Chicago SEO Specialist Travels the World While Working 9-5

It’s not everyday when your group of friends consists of digital nomads, but for me, my closest friends have chosen to work remotely. It’s not because they don’t want to travel to work, but because they want to travel.

One of my friends, who I met by leading an accountability group for SheSays Chicago, is almost into her first year as a digital nomad.

She’s traveled to Europe and the Eastern  Seaboard and she’s about to take a Greek Mythology course in the very country. Her name is Molly Koeneman. I had the pleasure of catching up with her after I ran into her at Hostelling International, where she was staying and where I happen to volunteer.

We caught up over a basic dinner – kale and french fries at State and Lake while she was in town checking in with the company she works for in Chicago.

Molly Koeneman is an SEO specialist who travels. the world while working for a Chicago. business.

Windy City Cosmo: What inspired this change?*

Molly: I traveled to Munich and Berlin with my masters program last spring, and it was the first time I used my passport in almost 10 years. It was a wake-up call; I have always wanted to travel, and I didn’t know what I was waiting for anymore.

Windy City Cosmo: How far in advance do you plan out?

Molly: Not very far at all (insert awkard laugh). I like to think of it as planned spontaneity; I outline where I’d like to go and where I could go, but normally don’t buy the transit or decide where I’m staying until the time is near. Especially being international, I like getting local and other tourists’ perspective of what can be skipped and where to find the hidden treasures.

It’s really stressful; I don’t recommend it. And yet, I’ve been living my life like this for almost a year, so maybe I do recommend it.

Windy City Cosmo: Where do you find your deals?

Molly: I use Skyscanner and other cheap flight sites for travel, but I haven’t perfected the cheap flights yet. My best travel hack at the moment is to book a hotel or hostel directly., and are great for shopping for a place, but they normally upcharge, especially on weekends.

Windy City Cosmo: How do you keep in touch with friends and family?

Molly: I got an international phone plan through T-Mobile. It’s pricey, but it comes with unlimited media that I can use as a hotspot for work if I need it, and it comes with free text messaging. For calling, I use Google Hangout. It’s free to call US numbers and cheaper to call international numbers. My T-Mobile charges 20 cents a minute, so Google Hangout is a cheap-cheat. Other than that, I’m on Gchat for work and that’a how I banter with my coworkers and my friends during the day.

Windy City Cosmo: Are you a Nomad?

Molly: That’s the colloquial, sure. I’m a digital nomad because I live and work wherever I happen to be. The joke I use most, though, is that I’m homeless… or that I live with my parents. All of the above are true to some extent.

Windy City Cosmo: What is the hardest part of working and traveling?

Molly: Time management. When I first started working remotely, I was in Germany with a 7-hour time difference. I’d wake up and work during the day, trying to get ahead, and then feel obligated to be on the computer during Chicago office hours. So, I was basically working all day. I was home sick, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, and it was tough. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and to enjoy this opportunity. Jobs and deadlines will always be there, and there will always be another, but having a beach all to yourself for sunrise… you don’t get that very often.

Windy City Cosmo: How do you stay on Central Time when you are traveling in different time zones?

Molly: I actually have a more difficult time with Eastern-Central time difference; it’s just close enough to confuse me. Being in Europe is great, though. I basically have the entire day to do what I like and then work at night. Sure, it sucks that I have to work at night, but my boss is very understanding about my flexible work. He might even have the impression that I’m always working, which benefits me.

Windy City Cosmo: Do you network or grow your professional community while abroad?

Molly: I’ve gone to a few networking events that I found on Eventbrite, but mostly I’m meeting other tourists or locals who work in completely different industries. As you can imagine, people find my work-life very interesting. Most of professional community is cultivated online.

Windy City Cosmo: What’s your best tip for travelling while working?

Molly: Enjoy it. Enjoy where you are. Even if you don’t travel very often and even if you’re in an office from 9 to 5, make sure you are enjoying your day. You can get another job, you can make more money, but you’ll never get this day back.

Now we want to hear from you. How do you find time to work and travel? Let me know by tagging #windycitycosmo on social media.

*Editor’s note: The answers to these questions have been updated as of July 4, 2016.

Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.


On Demand Mental Healthcare App Changes The Stigma of Being Crazy

There’s always new apps – new noise.

But in Chicago’s Matter at Merchandise Mart, which attracts the likes of the AMA and other healthcare companies in the city, there’s something more than affordable healthcare in our future – there’s on demand healthcare.

On Demand Doctors:

And what does it look like to have a provider on demand?

You don’t have to have a steady relationship with a previous provider. No one is going to create or —eek— dig up your file.

You can be as anonymous as Mrs. X or Mr. Y- and get one of the most underserved healthcare treatments on an app, no less. And that app is Emotilink.

Chicago Startup Story:

In a small coffee shop where I read “bloom where you are planted,” I met a woman from a Chicago event – Bloggers Meet Startups.

This woman, Vanessa Cutler, co-founder of Emotilink, is an overachiever. At the age of 31 she’s lived on South Beach, performed surgery in the Dominican Republic, has her MFA in fiction writing as a Michener Fellow, and a second masters in Public Health. As she finishes her MD this month, she sits and tells me how this all began – how she finished up med school and  is on the verge of launching her first app at the same time.

This past October, Cutler met with lifelong friend Christopher Capshaw, an experienced healthcare professional, and they decided to change the way we do healthcare—mental healthcare.


Emotilink founders

Emotilink founders at Matter in Merchandise Mart. 


Mental Health Stigmas:

There’s three main reasons why people don’t seek out treatment:

  1. No available providers within reasonable driving  range
  2. The stigma
  3. No time

In an unpredictable world, we don’t need a couch or an hour to talk about our problems.

“A lot of people don’t like waiting in a waiting room,” Cutler said.

And we don’t need evidence to prove that we were crazy at one point or another. The app doesn’t keep a file on your session.

“We are the most libertarian of healthcare platforms – we just do a third party background check on providers,” Cutler said. “The platform is designed to connect providers with users on their own terms.”

But as the user, you fill out a profile and there is a record of who you saw last and appointment reminders for your next session, but there’s no medical record kept on the platform. It’s just for you.

With as little as an impulsive 15 minutes, you can talk things out.

“We want to scale so that it eventually becomes on demand. What if you had a bad day had a breakup or lost your job? – you can talk to someone,” Cutler said.

Because that’s what we need – someone to vent to, to talk through life with and to know that this too shall pass.

The app goes beyond individual care and actually encompasses all provider types – including marriage counseling or family therapy.  You can have more than one person link into the session and now having a spread out family doesn’t mean you can’t mend old ties.

It’s only been two weeks ago that Emotilink moved into the Matter incubator, and Capshaw and Cutler have already wire framed their idea using Pidoko and will start building their prototype this month.

Emotilink will be beta tested in Chicago, New York City, and Dallas this summer.

When I asked Cutler how her relationship with her friend has changed since they became business partners, she said, “We talk a lot more than we used to. We talk like 10 times a day. When you are in business with someone, it’s like a marriage!”

Amanda Elliott is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.


Facebook is a Lame Dinner Party: Where Are The Cool Kids?

I can’t think of a worst way to spend the past weekend than deleting pictures on Facebook from 2008.

But that’s what Justin Romano, co-founder of Backspace, a new social app, did when he was job hunting as a recent graduate.

“[From] 8:00 am to 8:00 pm [I was] deleting content on a Friday,” Romano said, “Nothing is relevant. It doesn’t reflect who I am today.”

After going through the process, there was that one question lingering in his mind,

“Why isn’t there a full social network where content completely deletes by default?”

I, too feel inundated with content.

It’s so easy to take a photo. To write a note. To send a text. To create content.

In the one month I have had my iPhone (more on that later), I generated over 2,000 photos.

Two Thousand!

Granted I went to Paris Fashion Week, and I am a lifestyle blogger. But after sifting through all of those photos, I realized I don’t want to remember who I danced with on Friday night or  how long it took me to make brunch plans.

It’s not relevant.

And that’s what a new messaging app, Backspace, is aiming to do—keep content relevant.

Disappearing Content: The Power of

The tagline for Backspace is “experience social freedom.”

The concept of the social app is relevancy. And, it’s a concept that a lot of social media networks are aware of. Twitter has the “top” and “live” tabs for hashtag searches, and Instagram is about to join the game, by rearranging profile content from reverse chronological order to a new metric “based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post,” reports TechCrunch. 

User Discovery:

When you join the iPhone social app, you create a profile and discover the top 10 influencers on Backspace. So, you immediately see what and who is trending.

Content Disappears Based on Popularity:

With each content you post—a photo, a video, or a quote—your content is on a clock and will automatically disappear in 24 hours.

But, there’s a catch. You can add time to your content based on the number of “likes” you receive.

The longer your content lasts, the more influence you receive. While your content disappears, your influence builds.

The longest your messages will last is a weekend.

So, you could enjoy spring break while you are on spring break, but you wouldn’t have to do damage control later by deleting your messages later.

“In 2014, 51 percent of employers have not hired someone based on content online,” said Romano, quoting a  CareerBuilder survey, “It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is.”


Meet the Co-Founders:

I felt like I met Mark Zuckerberg when I met these guys, co-founders Justin Romano and Matthew Harris.

They were passionate, they were laid back, but most importantly there were on to something.

They were cute in that they look out for each other. I scheduled a meeting with Romano after meeting him at Bloggers Meet Startups. When our meeting began, the coffee shop, Fabcakes, closed. So, we moved location to his office, the shared workspace, Industrious Chicago (320 W Ohio St #3w) , where I could see a true Chicago startup working.

Everyday, these guys are testing their messaging app, Backspace, to improve it. When I walked into their office, Harris was on his iPhone with the developer, who is working remotely from Austin, TX, fixing a bug.



He smiled, and joined our conversation. I could see the passion and dedication, but also how effortlessly they made the startup business look.

“Statistically we are going to fail,” Romano looked at me, “Everyone wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.”

The Story Behind the App: Remember AIM?

There are essentially four people building an app to change the way we create and consume content. It’s not that the Backspace team invented the wheel, they are just perfecting it.

The iPhone messaging app’s competitor is Snapchat, the mother of disappearing content, and of course Instagram and other social media apps – because where the people are is where tech goes.

Think about it, if you can’t share content with the people who you want to receive the message, then why would you share the content?

“Backspace will fill a void,” Romano said,

“AIM was the sh** but you couldn’t find anyone new. You had to type in a username exactly.”

This is similar to how Snapchat works, you have to use other social networks and social media apps to tell people who you are on Snapchat. There’s no search function within the messaging app unless you have their phone number. Most people change their profile picture to the Snapchat image. But, it’s more complicated than that, because even if they are on Snapchat, you have to type in the name exactly for it to appear.

Unless you’re Kylie Jenner, where you can just type it “kylizzle” and the rest of her name will autofill to the full “kylizzlemynizzl”, you have to remember every “z” to find the person you want to follow.

P.S. if you are looking for friends on Snapchat, these are my faves.

“Snapchat is the AIM,” said co-founder Harris, “The next step is you need disappearing content, but you need to find people.”

And that’s what the co-founders of Backspace are working on—the next step.

The Data Research to Make a Messaging App

Backspace began like most startups do, with a problem that they wanted to solve.

That problem is that things you post on the internet will last forever.

In April 2014, Romano and Harris started surveying people and a year later, in April 2015, they built the social app, Backspace.

For research, Romano looked to research firms, CareerBuilder, and universities.

Facebook is a Lame Dinner Party:

They surveyed people from ages 13-35, starting with people they knew and then attending career days and scheduling high school visits.

“They have a Facebook, but they don’t use it,” Romano recalls a recent survey at a business class at a Chicago University, “They compare it to a lame dinner party. You go there to see your family. Twitter is a noisy bar. Instagram is an over glorified part of your life.”


While Romano calls these social media platforms “household names,” he says that he waits to hear feedback about Snapchat because it is different and the majority of the people in their target market are on it.


Surprisingly, when the Backspace co-founders asked a class at Illinois State University in Bloomington, only 25 percent liked Snapchat.

Among the most negative aspects for Snapchat was the discovery and interaction aspect. You can have influence, but it’s like a secret society, unless you are invited, you don’t have access to someone’s Snapchat.

Currently, Backspace messaging app is in beta and available for download on iOS only.

The messaging app for iPhone has over a thousand users.

feature image photo credit: Blonde & Blonder via photopin (license)