Every fantasized about working from home? How about working from the other side of the planet? Traveling the world while making money is the fantasy of so many people these days — especially among millennials, who have discovered that the secret to happiness means having experiences rather than acquiring things and are more interested in flexible work arrangements than big salaries.
Enter travel and remote work programs. There’s been a massive spike in programs that allow a group of digital nomads to travel the world together, all the while working remotely. One of the more successful examples is Terminal 3, a company founded by a woman with many years of experience traveling the world herself: 31-year-old lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Mevish Aslam. Terminal 3 gathers a group of entrepreneurs and freelancers, who explore a different city each month. The company handles all the details, from accommodations to WiFi and office space. “At Terminal 3, we believe traveling is the best investment in your growth,” says Aslam.
Aslam is also cofounder of Sprinters, a series of three-day hackathons and meet-ups designed to support women in startups around the globe. “We’re engaging women into entrepreneurship and building startup sisterhoods in four continents,” Aslam says.
Here, Aslam tells how she came up with the ideas for these startups — and what makes this kind of travel so appealing.
What’s your career history?
While studying law, I held down two full-time jobs working 80+ hours a week. Redundancy and a burnout prompted a spontaneous decision to drop out of the bar course and book a one-way flight to Cairo. Why Cairo? My personal goal was to study Arabic, and my professional goal was a legal career in the Middle East. Within my first month in Egypt, I landed a role practicing law, working remotely across the MENA region. This marked the beginning of my remote work life. I became a remote worker by chance. After a few years in law, I switched careers to work in startups. This eventually led to the launch of Terminal 3 and Sprinters, two startups that epitomize my passion to make a difference. Both businesses were launched in 2015, following an epic travel and remote working experience that I had in Brazil.
How did you get the idea to start Terminal 3?
As a digital nomad and solo traveler for the last eight years, I have lived across five continents and traveled to over 30 countries. In 2015, I opted to travel and work remotely with a wider community on an EU Commission-funded program in Brazil led by EU Brazil Connect. The program connected 60 European entrepreneurs with top entrepreneurs and business incubators in Brazil. Within the first couple of weeks of arriving in Brazil, our group naturally curated an incredible community of like-minded individuals that soon became a family. I found myself organizing get togethers for dinners, networking events, cultural programs, weekend trips to Rio de Janeiro and more. Both the ongoing traveling and community building led to the organic birth of Terminal 3 at our program reunion in Brussels a few months later.
How does Terminal 3 work?
Terminal 3 creates experiences for personal and professional development across the world. Our programs are designed by remote workers for remote workers and last for six months; however, we also offer the flexibility of joining on a month-by-month basis. Participants experience a new city every month, fast forward productivity, immerse into cultures and live as a local and not a tourist. We make this happen by employing local country managers in each city. Their role is two-fold: Firstly, they ensure our accommodation and co-working space has working bullet-proof WiFi, and secondly, they curate authentic local experiences for the group. As well as a monthly group excursion, we give back to the local community, something we are extremely passionate about. In Morocco, we mentored social entrepreneurs. In Berlin, we volunteered at a Syrian refugee camp. Lastly, everyone joining Terminal 3 has either a personal, professional or life goal. This can be anything; from developing a morning routine or workout plan to launching a business. Usually, traveling can leave a person’s goals in the backseat, but not at Terminal 3. A month before the program start date, a one-on-one session is scheduled with a coach to develop an action plan to reach your goal. From there, the coach will arrange a monthly coaching session with each individual for the duration of the program. Terminal 3 is the only program that invests in opportunities like this for your development.
What kind of people do Terminal 3?
Approximately 70% of applications come from millennials and 30% from generation X. While we do not have a qualification criteria, per se, we look for the following: individuals who want growth, want to travel to make a difference, have a stable job/project to fund the program and have an open mind to travel the world and challenge their comfort zone. Terminal 3 is not for everyone.
Where has Terminal 3 been so far? Where are you headed next?
Terminal 3’s last cohort — The Alchemists — began July 2015 in Rabat, Morocco. Since then, we have traveled and worked remotely in Berlin, Budapest, Seoul, Chiang Mai and Bali. The next cohort — Rumi — begins May 2017, starting in Thailand. We then head to Malaysia, Japan, Spain, Croatia and Czech Republic.
What about Sprinters? How did you come up with that idea?
As a woman in tech, I see the second-class treatment some women face. During my active involvement in startup hackathons across South America and Africa, one common theme became apparent. As hackathons were dominated by men, some female participants would limit their participation due to a lack of confidence for fear of being dismissed, among a number of other reasons. Growing recognition of this problem was reinforced whilst mentoring at hackathons in Chile and Brazil. At that point, the need for a program like Sprinters became more apparent than ever before. One afternoon on an adventurous bus ride to Paraty, I pitched the idea of Sprinters to Saskia Naujok, an entrepreneur from Berlin and cofounder of Oh My Bra. Saskia loved the idea and immediately came on board. She also felt strongly about giving back and supporting women into entrepreneurship.
How does Sprinters work?
Sprinters is a three-day workshop where an idea is developed into a business case. A week before each hackathon, participants develop an understanding of what to expect by completing an online bootcamp to hit the ground running. Since coming together, Saskia and I have been organizing hackathons and meet-ups remotely. To date, the results have been phenomenal. Our first hackathon was organized within a month in Dublin to coincide with the Web Summit in 2015. We had 23 participants from 11 nationalities, including refugees, students, some people who were unemployed, others who were employed at Fortune 500 companies and even a mother, newborn baby and husband on hand for support.
What’s it like to live full-time with a bunch of other people?
Coming from a large family, I am used to being around more than a dozen people at any given time. At Terminal 3, we see each other as a family. For instance, if one of us is “home” late, we’re quick to send a message to check up on each other. That being said, we do not always live together. Last November in Thailand, we had our own single bedroom apartments. October in Seoul, we shared an apartment. For December in Bali, we lived together under one roof in a villa. The community-driven agenda brings the group together, although it’s not mandatory. Everyone has the option to take time to disconnect and do their own thing, too.
Are there downsides to working remotely?
The lack of human interaction can easily derail productivity. Loneliness is a huge obstacle we also face as remote workers, toppled with finding a work-life balance. Working from home has its benefits, but when personal space is hijacked by work space as a remote worker, this is when we realize it’s impossible to escape work. It is important to draw a line of separation between work life and personal life. Terminal 3 solves both problems. Being surrounded by a truly awesome group of remote workers means you are rarely lonely. There is always someone up for grabbing a late-night meal or early-morning yoga class or to join you on a spontaneous weekend away. We also have a clear distinction between personal space and co-work space.
What’s the best thing about working and living remotely?
The life lessons you learn along the way, which in turn facilitate your growth on a personal and professional level. Ordering food using sign language, getting the wrong bus to the other side of town, getting lost and being invited to have dinner with locals — it is through such challenges that our growth lies. This is priceless. An investment in material things cannot buy this. The best investment in life is in yourself.
Do you have a home base?
Birmingham, England — my home city — has deliberately become my home base in Europe. As a nomad, you grow to value close family and friends so much more. Always being on the road makes it tough to maintain contact.
How much are you making now? Are you making more or less?
Prior to Terminal 3 and Sprinters, my annual salary was in excess of $100,000. Currently my annual salary is under $10,000. The biggest difference for me is not the huge gap in my earnings, but actually being in content of absolutely loving what I do every single day. It’s a remarkable opportunity to work in an area where you are passionate about making a difference. As you grow up, you realize that living a meaningful life is all about giving back in one way or another.
Do you ever feel like you get time off? Or are you always working?
Establishing a routine keeps me grounded in working toward a work-life balance. Being a workaholic, this is not always easy, but now I track and measure my performance by scheduling three daily tasks and review on a regular basis.
What’s your top piece of advice for other people who want to start their own company?
Do not sit on an idea and live in regret. Launching a startup is hard work, but with passion and persistence anything is possible. If you go into it, be prepared to give it your all — or nothing at all. Test the market, continually optimize for best results and, most importantly, be original.
Top piece of advice for someone who wants to live and work remotely?
Ease your way into remote work. Test the water by joining a program for a month to see whether it is for you. This helps in mitigating your risk and long term commitment. There is a common misconception of remote working being all fun and games on a beachfront. This is not the case. Remote workers work harder than anyone else I know.
What’s the top thing you need to consider when living remotely with a group like Terminal 3?
Coming into a community and traveling across the world with an open mind. Everyone is unique in their own way. An open mind paves the way for unforgettable friendships and experiences.
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