How to turn any idea into a business, with Esther Jacobs, an author of 30 books, a speaker and digital nomad.

Episode summary

Esther Jacobs talks about how you can develop any idea into a business by knowing your strengths and keeping an eye open for opportunities.


Episode transcript

Philipp: Welcome to another episode of, In Your Best Interest, your personal finance podcast. I'm your host Philipp Muedder, and today I'm chatting with the so-called No Excuses lady, Esther Jacobs, about how you can turn anything into a business. Esther Jacobs is an international speaker, she was knighted by the Dutch queen for raising €16 million for charity.

Esther has given more than 1,000 keynotes, inspiring entrepreneurs and decision-makers worldwide to take control and transform their challenges into opportunities. As a digital nomad, she has lived, worked, and played in over 100 countries. Esther has been on the European Survivor TV show and was featured in international media over 500 times. Hello Esther, it's very nice to have you on the podcast today.

Esther: Hi, I’m happy to be here.

Philipp: You're a digital nomad, so I have to ask. Where are you now?

Esther: Actually, I just landed in Miami, Florida from South Africa in a 40-hour plus trip through Qatar, because they're closing the country to these countries actually tomorrow. And my father lives here, and I wanted to visit him. So I made this gruelling trip to be here, and I got in.

Philipp: That's wonderful. I was just on a trip as well, and it's a different world of travel than what we're used to, right?

Esther: Yes. It's very different with tests and nervous airlines, and very lax immigration. You never know what to expect; when you think something is going to be easy, it's going to be difficult. And when you think it's going to be very complicated, it turns out to be really easy.

Philipp: Yes, absolutely. So what do you think about 2020; when I went over your bio; for everyone - it says you travelled to more than 100 countries; you're a digital nomad. I think somewhere I read you even got fired from your home country, the Netherlands, before.

Esther: Right.

Philipp: So how did 2020 work out for you as a digital nomad?

Esther: Well, I'm used to dealing with change. So, of course, it was very impactful, and a lot of trips were cancelled, and a lot of things changed. But I just go with the situation as it is. So I actually turned my whole business model around because I can't do physical speeches anymore. So I turned everything into online workshops. And I recorded some online programs; I wrote some extra books.

So actually, it gave me the opportunity to be even more location independent. Because for presentations, I always have to go to an actual location, and for workshops as well, so that determined my travel schedule. And now everything is completely online. So, I actually feel even more free than ever. And I did continue to travel, of course, with the precautions and within the rules. I travel less; I stay longer in one place.

But I still travel, and that has a lot of advantages as well. Because now you can easily change your tickets, often the airports are empty, so travelling is a lot faster. The planes are almost empty, so like on my last trip, I had 4 chairs, and I could sleep. So I tried to see the opportunities instead of complaining or wishing it wasn't the way that it is.

Philipp: Yes, I agree. And I think that's the one lesson I think that anyone can take away from 2020, is that there will be much more freedom going forward in terms of where you can work, even in bigger companies if you're an employee.

But that's something I do want to get into very soon when we talk about businesses and side hustles and making money outside of your day job with you. Before I do that, though, just for the audience to get a little bit better of a background on you, just on top of me reading out your bio.

If we go back even further, right? And we look at Esther growing up before you became a digital nomad and being on a TV show and raised money for charity. What was life like for Esther growing up?

Esther: Ah, that's an interesting question. I grew up in the Netherlands. My father was an entrepreneur; my mother was from a grocer family. So it's a very interesting contradiction. Like my mother was used to turning every penny, and really, she wanted things to stay the way they were.

And my father came from a Jewish family after the war; a lot of people had not come back, and he had this drive in him to grow and to discover. And, of course, the two of them had to find a balance to do that. And in that family I was raised, my mother always trying to fit in, and my father taking me on trips and being an entrepreneur, and teaching me this entrepreneurship mentality.

And I didn't know what I wanted to study, so I liked drawing, so I was thinking maybe going to art school, and I liked animals, so I thought maybe I would become a marine biologist because I liked dolphins like many young kids. And in the end, I couldn't make a decision, and my father mentioned a business school, so I did the application, and I was accepted, so I went to that private business school without knowing actually what I signed up for. And that was a big eye-opener.

I met a lot of people from all over the country, very entrepreneur-oriented and that really opened my world. We lived in a small village in the Netherlands, and yes, in that university, I think I learned that whatever you want, you just pick up the phone and look up the internet and you can do it. Instead of having to study or having to follow a protocol, just improvising entrepreneurship. 

And I think that's what shaped me, and because I travelled so much, I was very curious. I learned that everything is relative. So if you think you're in a bad place, you can always find a place that's worse. Or if you think that you're in a good place, you can always find a place that's better.

And that's for personal development for government, relationships, business. It counts for anything. So I learned that things are flexible, and you can decide what you focus on. You can focus on something you have no control over, and then you'll become frustrated, and you may even burn out. Or you can focus on the things that you can influence, and then you always feel in control.

So that's how I decided not to work for a company; I've never worked for a boss. But I started entrepreneuring; doing little market research and travelling and living from one little assignment to the next. But it gave me a lot of freedom, and I got to know myself very well. Because I stumbled and fell many times, and in doing so, I learned something every time.

So by the time all my friends had a steady job and were working on their career, I had not achieved anything tangible. But I was really getting to know myself, and I was collecting all these stories that later were very useful in my career as a speaker and in writing books.

Philipp: Yes, that was a super interesting story, I think. Like you said, you still learned something just because they had a more tangible career path, right? You had invaluable experiences. And I think that's something that a lot of people nowadays really go back to, and look at when they look at work and especially with 2020, right? In 2020, a lot of people got grounded; you were not allowed to travel.

You're staying home; you might get laid off from your job, right? So a lot of people are revisiting what life is actually about and understand that life on earth is finite, and we don't have forever. So I think that's why I wanted to chat with you today, because I think people are looking for ways to get that back, right? Or make the most out of the time. Look at experiences, and not go the traditional career path. But of course, we still need to make some income.

I talked to Abel, which you know as well. He actually introduced the two of us. And he is location-independent and retired already. But he did it very differently, right? He started aggressively saving. He did have a career, him and his wife, but they started aggressively saving, and investing, and living off the investments as passive income.

Where I understand from your point of view, you were always an entrepreneur; you weren't able to put money aside right away from the beginning. So what was your path then, like when did you decide? You always decided to be an entrepreneur, but how do you make it work, right? From an income perspective. It's still, life and travel costs money.

Esther: True. And I must say that I started very simple. After I graduated, I just started to do little market research or whatever, and I made like, I remember the first few things I made like €300 euros, and then I knew whoa, I can travel in South America for a month. So when you quit your job, you're used to a salary, and you have like a house and a car and expenses.

But when you're a student, and you start with nothing, then all the money you make suddenly is an improvement. So I started with these projects and a little bit of consultancy and freelancing. I made some money, and I always spent it again travelling. Like I invested in experiences, and not in possessions. And all those experiences made me get to know myself better and made me more aware of my added value.

And how I could contribute to others, and they would pay me for that. And basically, it grew from there, and at one point, when I was a well-known keynote speaker, I would earn money very easily. But my goal has never been to make a lot of money, but to have a nice life with as little effort as possible. So when I made a lot of money doing speeches, I just worked very little, so I could have a good life.

And a lot of people go for the big income, and I hear a lot of entrepreneurs talking about the six-figures, the seven-figures that they want to achieve. My goal has always been to have a nice life, to inspire people, to be inspired, and not to have to worry about money. And you just said that travelling is expensive, but the way I travel is actually cheaper than most of my friends are living in Amsterdam or in other big cities.

Because I don't travel to Switzerland or London. I go to the south of Europe, to Asia, to South America, and life there is a lot cheaper. You can have a really good life when your income is still in Euros. So it's a completely different concept of making money, and saving and working a lot to make a lot of money, and then you're too busy to enjoy it.

Philipp: Yes. It's a nice arbitrage situation, right? Earning in Euros, and still being able to spend this and have a better life in different places. Yes, you meet a lot of people. Obviously, we're located in Southeast Asia. And so, every time we go to Bali or places in Malaysia, you see a lot of people now taking up this digital nomad life. So you must come across lots of them. But let's say, for example, I'm one of our listeners.

I have a career, but I do want to make changes now. Maybe I got laid off last year, right? Or maybe I feel in a rut because you realise in 2020 that it's not just all about work, right? Because if, for example, in Singapore, I feel like, in 2020, we just worked all day, right? There was nowhere to travel. We're not allowed to get really in and out of the country at this point in time.

So all you can do is actually work, right? I think a lot of people are like getting to the point where they're thinking about what we can do differently. But it's very difficult to get ideas, right? Turning it into business.

Esther: Yes. I think getting ideas is easy, and you see a lot of people around you. But the difficult thing is what would work for me? And I think the first step is to do what I spent years doing without knowing it, is getting to know yourself and getting to know what you're good at. Because when you're really good at something, and you can really provide added value to others.

Often you don't know it, because to you it's easy and to you it's obvious. And you think that everybody can do this because it's so easy for you. And trying to find this thing or this talent or this contribution that you can make that has a lot of added value to others, and that is easy to you, that's actually the best starting point. Because then you know what offer you can make for your clients.

And of course, there's a lot of businesses based on anonymity and selling things online, and things like that. I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about finding your own talent and how to market that, and that could be: being a consultant, being a coach, making an online course, writing books, giving workshops, organising retreats. Being a speaker, being an expert. So first you have to find out what it is that you can do easily that's difficult for others.

And one way to find out what it is to pay attention to the questions you often get. An expert or somebody who's really good at something will always get questions about a certain topic. But again, they're so obvious to you that you probably don't know this. So that's the first step to pay attention to what questions do you get and what is easy for you that is difficult for others.

Philipp: Yes, it's a really interesting approach. I never really thought about that one. So when you do your workshops, when you're working with your students on that. Is there any kind of exercises that you make them go through?

Esther: Yes, it starts basically with the questions. And my workshops are an example of this. At one point, I got a lot of questions from people saying, hey Esther, you're living this dream life. Can you help me live my dream life as well? What do I have to do? And then when I get more people asking the same thing, I think instead of answering the same question over and over again, why don't I organise a workshop about this topic, How to Live Your Dream.

And I found that the advantage is that you have like maybe 10 like-minded people together, who not only get inspiration from me, but they also notice that they're not the only ones struggling with this or having this dream. And they form buddies, and they can continue after the workshop. Then when I got a lot of questions about people who want to write books, I organised book writing workshops.

And another example, I was at a conference a while ago, and I go there every year, and I give a presentation. And this year, I decided I'm not going to determine what I'm going to talk about; I'm going to ask the participants. So I said, hey, I give a lot of presentations about book writing, about public speaking, about social media. Which one do you want me to talk about this year? 

And then several people said, you know actually, we would like to hear how you turn anything into a business? And I was surprised because for me it's obvious and I thought anybody could do it. But it turns out how to turn anything into a business is one of my best running workshops.

Because a lot of people want to hear the mindset and the examples and the inspiration, and they want me to listen to their situation and help them discover what is their unique added value that they can turn into a business. So just listening to the questions you get is really the first step.

Philipp: Okay. And then what comes next?

Esther: Then you have to find out what your audience, or your clients, or your target group needs. Maybe they need one-on-one consultation, maybe they need a checklist, maybe they need accountability, somebody who guides them through this process. Maybe they need to know what the process is they're going through.

And by defining your target group, if your target group is people who have no money, it's going to be difficult to monetise it. So if, for example, I help people to write a book; if I target people who've been through a disease or who have no money, who are struggling with a lot of things, it's going to be very difficult to monetise it. So my target group is mostly businesses, like CEOs, professionals who want to write a book for their expert status.

Those people have money; they know the value that having a book, having published a book can contribute to their business, like as a business card, as a giveaway for their visibility. And that is a good target group to focus on. I give them exactly the same information that I give to like single mothers with no budget, because I help those as well. But my focus is on the people who want to write a book, who can actually pay for it.

Philipp: Yes, very interesting. And great stories there on how to get started. So let's say we found our passion, we think we have a business model, right? What comes after that? Like do you still keep helping them on setting this up? Is it usually online shops if they want to sell something that they're passionate about? Is it like you said, writing a book? If I've never written a book, it seems like a very daunting task, right?

Esther: Right. And that's what I do; I make it sound reasonable, that's not the right thing. I make it attainable by explaining the process and by showing them that I've done it; a lot of people have done it. And by explaining the process step by step.

And I do that, for example, in writing retreats, where I help people to write their book in one week. And this is actually the next phase, it's testing your offer, your idea. Don't build a website, don't write a business plan. Don't borrow money before you have tested if your idea is actually viable, if your target group is actually waiting for this.

Philipp: I think this is a big point, right? Because I feel every time I talk to people about, they're asking about starting a business, but they're like. Oh, but I have bills to pay, or I have children, right? I have a family to take care of.

It will cost me so much to even get started, right? And I think that barrier of entry is actually a lot lower than a lot of people think, right? Because I think we can talk about the internet being helpful here nowadays, right?

Esther: True. And it's even better to start this while you still have your secure job or your income, even if you don't like it so much anymore. Only make the transfer when you know that your new idea can be successful. And don't burn all bridges, don't leave everything behind to start from scratch.

But test what you want to do and see if you can create a bridge, you can start doing what you want to do from where you are now. So, for example, when I had this idea about book writing or when I have another idea, I just post it on Facebook and say who wants to go to Mallorca with me to write their book in a week? Or something else I did, I found a cheap cruise from Spain to Brazil, three weeks on a boat.

And I said who wants to go on this cruise with me, and I'll give a different workshop every day? And to my surprise, 60 people reacted on Facebook, saying yes, I want to go. Then I created the payment page, and 15 of those 60 actually transferred the money, and only then I started arranging and organising things.

So the same for writing retreat, when I have people who want to go on a retreat, I organise it, but I don't book avenue and reserve a house, and rent a car and plan everything before I know that people are actually interested in it.

Philipp: Very good approach, yes. And that's what I meant, right? So I think people need to just get over the fact that it doesn't have to be perfect at the beginning, right? You just need to get started.

Esther: No. And you know what, if you say I'm going to organise an online workshop about XYZ and nobody reacts, then fine because then probably nobody has noticed it, or nobody is interested in it. And you haven't spent any money, you haven't spent any time, and you can try it again maybe with a different topic, or with different description, or with a different price or a different date.

And maybe it will work that time, and if it doesn't, then you have to change something. And asking questions is also really good. What if I would do this, or what is your biggest challenge in this topic? Or just asking questions. You interact with people, and they will tell you what they need. That's often forgotten in these business plans and plannings, actually talking to your target group.

Philipp: Yes, talking to the target group. But let's say, for example, you have a family, you have a couple of children, you're married. You're really fed up with your job, right? You still need to put food on the table. You can do this on the side. But what about the naysayers, especially family and friends, right? A lot of times there's people that will say, oh, that's not a good idea, it's too risky.

Like all the usual objections that people get. But they're family and friends, so they listen to them, but they still value their opinion, right? But how do you help people overcome those and be true to themselves of what they really want?

Esther: It's a really good point because first, you have to deal with your own objections and insecurities when you want to step out of your comfort zone. And if you manage to overcome that, and you're like yes, I'm going to do it. Then like you say, you have your friends and family and other people projecting their fears and insecurities onto you.

And that's why it's so important to find like-minded people, that happens in my workshops during my retreats that people say oh, I'm not the only one who wants this? And all the people here are saying it's possible, and I do it this way, and you can try this instead of trying to convince me not to do it, that's really an eye-opener. And nowadays, you can find like-minded people anywhere about any topic.

If you want to become a digital nomad, you can go to a city where there's a lot of digital nomads, or you go to a digital nomad group on Facebook for the area where you live or where you want to go. Or you find people who are also interested in soccer, or boxing, or whatever your topic is.

So, find like-minded people who are already doing what you want to do, and they can show you that it's possible, they can inspire you, they can give you tips, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel. That's also very important.

Philipp: Yes, it's been done before, right? So exactly.

Esther: And all those people who are saying it cannot be done or who are afraid, acknowledge them that they have all the right you know to not want to do it, and they can stay where they are, but you want to explore, and you're going to learn something from it.

Philipp: Yes. This is the big insecurity, right? And I think the heightened insecurity that also social media has brought on. A lot of people don't want to share their full life on social media, on Instagram, or on Facebook, right? How do you help people overcome this? Do you think it's a must nowadays when it comes to doing remote business?

Because I think self-promoting is going to be important when you want to do speeches, right? If you have an online shop, you still need to do a lot of work, not in front of a camera, but managing on social media. How do you help people, or how do you deal with it yourself as well?

Esther: Well, I think what you're talking about is visibility, that's very important. Especially in a time like now where we can't travel or be physically present. If you're present online, then you're still top of mind for your products, your services, but also just you as a person. And I think you shouldn't look at visibility as promotion, because everybody's tired of people saying buy my book, hire me as a coach, as a speaker, whatever that doesn't work.

But what does work is just sharing your expertise or your passion in your social media posts. Like hey, I'm reading this book and this and this is very interesting. Or hey, I was with a client, and his client was struggling with this problem. So I showed him this model, and with this model, he found a way to get moving again. Instead of people saying, hey, I have a new client. Or hey, I have a testimonial from a client or whatever. I'm eating a peanut butter sandwich, that doesn't contribute. But if you give the recipe of that peanut butter sandwich, or if you're a personal trainer and you explain why you eat a peanut butter sandwich and how that could help your clients as well. Then suddenly, your social media posts have added value.

And if people want to dive into the topic that you talk about, you are top of mind because you always have these good tips and these really personal comments that the barrier is very low to approach you and to ask you to help them.

Philipp: Yes, and that's a good point to turn it around, right? And using that social media to your advantage here and becoming a thought leader in that field that you want to go into. I think that it's a great point to make for people who are looking to venture out.

Esther: And also what you just said, not just showing all the nice things, but also showing your challenges. And don't be too honest; for example, when you have a day that you're really depressed, don't say, oh, I'm not good at anything. I'm not worth anything, or like oh, I have a client, oh, I'm so nervous. No, that's not what you want to share. But please also share the days that you don't feel like working, or nothing is happening. And you can say at the end of the day, I had a bad day today, but this was my strategy for getting through the day, and tomorrow I'm going to go for it again, and this is what I learned from it. Or this podcast helped me, or this meditation helped me. So you show people that life is not always easy, but that any challenge you face, you find a solution, and you share it with your followers.

Philipp: No, good point. For that, I wanted to go back a little bit then Esther and see obviously entrepreneurship is a journey, right? Lots of ups and downs. It's a marathon, it's not a sprint.

Esther: It’s all part of life.

Philipp: Yes, exactly, right? It's the ups and downs, it's part of your life. So when did you feel for the first time? Oh, this is working. Or what was the product or what was the service you were offering?

You probably tried a lot of different things as you said, you were really young, out of university, you immediately became an entrepreneur. Before we get into challenges, what was the first time that you felt, oh my, this is working. I have something on my hands that works?

Esther: I have a few examples, but one goes back a little bit further. I was 16; I was working in a snack bar at night. And I was like a good looking young girl, so I had a lot of credit. So basically, I was in the snack bar, and I was hardly doing anything. All the guys around me were working really hard, and I had never worked, so I had no idea. And then one day, I was like, hey, if I'm here anyway, and I'm standing here bored, and everybody is working and cleaning, why don't I make the best of it and work? Why don't I do as much as I can in the time that I'm here? I'm here anyway. So I started cleaning and looking for jobs and things to do and tasks, and at one point, I found that the 4 or 5 guys who were working there were all standing still and looking at me, and they were asking, “Esther, what are you doing?”. And I said, well, I figured since I'm here anyway, I might as well do something.

And their mouths were open, and they were looking at me like, and for me, it was an epiphany. Like also, when you have a regular job or anything else, you can go through the motions and be there when you have to be there. And sit out your time, but nothing is going to happen. It's not going to make you happy, it's not going to produce any results. And at that moment, I decided when I do something; I apply myself to it.

Then at least you learn something. Time goes faster, you know, you interact with people. And I think I always applied that, and for example, a few years later, I was in Curacao, a Caribbean island where my father lived at that moment. And I was getting a fruit shake every day at a little fruit stall, and the guy was talking about - yeah, one day I'm going to start a franchise because everybody on this island eats unhealthy, and you know I'm going to sell the fruit salad.

And after a week, I told him why talk about it? Why not just do it? So tomorrow, you prepare a cooler box with fruit salads for me, and I'll go around the companies and sell them. So at that moment, I became the fruit girl, and I went to all the companies on the island. I sold the fruit salads. And after a few weeks, people were asking me, you're not just a fruit girl, right? What else do you do? And I said, well, I do market research. I have never done market research before.

But I started to get some assignments. So the fruit salad thing led to the next thing, and I remember this was before the internet, and all the car rentals on the island had brochures with like the cheapest model. And then the more luxury model, and so there were always 4 or 5 models, and everybody called them differently. Economy, budget, whatever. So I thought what if I collect all those brochures and put everything in an excel sheet, so you see how much the cheapest car is, how much the most expensive car is and whatever.

I did that, and you know what I did next? I sold this excel sheet back to all the car rentals. They hadn't taken the trouble to look at the prices of all the other car rentals. This information was freely available. But by putting all the information together, suddenly, I created value.

Philipp: Yes. That was you before there were comparison sites.

Esther: Yes, I just did it on paper, very improvised. But I realised there was a need for it. Not only for tourists but also for the car rentals themselves to make their strategy.

Philipp: Oh, super interesting, yes. So again, you applied yourself, and you found solutions to problems, right? And I think there are more problems in the world than people think.

A lot of times, if you don't think it's a problem, it might still be a problem for other people, right? And that's the way to really think about these additional income streams of finding the business you want to do.

Esther: Yes. And I think another thing is - don't think of it as a business. Because if you're looking to make money, all your thoughts and energy are going to be about money, and your clients are going to feel that. So I often advise people to do something that they really like. And often, when you start doing that and communicating about it, somehow, it will create an income stream.

And I have a lot of examples, but one of the most recent ones is: I was with a few friends in the south of Italy in Puglia, a year ago. And I really liked the countryside, and I lived in Mallorca for a while, and I think the south of Italy is very similar. So I kind of fell in love with the south of Italy. And we walked past a real estate agent, and I saw that properties there are really cheap, like for €20,000 - €25,000, you can buy an olive orchard.

Philipp: Oh really.

Esther: So I was like, I'm going to do it. So 2 months later, I was back. I didn't know anybody; I didn't speak the language. I just got the name of a real estate agent. I approached the bicycle guide that we did the cycling tour, and the guy knew some farmers. And so I knew 2 or 3 people, I scheduled to see some properties, and of course the first one I saw I fell in love with, and I bought it on the spot.

And for me, it was just a passion project. I wasn't thinking of making it into a business project. I mean, how can you make an olive orchard into a business project. Of course, I was communicating about it on social media.

A picture of me on the little house, and the olive trees; and I was so passionate, and I was so happy that a lot of people offered to help me. “How can I help?” “When can we visit?” “Can we rent a little house?” “Are you going to produce olive oil?” And I was like, oh, there's going to be an olive harvest. So in November was my first olive harvest.

Philipp: Oh, you've already done it in the same year?

Esther: I've already done it, yes. I didn't know anybody; I had local people do it, and I shipped all the oil to the Netherlands. And I sold all the olive oil for a price that's like 5 times higher than the local people get because people knew me, they wanted my olive oil. Not just good olive oil, but my olive oil. And then I had to pay for the harvest; it's all very expensive. And then the trees had to be maintained.

So I was thinking, how can I finance this? And I had the idea to have people adopt an olive tree. So people adopt an olive tree, and they pay like a yearly amount, and they get some olive oil. And I have this money to maintain the trees. And now I'm renovating the house, and already a lot of people have said that they want to rent it. So suddenly, this passion project is turning into a business project.

Philipp: Yes, this is a super cool story, I really enjoyed it. I think hopefully the listeners are getting it as well, right? Just listening to your thought process about this project really drives home the message.

Like being passionate about something, you do have to take small risks along the way. But you kind of like, it kind of came to you, right? You kind of reinvented it, thought about a problem like how do I maintain these? And found a solution to it, right?

Esther: Yes. And everything is about communicating about it and being really authentic. So this idea about adopting a tree, I just floated it on social media. And then some people said, “Yes, I want it.” And I created a payment page, and now it's an official product. And I never thought about it before.

Philipp: Yes.

Esther: The local people think I'm crazy. Well, they have so many olive trees, and that's another thing over there, olive oil and olive trees are very common; they don't think it's anything special.

Philipp: Correct.

Esther: But when you bring this experience to a place like the Netherlands, it's very special to have a 100-year-old olive tree. To have like freshly pressed olive oil, which is so different to taste than anything you buy in a shop. Normally, it doesn't even get exported; only the lower qualities get exported. 

And of course the storytelling, I think storytelling is one of the most important things.

Stories are free. Storytelling, it doesn't feel like business, but it makes people want to follow you. And then, when you do have something to offer, they will listen. If you tell it in a story and not suddenly hit them in the face, buy my book, or whatever, that doesn't work in real life, and it doesn't work online either.

Philipp: Yes. No, I love that story. I think that has so many good, valuable information for people. And it kind of sums up the whole concept we talked about before of how to turn anything into a business, right? Even you driving through an olive orchard and then buying part of it afterwards. Really cool.

So before we close it up, I would like to ask you a couple more questions about what you think; what your thoughts are on personal finances. And how you kind of manage them, right? I know when we spoke earlier, and I mentioned Abel and how he does it. It's very different from the way you do it, and the way you spend your money as well, right? You're looking for experiences. Not necessarily going to very expensive countries and spending a lot of money there. But how do you think about personal finances? Like how do you structure your income streams? As well as your budget, or if you even have a budget.

Esther: Yes. I think my answer is going to surprise you. I don't think about personal finance at all, and I never have. And people are amazed because I'm not nervous about it. I've been an entrepreneur since I was 22, I think.

Philipp: Since always, yes.

Esther: Since always. And I have learned to trust. There's always some money somewhere, and if you don't have big expenses, you know you can always survive. And I've learned to trust myself, that if I need money, I think of something that I can make money. For example, organise a workshop or organise a trip or retreat. The only investment I have to do is to come up with an idea to put it on Facebook, and if I have enough people participating, then you know I create some income.

The other thing is that I have always fortunately been able to make money easily, especially as a speaker. I was earning like €3,000 for a half-an-hour speech. And I gave more than 1,000 speeches; it's not all at that amount, unfortunately. It was very easy, so I always had some extra money, a little bit of extra money and I've never been afraid of big expenses, like having to buy a ticket, or having to repair a kitchen or whatever. But I never had like money in the bank.

I never had savings; I never had a big amount. Because as easy as I made money, also easily I spent it again; or I didn't work for a few months where I didn't have any income for a few months, when I was thinking of something new or when I was travelling. So it's always gone up and down. And then, a few years ago, I sold my house that I was renting out.

Philipp: So, you did make that investment? So that is one of the investments you do, is real estate?

Esther: Yes, I didn't consider it real estate. I just, together with my father and my brother, bought a house many years ago like 20 years before. And when my brother left, I paid him. I had another loan. So basically, I had a mortgage, and I had a house, but the value of that house almost tripled.

Philipp: Good investment.

Esther: So when I sold the house, yes, I certainly had some money. I invested that in an apartment in Amsterdam; and I found out that for a small apartment, I got the same rent as for a complete house just outside of Amsterdam.

Philipp: With a lot less maintenance?

Esther: Yes. So less investment, less maintenance. I was like, hey, this is a good idea. So I tried to get money together; I borrowed from some friends to buy a second small apartment in Amsterdam. And I thought, okay, this is it. I paid off the loans, and I had a little income, and I thought, well, if necessary, I can always live in one house and then have the rental income from the other house.

I have no mortgage; I'm done. And then a friend pointed out; you could leverage the assets that you have; you could get a mortgage on the houses and then buy another one, another apartment. And I was like, why would I do that? But then I made the calculation, and it was actually kind of interesting.

Philipp: Especially with the interest rates being low, right?

Esther: Yes. The rental income in the centre of Amsterdam being extreme. But how do you get a mortgage when you don't exist?

Philipp: That's what's going to be my next question actually because they obviously ask for your tax returns, they ask for your income statements, right?

Esther: Yes. And I'm not registered in the Netherlands because I travel too much. So I was kicked out of the Netherlands for travelling too much; I don't exist, basically. Plus, as an entrepreneur, it's already difficult to get a mortgage because you have to produce all these figures. And as an entrepreneur who doesn't exist, it's impossible. But I like impossible, so I started talking to people, and talking to more people, and talking to more people. And I found one agent who said maybe, and by paying that agent and trying to find out, taking a risk again, we found a way to get a mortgage.

Not a normal mortgage, but a real yes, like an investment mortgage at a much higher rate. But still, the rental income would cover and leave some extra money. So I bought my third apartment. And then I thought, hey, I can mortgage that third apartment and buy a fourth one. 

So every time I thought it was finished, I could buy another one.  And right now, I have five apartments in Amsterdam and this little piece of land in Italy.

And really, I never saved, or I didn't have a lot of money, but once you get started, and of course this house that tripled in value, that was really the start. And you can leverage if you do it smartly. Also, I buy the smallest units, 30 square meters. But really like new and beautiful, and I have them furnished by a designer, and take really good pictures, and that gets me very good renters.

So I found a specific niche, and I buy apartments in Amsterdam in an area that I know very well. So I make my own decisions, there's nobody who says this is a good area or this is good. I use my gut feeling, my intuition, and my knowledge of the area to decide what I invest in. And this has created a passive income.

Last year with corona, I didn't have any presentations, no events, nothing was happening. And only then I realised that by accident, I had created a passive income stream, this real estate income stream that kept going throughout the corona crisis.

Philipp: Yes. And that's I think the big importance that I always preach to people as well, right? These passive income streams are so important in times like corona. I know before corona, no one would have imagined there is corona, right? Or it will ever happen. But things happen, and it's better to be prepared, right?

And I think your story perfectly sums this up. That having multiple income streams, not being dependent on your day job only, where you could get fired from, right? Gives you this level of freedom. And like the feeling off your back, right? Of constant stress and financial pressure.

Esther: Yes. And again, this whole real estate thing, it didn't exist because I was looking for an income stream. It's more: I was interested; I liked the entrepreneurship, the investment and it's also something that you have to decide really quickly. I would walk into an apartment where there were like 30, 40, 100 people wanting to buy, and I say okay, I'll take it now, at this price, and I don't need a mortgage, I want it now.

And 5 times it happened that I was the one that was able to buy it in an overheated crazy market. So making plans and doing the calculations, making business plans for me that's not really the way to be an entrepreneur. You have to be responsible, but you also have to be willing to take risks and use your intuition and be willing to make on-the-spot decisions and to just go for it.

Philipp: Yes. And other than the real estate, which obviously worked out really well for you and really also supported you through last year. Has there been any other investments? Have you invested in the stock market before? Have you done cryptocurrencies? I guess where I'm getting to is: you travel so much, right? And you probably meet so many interesting people in this community as a digital nomad. So there will always be opportunities or like people tell you about things that they are doing. Anything else other than real estate, is that really real estate and investing into your own businesses?

Esther: Yes, I hear a lot of people, for example, about Bitcoins; I think it's very interesting. But I don't have that knowledge, and I don't want to go by other people's knowledge. And the same thing for the stock market. There are so many different opinions and so many different strategies.

And it's very abstract; like the stock market can collapse, and then you have nothing. You have a piece of paper, not even. And with real estate, it's tangible. So even if the value drops, the property is still there. You could live in it, you could rent it out, whatever. It's something physical. And wherever I travel, I see opportunities. I go to Sri Lanka, and people are talking about a small piece of land in a real upcoming neighbourhood, and I can see the land, and I wish I had more money, because I see so many opportunities.

So for me, it's mostly real estate because I can spot opportunities, and I can make it happen by involving my own network and the experience I have. Plus, it's this multi-dimensional thing, it's not just on paper, a number that goes up and down. It's something real physical that you can use in different ways. So for me, real estate gives me the most feeling of control, and for me, that's the best investment.

Philipp: No, absolutely. And I think that's great, and I think everyone has to find their own niche and own, like, what they're comfortable with in terms of investments.

Esther: And I enjoy it, I enjoy it a lot.

Philipp: Exactly, it sounds like it. So you really enjoy it because the story you told about just the way you search for the properties, all the way to like designing even the actual units for rent, right? All of this is part of the process.

Esther: Part of the fun.

Philipp: Yes, exactly. Well, Esther, I think this has been super interesting. I think the listeners will have learned so much about not only how to turn anything into a business and the steps that they can take. But also hearing how you structure your personal finances is always very interesting from all the guests that we have to hear because there's vast differences.

But everyone found something that works for them, and that's really the important story for the listeners. Find what you're good at, find what you're comfortable with to chart your own path. Esther, where can people find out more if they want to learn more about your workshops, or how can they learn more about getting help on a business idea. Is there a good place for them to get more information?

Esther: Yes. The easiest way is to go to my website, There's a lot of free information as well: free downloads, blogs, tips. And also the dates of the workshops and the topics that I can help you with.

And also, I post a lot on social media, so pick your favourite platform and look for Esther Jacobs or Esther Jacobs NL. And then we can get in touch, and share each other's adventures.

Philipp: Oh, this is so good. Yes, we will put all the links into the show notes as well. So for everyone listening that wants to learn more, they're going to be all in the show notes. So you can follow up with Esther, follow along her journey and see what she's up to in 2021. I think there will be more travel probably ahead, right?

Esther: Yes, I can't sit still. In 10 years, I've never been in one place more than 4 weeks.

Philipp: Oh wow, so that's a good challenge maybe for some listeners to see if they can outdo you. But that's a very impressive number.

Esther: Yes. And I don't know if it's for everybody; I need a lot of like inspiration, movement, and adventure.

Philipp: Yes, oh good, thank you so much, Esther, for your time. I know you just got to Miami, and you're still jet-lagged, but really appreciate it.

Esther: It was fun.

Philipp: Thank you.

Esther: Thanks.

Episode notes

How do you monetise an idea? Esther Jacobs shares how you can chart your own path to entrepreneurship. In this episode, Esther shares how to discover what you’re good at, how to test ideas before putting down business costs, and how she developed her passion projects into business opportunities: from starting her own olive oil business to her journey into real estate.

Find out more about Esther here.

For past guests, visit

If you enjoy what you've heard, we’d really appreciate it if you’d even consider leaving a quick but thoughtful review. It takes less than 60 seconds, and it really helps us make the show even better for you so that we can convince great guests to join us.

Have feedback for us? Is there someone you want us to have on the show? Is there a topic you want covered? Shoot us an email at We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Find StashAway on Facebook
Find StashAway on Instagram
Find StashAway on LinkedIn
Find StashAway on Twitter

Also, our lawyers would want us to tell you that the opinions of our guests are not necessarily shared by StashAway, that past performance is no guarantee of future results, and that what you heard is not investment advice.

Episode contributors

  • Philipp Muedder (Head of Financial Planning at StashAway)
  • Esther Jacobs (The no excuses lady and digital nomad)