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Perfecting the freelance work-life balance à la française – Interview with Thibaut Barrere of WiseCash

Antoine Meunier's profile picture Antoine Meunier on

####This post is part of our Customer Interviews series. Every now and then, I dig deep into the confines of our database to find the most interesting projects, products and companies built on top of DNSimple by our customers.

####This week, I got in touch with Thibaut Barrère, a fine fella from France who perfected the freelancer lifestyle. Here's how this early DNSimple customer opted out of the rat race and into the good life.

Let's take it back to 2010. Instagram is introducing square photos to millenials and Wikileaks is blowing government secrecy like Eyjafjallajökull is spitting ashes. Blasé by the constraints of Paris and the idea of taking a 30-years loan for a flat, all while having to maintain freelancer income, Thibaut (already doing a part of remote work at the time) opts out and ditches the big city for the prospects of a better freelancing life in the countryside.

Five years later, he now lives in a small town in France that goes by the name of Champdolent, runs his WiseCash and his other ventures alongside his wife Cécile, bootstraps projects he's passionate about and has plenty of time for his children.

What happened in between can be described as the textbook approach to crafting work-life balance for oneself.

The hypothesis

Their hypothesis was straighforward: a better understanding and control of their runway would help them improve their work-life balance and would require less income. In other words, rather than pursuing the perpetual race for growth, they would reduce their expenses and effectively increase their household's profitability and quality of life.

The experiment

Thibaut and Cécile approached their life shift as an experiment. First off, they carefully forecasted their cashflow for the year ahead and calculated the feasability of their pivot. With a family in tow, they made sure that the pivot was reversible. In case of failure, they would simply move back to Paris.

So with a year of runway generated from their respective freelance businesses and promising personal projects, they tackled the first hurdle: significantly reduce their cost of living.

###Goodbye Paris, hello freedom Leaving the City of Lights was the first step. From a pure financial standpoint, the exodus allowed them to drastically cut their cost of living and further increased their runway to the point of being able to buy a house (much cheaper than in Paris) without a big risk, nor a 30-year loan.

But would greener pastures make them happier?

Yup. It did.

The newfound freedom and the extinction of the daily commutes provided the family with more time than ever.

However, the breath of fresh air came with a risk: would the distance reduce his freelancing opportunities?

Nope. It didn't

Quite the opposite actually. You see, with a better knowledge of their runway both Cécile and Thibaut could afford to cherry-pick their clients.

Their strategy worked out: they made more profit from less work.

###Blurring the lines Over time, it became clear that having Cécile onboard would not only add value to the business but it would also benefit the whole family. When moving to the countryside, she left her full-time job in Paris to become business partner with Thibaut (already running the business since 2005).

Yet mixing family and business can be treacherous! To avoid any potential locks, they applied a tip provided by their accountant, which is to split the shares 51/49, essentially giving everyone roughly the same revenue (split in half), yet allowing to avoid a deadlock in case of issue (which luckily didn't happen so far!).

###Hands on the wheel To further mitigate the financial risks of the freelance lifestyle, Thibaut began allowing more time for personal projects in the hopes of diversifying the revenue streams. He has been an entrepreneur since the early days of the web and has a handful of small exits under his belt.

He doubled down on two promising projects Kiba ETL and a financial forecasting product called WiseCash.

"Scratch your own itch!"

Frustrated by the lack of financial forecasting software adapted to the freelancer and small business cashflow reality, he started to build his own and came to the conclusion that he wasn't alone in the situation. WiseCash was born and an additional revenue stream was created.

###The European SaaS bootstrapper boilerplate With the freelancing & consulting aspect of the business already keeping him fairly busy, the available development time for WiseCash was scarce and had to be allocated wisely. Thibaut focused on outsourcing non-core aspects of the product, as much as possible: billing, EU VAT handling, quality hosting.

Yet just finding a reliable hosting provider that would be in compliance with Safe Harbor ended up being a somewhat tedious task. For instance Heroku wasn't Safe Harbor back then. Thibaut ultimately tried DotCloud (now Docker) then moved to Engineyard, where he has stayed since.

Similarly, managing the dreaded European Value-Added Tax (VAT) – which just went through a tricky reform in 2015 (VAT MOSS), requiring to tax customers who didn't give a valid VAT number at their country rate – would have been a hassle without Recurly.

Today happily using Recurly with Stripe as a payment gateway, Thibaut went through a year of pain before that though, using a different gateway initially – which as he discovered only provided PDF (no CSV) as reports – essentially making accounting a nightmare.

"The payment gateway did not provide proper electronic records and I ended up with hundreds of PDFs that required manual reconciliation. It was a nightmare for us and our accountants."

Luckily, he had his domains related services covered by yours truly (hehe! Fun fact: Thibaut is actually one the very first DNSimple customer).

"Test out what works for you, then stick with it"

###Takeaways Five years into their new life, Thibaut and Cécile aren't looking back.

If there's one piece of advice that sticks around is to avoid taking shots in the dark.

"We are now safer than we have ever been. We know where the ship is going."

Careful forecasts and sound cashflow became the foundation of their work-life balance. If it had the beneficial side effect of increasing their runway, it's the intial cut in their overhead that provided them the flexibility needed to achieve their goals.

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Antoine Meunier

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