuff. It’s very time consuming and it’s difficult. It’s not easy to give yourself 100%to both places in terms of time and passion. So the last 5 months have been going well. It’s a different beast I guess you could say. I’m enjoying it. I don’t regret the move at all.

In terms of revenue and income, what percentage is coming from consulting versus the blog?

Right now, almost all of it is from the blog. I’d say income wise, about 20% from the consulting. I take on small projects. I still enjoy doing hacking and programming stuff. I don’t pursue it for the money. There’s not much money in it for me. But I feel like if I leave it for a year or two, then I’ll be way out of the loop. Right now, pretty much all of my money is coming from the blogs. It’s such a small percentage from consulting.

How do you find your consulting customers?

I use both previous contacts and eLance. I have a lot of contacts from my previous job that I’m still in touch with. In security, that’s one of the best ways to get work. It takes time to build a trust relationship in that field. A lot of the customers are my previous contacts. But I have used eLance before as well.

One of the things I’ve been extremely impressed with is how many different sites and things you have. Four blogs is an awful lot. How are you involved with so much and still married and manage to travel as well ?

There’s no easy way around it. It takes a lot of time. The one thing I’ve found, is I’m terrible at planning. But the one thing that’s helped me is coming up with a good schedule. It sounds pretty lame. I think a lot of people have a vague idea of what they want to do in 6 months and I kind of have no clue what I’m doing in 6 months. But in the next 48 hours or the next two weeks I know pretty well what I’m going to be doing. I schedule it out. I know from 9 to 12 I’ll be doing this. That way I feel like I accomplish something at the end of every day. With the blogs, one thing I just can’t live without is scheduling out my posts in advance. For Foxnomad, for example, I know what I’m going to be writing about for the next 2 weeks. I haven’t written them yet. But it helps when you have a topic well in advance.

And another thing with the blogging, I have a list of about 100-200 topics. So, if I’m not really feeling like writing one day, I‘ll go through that list and see if I can find something that clicks for me that day. And usually there is. But a schedule is key, without that, and you try to do this you’ll be all over the place and it will be frustrating. And when you’re married, it’s easy to give your schedule to your wife and she can see it and have a good idea of how long you’re going to be on the computer.

How detailed do you schedule yourself?

At the end of each day, for the next 24 hours, work-wise I have a good plan. It’s by the hour. I have a good plan. From 9-11am I have an idea of what I want to finish. Write one post for example. In between stuff I always leave a half-hour. Between 11 and 11:30 I won’t have anything scheduled. It’s kind of a grey area, because I tend to go over schedule a lot. And so for 24 hours it’s very detailed. When I’m done for the day, I have in my mind what I’m going to do for the next day. I look at what I’ve accomplished, how long it’s taken me and then what needs to get done next? Anything beyond a week, it’s pretty foggy.

Do you use any software to assist with the scheduling?

I just write it down. I do have an excel sheet that I use to track how long it takes me to do stuff. So, I have a pretty good idea of how long it takes me to write a post or read 50 blogs on RSS. But it doesn’t take much, it’s like 5 or 10 minutes a day to manage this. I think if you track yourself for a month you’ll have a pretty good idea of how long everything takes. Then it’s pretty easy.

I tend to be late. When it comes to my personal life, I tend to always be late. When I schedule myself, I’m always running late. It helps me, because you realize that certain tasks just take longer than you plan out.

When I worked as a consultant, one of the things I learned was people would always ask how long something takes? You always give them an engineering estimate, which is basically double the amount of time it’s really going to take. And over the phone, you would hear people’s face drop. But so many things happen and so many things can go wrong. And you almost always need extra time. People are really bad at estimating stuff. But as a consultant I was forced to give good estimates on how long stuff takes and track it.

Was this a system that was taught by your consultant company or something that you picked up as you went along?

No, at the consulting firm, we were all independent. We were all doing on our own thing in a way. It was a very relaxed and hands-off environment. We were able to pursue our own projects and work directly with clients. I learned very early on, that you have to estimate things well. People always want to know, how much are things going to cost? And how long will it take? You’ve got to do that with yourself too, because when you work for yourself, it’s just as important.

Are there any books or blogs that you recommend?

Problogger. I’ve always found that site to be useful. People have different opinions on it. But a lot of the basics seem to be pretty useful. I really like that site. As for blogging in general, I really like an ebook called “Business in a backpack”. I really like it. I think it’s like $20, but it’s a really good read. It outlines what this couple did to live off of their blogs and create a blog and everything. I track between 400 and 500 blogs – mostly travel blogs. I try to read those every couple of days and keep up on what’s going on in the travel blog community.

It’s a huge time slot in my day. If I don’t touch my RSS reader everyday, it easily gets out of control. And then I can easily spend a day just reading blogs. It’s something I try to touch on everyday, an hour or two everyday. And try to keep it manageable. But it’s getting harder. There are a lot more blogs, maybe it’s just me, but there seem to be a lot more. But I’m having trouble. I’m trying to limit myself to 500. I don’t think I can read too much more.

Problogger posts a lot. I don’t find the newer stuff as useful. I like a lot of their older stuff. They’re pretty solid.

How has your previous ebook done?

It spiked a few months after I released it. It was a great learning lesson, I definitely screwed up the promotion of the ebook. I learned a lot about promoting a product, which I wasn’t prepared to do at the time. There are still people writing reviews after the fact and sales will pick up and then drop off.

If you’re writing an ebook, you should definitely promote it well before it actually goes on-sale. It was doing pretty well, but now it’s tapered off, and I get a sale here and there. I think that’s the world of ebooks, they come out and then sort of trickle off. I think you have to write one every 3 to 6 months. And I’ve found that ebooks that answer a specific question, although this isn’t from my personal experience, tend to do better. People don’t read ebooks like they read regular books. They read them to answer some sort of question. I think my next ebook will be about a very specific topic. Maybe that will do better, I’m not sure.

For me, it was just nice that anyone was willing to spend money on something that I wrote. It’s an honor that someone’s giving money to read something that you wrote.

Tell me about your travel style.

I keep myself put in one place and then travel around the area. I did this with consulting as well. It makes things cheaper and more importantly it’s easier to get work done. I’ve been based out of Germany for the last 3 months. And I’ve been moving around Europe. I’ll be leaving for South America in about 3 weeks. I have a friend in Ecuador, so I’ll stop by there and check out a few other places. I’ll be in the Americas until about July. And then we’re going to settle down in North Cyprus for a year. And travel around the middle east, based out of that one place. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to have one place and travel around that area, then get up and move again.

Will you be based out of Ecuador?

I’m planning on stopping by Ecuador for just a few weeks. And then hopefully head up to Costa Rica or Panama for another week or two. I’ll be mostly based out of DC. My sister’s graduating and then there’s the Travel Blog Exchange. So I’ll be hanging out around the east coast for a while.

What’s coming next from Foxnomad?

I’ve been juggling the idea of writing 2 ebooks this summer. I don’t know if I’m going to give the topics away yet. But they’ll be a lot broader than my previous ebook. And they’re going to go together. And then at the end of the year I’m planning on visiting a lot of countries that a lot of people usually don’t visit. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, all the kind of places that you’re recommended not to go. So I’m going to be writing about that. That’s coming up towards the end of the year. Those are my next projects.

I thought it would be interesting to write a book about the places you shouldn’t go. Or the places you probably shouldn’t go. I don’t think Afghanistan is the best place to travel to right now.

How long do you plan on spending in each country?

I haven’t mapped it out yet. I think Visa wise it’s going to be pretty difficult, so I’m not sure yet. For me, the important thing is to be able to get online and in a lot of those places it’s not going to be feasible. For me personally, if there’s a week where I can’t get on the Internet, there’s a problem.  So I may not stay that long.

And is your wife going?

I don’t know if she will. I think she’s pretty on-board with it. We’ll see if we can do the route together. I think she’s accepted my craziness in a lot of ways.

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7 Responses to “Professional Hacker to Location Independent Blogger - Interview with Anil Polat Foxnomad”

  1. Great interview - Anil is one of my favourite travel celebrities and someday I hope to meet him in person :-)

    Good questions too - can’t wait for the next interview.

  2. Thanks Andy! I’ve been a big fan of Anil’s site for a long time also. It was really great to get to know him better!

    Thanks for visiting!


  3. Hey Jason,

    Great job with the interview. I think its a great addition to your site…everyone loves to hear about success stories.

    Cheers, Todd

  4. Hi Todd,

    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. It was fun, I just wrapped up my next interview and will hopefully have it up in the next few days, I definitely plan on continuing to do them!


  5. Great interview !! Gave more insights about Anil. It’ll be wonderful to see him doing middle-east. I, as a woman traveller, have been fantasizing about those places.

    Anil has always been a source of inspiration for me. It’s really amazing to see how he manages all his blogs.


  6. Hi Nisha,

    Thanks! I completely agree, Anil going to the middle-east will be extremely interesting. And yes, even after asking him how he manages his time, it amazes me he manages so many blogs and puts out so much great content.


  7. Great interview- I still have difficulty staying organized with multiple blogs too. I’m going to try blocking off chunks of time as suggested by Anil. Thanks!

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