As the idea of gig work grows around the world, India too is spawning its share of digital nomads who are veering off the traditional paths of work and values. In this week’s Digital Nomads, Anirudh Narayan, one such gig worker, shares his experiences, thoughts, pro-tips and future plans with us.
Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re currently doing
I’m a growth specialist who has worked with over 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and 30 startups in the US, Latin America, Africa and Asia. My past projects have included working on growth at Shutterstock, Lean Startup Machine in NYC, Rocket Internet in Lagos, Nigeria, and as a director of operations at Krossover in Bangalore. My current gigs include running a really small consulting shop under Growth Spartan (a consulting and resources platform for startup growth) that offers bootcamps, courses and mentorship to startups. I also teach digital marketing and do workshops with SimpliLearn while providing mentorship at Numa, a french accelerator based out of Bangalore. I help entrepreneurs launch and scale their businesses. (See www.anirudhnarayan.com)
I started looking for jobs but kept thinking, “do I actually want to look for another job?” I didn’t see myself being tied down to an employer. So, I decided to come back to India given there was so much happening here as well
How did you become a digital nomad? What were you doing before and what was the tipping point / factor that made you choose this path?
I was in the US till June 2015, working for Shutterstock as a marketer. The product I was working on was shutting down and we were given six weeks to find another job. I started looking for jobs but kept thinking, “do I actually want to look for another job?” I didn’t see myself being tied down to an employer. So, I decided to come back to India given there was so much happening here as well.
Also read: Other posts from the Digital Nomad series
The plan was to spend three months South America, three in Africa, and then come back to India. So I took a one way flight to Ecuador. But once I got there, I got a gig remotely with a company in the US and then the gigs started coming in. Which led to the formation of Growth Spartan and remote work/travel aka digital nomading.
What have been your greatest lessons and insights as a digital nomad?
- Just take the jump. There is never a right time to do this. I saw digital nomads who were in their early 20s to early 40s who were doing this. Just packing your bags and not knowing what you’re going to do next can be scary. But it also makes you creative.
- Things can be unpredictable and you can feel like you’re on a rollercoaster ride, but it’s ok. Roll with it. I’ve had such amazing times, but also some tough moments like falling sick, having my phone stolen, but I got used to those sudden changes. It made me more grateful for being alive and having the opportunity to do this rather than thinking of the flipside.
- It’s important to maintain habits: Travel can really put your habits in a disarray. It’s important you find a place to work out of, a gym nearby to exercise as well as a supermarket to buy healthy food. Not working out or eating out all the time can really mess you up.
- I’d choose long-term travel over short-term any day. I mean at least a month in a certain country. Travel isn’t about some checklist. You want to make sure you learn about the culture, immerse yourself, rather than leaving before you just got there. Plus travel should be fun, relaxed.
- Everything is about balance. Long-term travel can also get tough. So, make sure you come back home to gain that energy again.
- Since you’re spending a lot of time by yourself, you learn a lot about yourself, your identity in this world and making a global impact rather than being hyperlocal. People everywhere mostly have the same set of values and are trying to make their lives better. So, it does give you a global perspective.
- You’ll think a lot about your place in the world. Your legacy. If you decide to act on it, it really helps.
- There are certain digital nomad hubs around the world. So, going there really helps gain perspective on what people are doing.
What would you advise someone who wants to get on his path? What does it take to be a digital nomad? What mindset or skills do you need?
My first advice would be to skill up. It helps to have a certain set of skills that you can use to work remotely. Making money on the road gives you options. You’ll see most digital nomads being developers, entrepreneurs, designers, marketers followed by VA’s (virtual assistants). The skills that help are technical/functional ones: Marketing, development, design, content writing, analytics.
Take the jump, but make sure you have a cushion to survive for three months at least. Trust me, you get creative being on the road.
Don’t do it for the sake of travel though. A lot of people are like “I want to travel and hence want to start nomading.” This might work for some people, but you want to enjoy the work you do on an every day basis. Start figuring out what you love doing and let that lead to a source of income that gives you the flexibility to travel. You gotta figure out if digital nomading maps your personality.
How do you deal with pressures — familial, societal, peer pressure etc, when the mainstream, accepted way is to shoot for security, money and prestigious jobs at all costs?
Today digital nomading is new and in 10 years it will be the norm. Almost close to 43% of the US workforce is going to be working remotely by 2020. But, the way I deal with it is by saying that I have to be true to myself. Like, I want to sleep well at night knowing that I am living an authentic life by my standards, not what people want of me. Also, as a person I believe in minimalism. Owning stuff and having a ton of things around you makes change harder. But that being said, it’s not like self doubt doesn’t kick in. There are times I’ve thought I am getting older and it would be nice to be in a steady relationship, which is something that can be hard with this lifestyle.
Today digital nomading is new and in 10 years it will be the norm. Almost close to 43% of the US workforce is going to be working remotely by 2020
I think the most important thing is that 20 years from now, when I look back, I am gonna think about my experiences and the things that I did, not the things that were expected of me.
Where do you see the future of work heading? How do you see the gig economy playing into this?
With technology, people are going to have distributed teams, more people are going to work remotely, they might never see their colleagues. More digital nomad hubs are being formed, more coliving, remote working platforms are going to show up where you can work and travel with a set of people who have the same lifestyle. Eg: remoteyear.com, workfromcuracao.com. But it wouldn’t overtake the existing economy of people working from an office. We all still crave human connections.
Also, since everything is moving towards the sharing economy, people wouldn’t want to own stuff anymore, which will make digital nomading easier. For example, you can rent houses via Airbnb, you can book cabs via Uber, you can rent coworking spaces. You’ll see more people naturally gravitating towards this lifestyle given living in the US, UK and most other major cities has gotten really expensive.
Where all are the countries/places you’ve worked from?
Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia
What is your current goal as a digital nomad? What are your long-term plans?
My short-term plan is to create products and services such that I am making $10,000 a month passively while handling a team that is 100% distributed while being able to work remotely. I would ideally like to be in India for six months and abroad for six months. Think of it as three months on, three months off.
The long-term plan is to help one million entrepreneurs while having the flexibility of traveling when I want a break.
Any pro tips?
– If you’re starting off, think of Southeast Asia as an option. It has a big digital nomad community and it’s affordable.
– Trying to have a serious relationship when you’re on the go can be difficult.
– Be in the moment always.
“If a man would move the world, he must first move himself.”
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Photographs:Anirudh Narayan Careernet is the sponsor of our Future of Jobs in India coverage and events. The coverage and the content of the event are editorially independent. For more on how we separate our newsroom and our business functions, read our code of conduct here.