Welcome to the latest edition of How She Does It, where I interview my real life friends who work remotely. Each female has a different story of how she got her job, how she lives her remote lifestyle, and what advice she wants to give other girls. For How She Does It #9, I interviewed the business savvy, international, female entrepreneur, Maria Sirotkina.
Quick story about how Maria and I met. During the Digital Nomad Girls retreat in Las Palmas, we coworked and colived in Restation. Maria is the founder of Restation and and runs the incredible coworking space, community, and events. I was immediately impressed by Maria’s attention to detail when we arrived and how she helped her residents with care. Over many chats, I became a fan of Maria as a business woman, mother, and friend. We’ve kept in touch virtually since then and I’m so excited to dive into everything that she’s been up to lately, in business and in life.
Tell us a little bit about what you are doing at the moment!
At the moment I’m developing the 2018 routes and strategy for Nomad Train that went exceptionally well and packaging Restation’s new retreat packages for the B2B market in Europe. At the same time assuring the coliving space is healthy and our capacity is utilized close to 100%. I’m also video blogging (in Russian!) together with my business partners from Moscow.
Let’s dive in to your most recent adventure: Nomad Train. What was your role in Nomad Train? How did it go?
The best part about it is that it’s still happening! Nomad Train is leaving Russia tomorrow morning to cross Mongolian border. We’re over 30 nomads in this team, and it’s going amazing.
I’m a co-founder together with my two partners whom I met here in Gran Canaria. We pulled this trip together and managed it remotely from 3 countries. My role is mainly overlooking logistics, marketing and finances while the train is en route (I’m the one connected 24/7) while my colleagues are nomading. In the preparation phase, I was mostly in charge of partnerships and logistics because of my background from the travel industry.
Awesome! What was the most challenging part of launching a completely new project like Nomad Train?
In this case the most challenging part was going through the uncertainty of the first edition. We were lucky in many senses, and primarily because people trusted us without first seing the proof of it happening. But in reality we didn’t know in advance if we’d be able to have a group of 5, 10 or 20 and if we’d break even. So we had to keep pushing and stay committed. Planning very well in advance helped though! I’m sure it’s a challenge of many projects: it takes time until you get some results and you need to stay motivated all the way.
How do you think Nomad Train fits into the Digital Nomad culture and trendy retreats?
I think Nomad Train is a response to DN need to travel and explore new places while staying connected. We’re taking one important piece off many people’s’ bucket lists: Trans Siberian all the way from Moscow to Mongolia.
And we designed the trip for ourselves, so there are frequent 2-3 day stops to catch up with work online after being disconnected for 24 hours. We don’t load people with content, we travel in the company of like-minded people, and that’s already a lot of value. Nomad Train couldn’t exist in its’ current shape 10 years ago, but now there’s plenty of demand for new DN destinations, so we’re definitely on the exotic side. As more and more people get tired of Chiang Mai and Lisbon, we’ll take them somewhere exciting!
You know a thing or two about trendy DN culture, as you run a coworking space in Las Palmas. How did you first get into running businesses that cater to the digital nomad audience?
I first launched a coliving space in Las Palmas, and that was the start of the journey with nomads. I’ve been remote myself for almost a decade, but running a nomad-oriented business is a totally different experience than being a nomad. It’s a micro-niche. To be honest, within 1-2 years of this journey the most surprising thing I’ve learned is that many general trends from other industries apply to DNs too. For example, seasonality in travel. The same way old norwegian couples travel in winter, DNs escape the cold EU for winter months and don’t mind spending summers in european capitals.
How do you decide to dive into new business ideas? Did you always have this entrepreneurial spirit or did you have to learn to have a badass business mindset?
With business ideas, for me, it’s looking at opportunities. My major problem is not finding one, it’s discarding the rest (and staying with one or at least a few). As an entrepreneur you need to have a junk filter, knowing what isn’t worth your attention. I think you can learn badass business behaviour, but it takes practice. Start somewhere, hit the wall – and here you go, your next attempt will be so much better.
Since you’ve been on many business endeavors in your career, what is your advice when dealing with failure? Do you have an example of a time you have failed?
Sometimes failure is just about not making it up to the level of your expectations, like when you think that the project will skyrocket, but unfortunately it turns out to become such a burden. In this case my advice is – get rid of it ASAP. If failure is not making it fast enough, maybe it’s not a failure yet and your project deserves a pivot and a little more push. Persistence is important and discarding it straight away means either starting from zero again or employment (which is not a better choice for me). Always try to look for qualified advice, for partnerships that might help you leverage your resources (i.e.- who can benefit from your success apart from yourself?) and try harder.
I’m closing one of my businesses now and it’s really not the only example. This one is a total failure because the partnership itself failed and we stopped trusting each other. And each one of us moved on with our endeavours, so it’s best for everyone to get rid of the company. I could have done it 3 years ago now, but waited for too long (don’t do that).
I’d like to talk about your family! How do you balance your business and your family so well?
Well, balancing well is a very challenging thing and I’m not sure if I’m there yet. Every business mum will understand me – I’m sure the feeling of guilt is a common thing in between all of us and is not only my thing.
“Having it all” is a big legend and it’s truly impossible, because you’ll break your back trying. So don’t ever trust the images on social media of gorgeous slim mums baking cakes while being surrounded by their 3 happy kids and awesome career. I couldn’t have my lifestyle without my husband, who is also remote by the way – so he has more flexibility than most other dads. And having great support at home is super important. I know I can rely on him in all senses, morally and if needed, financially, and that empowered me to start a couple of new projects in the middle of my second pregnancy. I know that I have risks in business (always!), but also I know that I should keep investing in my future even when I’m a mum, because motherhood is not my career of choice. So, I respect all choices of other women, really, and now a lot more that when I didn’t have kids myself.
Because you have a (growing) family, you guys have obviously figured out a way to make remote work sustainable for many years. What do you think the key is for continuing this lifestyle and not finding yourself back in the office environment?
1. Stable income (a job or a reliable business). Freelancing is great, starting is great, but you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of gigs with loads of stress on how to pay bills.
2. Relatively low expenses and a strong savings culture within your family. When you travel more, unexpected things happen a lot more frequently. So you can’t live from paycheck to paycheck, it’s just not sustainable.
3. Keep growing professionally and exploring new opportunities. In the remote world, talent is versatile and you can be replaced a lot sooner that in traditional employment. You’ve got to stay humble and you’ve got to work on yourself so that you’re demanded.
4. Stay connected with the real world. Living in a remote village is great, but make sure you get out to the Big World at least once a year. Attend a big conference, a proper networking event – and going out to the bar with fellow nomads doesn’t count.
FUN FACT: Maria is expecting baby #2 in November! Congratulations Maria!
Want to read more inspiring stories just like this one? Check out the previous editions of How She Does It here.
Follow Maria on social media!