How My Misfit Background Turned Me Into A Community Builder?

The image shows nomadgao founder Mayur Sontakke in Indonesia

Table of Contents


-This is a story of an introvert misfit from a small town who ended up becoming a community entrepreneur

-Being an introvert or an extrovert are states of mind. Everyone’s an extrovert among like-minded people

-Know the community you belong to and solve the problems for your community!

“Trying to fit in”

If Linkedin or Tinder existed when I was growing up in a small town, the above would have been my tagline. Not that I had a traumatic childhood. It is just that I was struggling to balance my introversion with my curiosity about the outer human world.

As a guy with a nasal voice who always had a hankie tied to wipe mucus flowing through my nose, I was an object of ridicule among my schoolmates. Being a daydreamer only made it worse. This pushed me in a corner for good. I spent a lot of time in the library, mainly reading about history, cultures, and geography. It was fascinating for a curious early teenager! While we were a strictly lower-middle-class family with limited means, the reading fuelled my dreams to travel the world. Just when the internet was still a novelty in India, I planned a train journey around entire India using Trains at a Glance book.

Everyone I showed the plan to told me how impractical the plan was and why I would be better off focusing on academics. I shrugged the advice off to explore where I belong.

The Engineering Dreams

Although my father ran a small stationery shop in my hometown, I had no interest in running it. Like every Indian kid in the early 2000s, I thought going for engineering was pretty much the only option to get out of the small town. As someone who wanted to travel but couldn’t, due to lack of finances, I thought it made sense to do aeronautical engineering. After all, the world of planes was fascinating for a kid who had never been in one!

With that goal, I took science for my board exams. As someone who studied in vernacular medium, I was again trying to fit in with people from convent schools who already knew the scientific and mathematical terms in English. I somehow chose extracurricular reading and cricket over academics. I became indifferent about academics. I failed miserably in my 12th board exams.

Salesman and the First Venture

Since I choose to reappear for the exam one year later, I had a lot of time to kill. At 18, I took up a door-to-door salesman job. It was very usual at that time to work at 18 especially when you had a life-or-death exam scheduled in a few months. I used to take a bus every morning to go to nearby villages to sell toothpaste to villagers. It was blissful! While the job itself was hard, I enjoyed it because the job me travel, be my boss, and come out of my cocoon. 

The following year, I started my first venture, somehow cleared the board exam, and didn’t make it to engineering.

2004 was an election year. I and a couple of friends thought it was a great time to earn some pocket money by customizing merchandise for political parties. We used to source t-shirts and get them screen-printed. We also did some R&D on different materials to use for merchandise printing. However, we closed the venture down in a few months as all of us had to prioritize university education.

The Early Riser

I chose computer applications for my bachelor’s. Thanks to the stuff learned during the program, I’m able to write this post in Microsoft Word :D.

The course structure was weird in a good sense. While engineering and other programs aimed at specialization, this one focused on breadth. We studied accounting, programming, economics, and design, all in a 3-year degree. That is when my love for finance and numbers came out strongly.

I didn’t try to fit in. I had just a couple of friends during the entire university years. I later did an unsuccessful venture with one of them and he is one of the early supporters of NomadGao too 😊

During the program, I decided to do a part-time job, perhaps inspired by my reading about how students fund their education in the west. I used to take a bus at 5 am and worked until 930 before heading to college. I worked at a call center, setting interview appointments for professionals in the US.

I loved the exposure that came with it. Chatting with strangers from a far-off country from my small town also helped me gain confidence. That was truly the beginning of it all!

The First Job

After the university, I had one job offer from Pune, a nearby city, and another from Hyderabad, which seemed like an exotic place. Even though the pay was less, I chose the latter just because it was far away! I wanted to explore a new place where people speak a different language and eat different food.

During that time, I also started doing freelance mystery shopping audits. I used to go to restaurants to rate them on ambiance, service, cleanliness, food, and so on and write reports on them. Those assignments made me observant and also helped me improve my articulation skills. Connecting the dots, that experience is helping me now while designing spaces and services for digital nomads and remote teams.

A Move to Extroversion

It was not until I moved to CRISIL in 2010 when I started feeling more comfortable among people. After all, I was in a program with batchmates from around India. I was meeting CXOs and leaders as a part of my work. Attending rating committees every week also helped me get better at public speaking.

However, it was not until getting a remote job and getting divorced in 2014 that I felt in a flow.

2015 – The year of change

It was early 2015. Armed with the flexibility to work from anywhere, I decided to travel through South India only because a dear friend was posted there. I met a bunch of interesting people from around the world during weeks of backpacking through Kerala and Tamilnadu. I started opening up. I started getting in the flow.

Later that year, I decided to move to Himachal Pradesh in a not-so-known place called Ghoomakad. What was supposed to be a month ended up being over a year! It was heaven for ambiverts. You could choose to be social whenever you wanted or go for long walks through the lonely mountain roads when you needed some me time. As for the people, I shared the space with entrepreneurs, visionaries, spiritual seekers, and techies. I was experiencing such diversity for the first time in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt the belonging!

My time at Ghoomakad taught me a valuable lesson. Introvert or extrovert are merely states of mind. After all, everyone is an extrovert around like-minded people! Bringing like-minded people together became my life mission and obsession, thanks to Ghoomakad!

I also started moderating the world’s largest digital nomad community on Facebook that year. That experience also helped in widening my worldview.

Beyond the Bay of Bengal

My innate curiosity and quest to explore places, food, and cultures took me to South East Asia in 2016 where I rediscovered myself. If Ghoomakad gave me the feeling of belongingness, South East Asia gave me the courage to be a community facilitator. From arranging house parties at friends’ places to volunteering as an assistant to the community manager at a coworking space, I did it all! All of this with a soul aim to bring people together.

Back then, I was one of the handful of Indians digital nomads. Wherever I went, I saw a lot of curiosity about India. However, global digital nomads, especially the female ones,  were concerned about safety, culture shock, the internet, and a host of other generalizations about India. I found my purpose! I wanted to build digital nomad communities in India to make India popular among digital nomads!

Connecting the dots

In 2017, I launched Remote Explorers to run retreats for digital nomads who wanted to visit India but weren’t sure about the community, internet, and quality of life. We had a blast!  While doing that, I also got an opportunity to advise the Goa government on attracting digital nomads. Starting NomadGao was a natural progression!

Looking back, it all makes sense. You are a misfit unless you are surrounded by a bunch of misfits! NomadGao is a community of misfits. Of people who live differently, who think differently, and who travel differently. At NomadGao, we celebrate diversity. We take pride in having hosted people from 14 different countries. Everytime we host someone from a new country, our eyes pop-out to know more about it! At heart, I am still the boy who tried to talk to every foreigner that came to my hometown just to know more about it.

NomadGao wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t grow up unable to fit in.

As an eternal dreamer, I have big plans for the community. Hope to see you being a part of it 🙂 

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