How remote work helped this CFA Charterholder travel through Asia and start a venture in Goa?
- I’m Mayur Sontakke, a CFA Charterholder, finance professional and an entrepreneur.
- In 2014, I quit my (well paying) job to join a startup at a pay cut that gave me the freedom to work remotely!
- Remote working changed everything for me...I got opportunities to explore the world, live well, think differently, pursue CFA, meet my life partner, and be an entrepreneur.
- In 2018, I became an entrepreneur advising companies on remote work and strategy, helping them transition to remote work!
- Here is my story about following the instincts, choosing to travel while working full time, living in the countryside and starting ventures to help people do so.
From a small-town boy to a rewarding career in finance
I am a small-town boy who grew up in Kolhapur (India) and later studied computer applications for my bachelor’s.
Growing up I loved reading and playing with numbers, and always knew someday I’ll end up working in financial services!
After working in the IT sector and trying out a couple of failed start-up ideas (that’s another story), I joined CRISIL’s analyst program in 2010 and was a part of their large corporate team until the end of 2013!
It was a great experience handling the entire credit rating process for big names and working with people I could look up to...it definitely shaped my career in a positive way and I am thankful to CRISIL for those amazing 3 years!
The mistake of changing jobs just for a higher salary
In today’s world of instant gratification, it’s easy to get swayed by the prospects of being richer, quicker...and the same happened to me!
While still with CRISIL, I got a job in another city (Bangalore) with a much higher salary...I was in my late 20's and got swayed by the thought of having more money and the experience of a different city!
So I quit my job and moved to this new company!
However here the work was mundane, the ‘analytical rigor’ that I was used to at CRISIL was missing...here the focus was on 'making clients happy and not on doing the right thing'!
In hindsight, I feel it was a mistake to switch for money at the early stage of my career in finance!
Extra Tip: Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I would recommend those reading this to prioritize learning over earning while building the career foundations.
Quitting my job & working for a startup 'remotely'
One day, a recruiter called me to tell me about a remote work opportunity with a start-up!
I was totally sold on the idea...although I was expected to take a pay cut!
I did my math and realized that I would be saving more even on a pay cut.
Since the remote job offered me the flexibility to move back to my home town (Kolhapur) thus helping me save on rent, commute, and unnecessary spending that comes with a life in a metro!
I quit my corporate job, gave up on my annual bonus (the startup I worked for needed me to join on short notice) and started my remote work in 2014 (yes, much before coronavirus hit the world!)
My transformation to a remote worker wasn’t easy!
Since the symbol of success comes when you work in a fancy office, a lot of people questioned me.
When I moved back to my hometown, a lot of my relatives even wondered if I had a job!
Some even felt that this startup who let me work remotely was some kind of a Ponzi scheme. However, my parents were supportive, they managed the relatives and let me focus on my work!
On the work front - I was the first manager at the startup and it was my first time building teams. To make it more challenging, all of my teammates were also working remotely for the first time!
Luckily, I developed simple processes and personal rapport with my team members to deal with the challenge, later my team went on to be an all-star team, driving exponential growth for the company.
And since then there has been no turning back!
I used the flexibility of remote work to travel, study and explore the world
In 2015 (a few months into my new job of working remotely) after going through a divorce, I decided to use my flexibility to travel while working remotely!
At first, it was difficult especially putting a routine to my day was tough. Travelling too much overwhelmed me!
Eventually, I put a system to it...I started travelling slow, making local connections, and feeling at home.
I lived near Dharamshala in the village of shepherds, sang their songs, and ate their food. Every morning, I woke up to the sight of the majestic Himalayas and the sounds of birds and mountain streams.
The best part - I met a lot of interesting people doing great things and made a lot of friends on the way thus helping me get over the feeling of loneliness.
After travelling and living within India, I decided to cross the boundaries. I lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia for a few months. I then moved to Vietnam, where I met my partner, Joy!
Around the same time, I enrolled for CFA and cleared my CFA Level 3 in 2018!
Thus the flexibility of a 100% remote job helped me in turning my passion for travelling into my reality...all I needed was stable internet!
Helping others to transition to remote work through my startups
Most people I met 'on the go' told me that 'I was the first Indian they had met who was travelling while working remotely!'
Many of them also told me that they wanted to visit India but were concerned about the internet, safety, and quality of life!
That got me thinking and prompted me to start Remote Explorers - running retreats for people travelling while working remotely!
I also designed custom retreats for remote teams and startups and from social media marketing to event management, I did everything at Remote Explorers while handling my remote job!
Noticing this, 'the Government of Goa' invited me to advise them on making Goa popular among digital nomads.
I quit my remote job to work on the Goa Government project. Unfortunately, the project didn’t work out...however, I gathered a lot of intel on Goa in the process!
Naturally, I decided to start a coworking & coliving place in beautiful Goa to host digital nomads and to have a place of my own to run training programs for companies looking to go remote!
And that's how NomadGao was born!
Questions I get asked most often.
"My two cents after working remotely for more than 5 years."
As for learning, it has been immense. While work is work, companies need some cultural adjustments while transforming to remote work. Some tips:
- First, openness takes a front seat in remote-first companies, something not many financial services companies are known for.
- Second, communicating with your team while being away may pose its own challenges.
- Third, driving team-engagement while working remotely is hard. Unless companies build an informal work culture and treat the team like a community, they are not going to be the preferred employers in the new normal.
- Remote work also needs a different approach to performance measurement. Since your team members work remotely, you would want to have them set their own targets and be accountable for them. I would advise switching to OKRs to drive results.
Employees also need to make certain adjustments while moving from an office-based job to a remote one:
- They need to learn to manage themselves when nobody is watching
- They need to learn to maintain the balance
- They need to be more communicative and straightforward than the usual office setting
"Challenges of working remotely?"
Remote work is not all rosy...there are moments when you feel lonely!
You miss networking opportunities unless you are active on social media.
Managing work-life balance while working remotely is a project in itself. Over the years, I have learnt to put a routine to my day.
Firstly to keep the balance, I don’t work from home! I choose cafes and coworking spaces wherever I go (now I have my own!). I also stay active in online communities.
Linkedin is key to networking remotely.
"Evolution of remote work movement over the years."
Remote work has definitely evolved over the last couple of years but most non-tech companies are not ready for it.
I haven’t seen any financial services companies except the Big 4s that give people an option to work remotely...and it’s understandable as we have a lot of compliance procedures and data security issues in our industry!
The current COVID19 crisis has forced companies to adapt to remote work making it the 'new normal'. However, a lot of companies don’t have proper systems and tools in place to make remote work productive!
But all I can say is, the advantages of remote work for companies as well as employees are endless.
I’m happy to be playing my part in helping companies to make it happen!
My life has changed for the best since 2014 and I could not have asked for something better!
My career in finance and the preparation of CFA charter equipped me to analyse and assess my options objectively and pivot if needed!
I pivoted to follow my passion.
Let your qualifications enhance your life not force you to be subjected to uniformness.
All I have to say is - Be you and follow your gut.
Mayur Sontakke is a CFA Charterholder who helps companies intending to go remote by providing consulting, auditing companies on their remotability, formulating remote work strategy, redefining their culture and values, drafting policies and processes, setting up tools and managing them, developing OKRA system, driving team engagement, and training managers/employees on staying productive and happy.
He also runs a venture called Remote Explorers through which he runs retreats for remote workers and teams.
If you are already working remotely, you are welcome at NomadGao in Goa! Our sweet little coworking/coliving space is not too far from the beach ;). They have built an awesome community of global digital nomads to hang out with. Follow their Facebook page to stay updated.
(Image edited by Ankit Lodhi)