No, that’s not technically a word. Yes, I purposely used it.
Forget the hype about Chiang Mai’s “digital nomad” scene.
The city is filled with wantrepreneurs.
Look, I’m not here to bash on a certain group of people.
Furthermore, I’m not going on this small rant because I’m in any way unhappy with living in Chiang Mai.
Instead, this digital nomad thing is probably just the one aspect of living in Chiang Mai where reality has differed the most from expectations.
If, like me, you come over here thinking you’re going to meet a bunch of successful entrepreneurs doing amazing things (where you can learn from each other and add value to each other’s lives), you might be disappointed.
Let’s define this conversation.
A wantrepreneur is an idealistic person who aspires to one day become an entrepreneur but is probably going to fail to realize that dream due to any number of reasons (lack of focus, naivety, poor decision making, limited capital, insufficient passion, unwilling to make the proper sacrifices, wrong time/place, etc.).
So Chiang Mai has a bit of a reputation.
On one hand, it’s a mecca of sorts for digital nomads and novice entrepreneurs who need a really cheap place to set up shop, meet like-minded people, and gain the time and skills necessary to scale their online business(es).
One major reason I came here is to escape the rat race/grind/9-5 mentality of the US.
I wanted to come to a place where people were opting out of being a cog in the machine, instead chasing after their dreams. I wanted to be among people of a similar mindset and outlook.
Indeed, I’ve found a lot of that here. I want to be clear about that.
However, Chiang Mai is also a place where you have the blind leading the blind. It’s marketing, deception, and hype.
There’s, for example, a small base of established people who are selling expensive courses/masterminds on how to make money online to the less established masses – yet the business model and profit is actually purely in selling the courses. It’s like one giant MLM scheme going on over here.
(It may as well go like this: buy my expensive course so that I can teach you how to make courses to sell to others, because there’s no money in what my course is talking about.)
I’ve also met people who are putting out content about how to build successful businesses, even though they don’t have one. They wouldn’t know the first thing about it because they literally just started yesterday.
There’s a lot of “fake it till you make it” and self-aggrandizing going on over here, which is totally against my ethos as a writer, investor, and entrepreneur. It’s frankly against everything I stand for as a person. I prize authenticity. And the lack of authenticity among Chiang Mai’s digital nomad set is sad.
In reality, I’ve met very few talented, driven, and successful entrepreneurs (or people in general) in the time I’ve been here. And I’ve gone out of my way to meet people and open myself up, encountering hundreds of people along the way.
I’ve attended countless gatherings and social events. I’ve also had dozens of one-on-one meetups over lunch or coffee. Oh, and I’ve even posted up details about myself and my interest in meeting people on the various online groups.
Chiang Mai is a city that’s instead full of wantrepreneurs. They call themselves entrepreneurs without actually doing anything that would resemble being an entrepreneur.
It’s as if the action of quitting your job and flying to Chiang Mai automatically makes you an entrepreneur overnight.
It’s completely bewildering, but that’s what I’ve witnessed firsthand.
The very few people who have been staying in Chiang Mai for a while pretend like they’re massively successful so that they can sell newbies their products. That’s the truth of the matter. You can tell they’re full of crap after talking/listening to them for even just a few seconds if you have any common sense. Unfortunately, a lot of these naive digital nomads lack that. Common sense isn’t so common.
The worst offender of them all is a guy who sells four-figure courses on selling online. See above.
He also apparently wrote a book on fitness. Anything to make a buck.
Well, I’ve run into him in person multiple times, as one tends to do in Chiang Mai. The guy is heavily overweight, in my opinion. I strongly doubt he actually exercises at all. I can tell you that I would only write about something like fitness if I actually walk the walk. That’s true for anything I write about.
I’m not criticizing overweight people. I’m criticizing inauthentic people who throw ethics out the window and pretend to be something they’re not in order to take money from people who believe them.
This difference between the marketing and reality is Chiang Mai’s digital nomad scene in a nutshell.
Chiang Mai’s “Digital Nomads”
The majority of people I’ve met more or less sound like this:
They’re in their mid-to-late-20s; they’ve been living in the city for 1-2 months (or less); they saw some YouTube video, bought a course, or read an article on how they could move here and become rich and free quickly by making money online while also traveling the world; they’ve saved up a little bit of money from whatever job they had before they came here; they’re trying to get to their first $1,000/month online (which they’re nowhere near, because it’s honestly difficult) so that they can sustain themselves long term to a reasonable degree; their ability to properly allocate capital and manage time/tasks is limited, at best; they have 10 different businesses they’re dabbling in (blogging, vlogging, affiliate marketing, dropshipping, FBA, coding, podcasting, courses, cryptosomething, etc.) because they have no idea what they’re good at; they’re living in cheap, tiny apartments on one hand, but then they’re eating relatively expensive foreign food and partying at night on the other; they think they know everything there is to possibly know about becoming rich and successful, and they’re happy to expound on that; and they have a very naive view on what it’s actually like to work hard, focus, be patient, and become a successful entrepreneur (or person in general) over a longer period of time.
This isn’t unique to my interactions, either. I’ve talked to a few people who have lived abroad way longer than I have, and they’ve admitting to witnessing the same thing.
It’s a confounding set of contradictions. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like this before in my life.
I used to be a member of numerous Facebook groups catering to this crowd. I’ve since left because it’s been so disappointing.
However, before I left, I wasn’t the only one questioning the truth about all of this.
Here are two fantastic quotes (I’m going by memory and paraphrasing) I remember running across about the digital nomad scene:
“Digital nomads aren’t entrepreneurs, but they do like to play one on the internet.”
“Most digital nomads are precious snowflakes with big talk and no work ethic.”
Harsh. But that sums it up.
For further perspective, I’m going to relay a story to you guys. This actually happened.
I attended one of the (countless) meetups here in Chiang Mai not too long ago. It was a meetup for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. The whole event was a total waste, but there was one particular “entrepreneur” there that was particularly egregious.
This guy apparently just started building Udemy courses, teaching people how to build a six-figure online business. He was bragging about trying to maximize his revenue by building as many courses as possible, making it so that people had to buy the numerous courses in order to get the full picture.
After listening to him for a minute, I asked him what experience he had in building a six-figure online business. Surely, he must have experience if he’s teaching others.
Well, these Udemy courses were his business. The uncompleted courses were his only experience as a businessman thus far.
My jaw dropped when he told me this. If this were a one-off deal, I’d shrug it off. But it’s emblematic of what this city is all about among digital nomads.
Blind. Leading. The. Blind.
Hard To Relate
Now, this isn’t everyone I’ve met.
I’ve also met some truly awesome people who are, indeed, out there killing it with niche products and/or services. They’re making a healthy income online and living abroad full time (including lengthy periods of travel).
But it is most of the people I’ve met.
This isn’t something that dents my quality of life or anything. I guess I just came over here with different expectations based on the reputation that Chiang Mai has.
This is honestly my fault for kind of buying into the hype. But the city is almost sold as this “Silicon Valley of SE Asia”. And it’s just not that at all. I suppose we could compare San Francisco’s homeless population with the homely backpackers here. That would be about it.
In the end, I simply find myself on a different plane from most people I’ve run across, making it hard to relate. It’s not like I’m able to talk investing, FIRE, entrepreneurship, or wealth building with the average digital nomad.
What many of them are doing is commendable. They’re trying something way outside the norm. That’s awesome. But it’s hard to meaningfully connect if someone isn’t a peer.
This is true for both sides of the coin.
I’ve chatted with a few novice digital nomads about who I am and what I’m up to, and they just don’t even know what to say or think. It’s almost like speaking Greek to them. Nobody means any offense or harm by it, but they can’t relate to me at all. And it doesn’t help that I’m probably a good 10 years older than a lot of them.
Likewise, whereas it was tough to relate to people in the 9-5 in the States, it’s almost just has hard to relate to most of these digital nomads. Some think they’ve got it all figured out because they bought a domain name or whatever. I cringe when I listen to many of them.
I get it. You saw a YouTube video about Chiang Mai or digital nomadism. Congratulations. You can use the Internet.
Looking For More
All this said, I’m not bashing novice entrepreneurs, nor am I bashing digital nomads in general (although I do have some qualms with the “nomad” part of that term).
I have quite the opposite viewpoint of most of these people, at least in concept. My viewpoint naturally tends toward admiration.
I actually admire their courage. And I want people to aim high and try to make their dreams come true, which is why I was so excited to meet some of these people when I got here.
Let’s be real here. There was nothing courageous about what I did. I had no downside in coming to Chiang Mai. I already had plenty of money and established businesses. Nobody should be giving me a round of applause for making the jump.
These people actually have the looming prospect of “failure”.
Of course, that just means they end up going back to their home country and getting a job. Their new worst-case scenario is their prior best-case scenario.
Still, it’s daunting to make the leap. And I respect anyone who gives something a good go.
The only issue for me, personally, is that I have limited opportunities to meet true peers and build mutually beneficial and long-lasting friendships where we can exchange ideas, value, and experiences.
And it’s certainly difficult to meet fellow investors as a result of the lack of capital, success, and long-term wealth-building (no, I don’t mean buying 0.12 bitcoins) among the people staying here.
I’d actually love to learn from others who are more successful than me.
I’m certainly not under the impression that I have everything figured out, which is why I spend so much of my time consuming content, educating myself, and growing as a person.
I’m not the most successful guy around. I don’t have everything in life figured out. I have a lot to learn. And I’m excited to continue growing as a person.
Growth, for me, makes me happy. I embrace change.
I’ve instead been inundated with “opportunities” to teach inexperienced people everything I know – for free, no less. Yeah, let me jump right on that!
Chiang Mai Is Transient
The city thus becomes a transient place. People who run out of time and money are replaced by the new crop. It’s almost as if Chiang Mai’s burning season is symbolic of the “crops of people” that eventually burn out here.
Moreover, the few people who do actually go on to become quite successful sometimes prefer traveling anyway. Or they move to bigger, more global cities (like a Bangkok).
Many head back to wherever they came from (using CM as a temporary cheap platform to jump off from). Of course, the driven and successful lot are no doubt busy, you know, putting in the work.
But most people living here permanently or indefinitely (i.e., true expats) are much older. They’re more along the lines of a traditional retiree. This is a person in their 60s (or older), living off of fixed income.
My situation (FIRE in my 30s and living abroad in one place full time) is super unique. I’m in a weird spot in life, which is isolating in some ways. And it limits the chances to meet up with peers in a serendipitous way.
For further reference on this, most of the people I met when I first came here (more than a year ago) have gone back to wherever they originally came from (US, Australia, etc.) after failing at the digital nomad thing.
None of this is that big of a deal to me. I didn’t come to Chiang Mai expressly for the purpose of meeting driven, talented, and disciplined entrepreneurs, investors, or people.
The prospect of that was icing on the cake.
People thinking outside the box is more compelling than anything else to me, and the city fortunately has that in spades.
I came here mostly to pursue my own passions, build a fulfilling and fun life with a significant other, and otherwise wholly enjoy everything I’ve worked hard for. I have no issues whatsoever with any of that. Chiang Mai has lived up to (or actually exceeded) every other expectation across the board.
This whole wantrepreneur thing isn’t actually a huge problem for me. It doesn’t impact my day-to-day life at all.
I only wrote so much about this subject because I wanted to clearly explain my perspective and experience with it (which, of course, is admittedly shaped by my unique life situation).
And I wanted to maybe clear up a few misconceptions about Chiang Mai (misconceptions that are perhaps perpetuated by people who want to sell others a dream).
Furthermore, I want to note that the number of people (although much smaller than I initially anticipated) I’ve met over here who are doing some amazing things is light years ahead of the number of people I’ve met in the US doing similar things – and I’ve only been living here for a year and a half (versus 35 years in the States).
Almost by nature, you have people willing to take a risk and think outside the box, or they wouldn’t be here.
And I applaud that, albeit with the recommendation that you come here with a plan.
I’ve simply scaled back my expectations big time after experiencing the reality of the situation. And I’ve focused less on meeting the masses, instead devoting some my free time only toward people who are already well on their way to wherever they’re going. I basically don’t even go to events or meetups any longer.
Lastly, for anyone curious, most of the successful young people (in terms of moving abroad/traveling full time and having a sustainable location-independent lifestyle that isn’t severely constrained by budgetary issues) I’ve personally met are actually working remotely for whatever Western company they started working for before they left their homeland. They got a job, ended up working remotely for whatever reason(s), and later figured they could get more life for less money abroad.
Successful entrepreneurs running their own business(es) and working completely independently (contracting, freelancing, Amazon stuff, investing, blogging, etc.) are few and far between, at least if we’re talking people who have been or will be doing this for the long haul. This is because the failure rate among this lot is incredibly high. Factoring out the scummy people selling overpriced, worthless courses leaves you with almost nobody.
Look, Chiang Mai is wonderful. It’s still going to beat the pants off of most US cities in terms of meeting like-minded people (if you’re into the lifestyle I’m writing about). It’s just, in my experience, not at all what it’s being touted as. That’s really the bottom line. There are marketers out there hyping the city and their (supposed) success up so that you can buy their stuff.
I love living in Chiang Mai. I absolutely adore my life here. But I’d say that’s despite the digital nomad scene, not because of it.
What do you think? Was this article surprising? Have you ever met a wantrepreneur?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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