Olumide Gbenro has never called one place “home” for long.
The 33-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Nigeria until he turned six, when his minister parents decided to move to London. Then, seven years later, the Gbenros were granted visas to immigrate to the United States through the country’s green card lottery — so Olumide, his parents and two siblings relocated to Columbus, Ohio.
“Being a person of color, I felt that there were certain times in my life where I just didn’t feel valued as a human being,” Gbenro tells CNBC Make It of growing up Black in the Midwest. “I always felt left out.”
Gbenro wanted a creative life: one that was filled with travel, art and opportunities to meet people from all corners of the world. But his parents wanted him to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
In 2016, he finished his double master’s degree in epidemiology and behavioral science at San Diego State University. He found himself caught between two paths: go to medical school and become a doctor or travel the world.
“All of my life, I just followed the rules, whether it was from my parents, religion or society,” he says. “But deep down I knew that if I took the position in the PhD program, I could never go back, I could never travel abroad … I’d be stuck to a lab, so I decided to say ‘no.'”
Gbenro packed up all of his belongings and left the United States to see the world – but it would take him years to land in Bali, his forever home.
Becoming a digital nomad
Gbenro’s first stop was Berlin, where he had friends from graduate school. He spent three months there on a tourist visa bouncing between friends’ couches and hostels.
When Gbenro left the United States, he had “almost zero savings and no plan.” He quickly grew his Instagram following posting travel tips, dance videos and other content. Gbenro decided to monetize his hobby: He would message other creators and businesses on Instagram and offered to help them improve their social media strategy for a fee (often $250).
Starting a remote business was “really tough in the beginning,” Gbenro recalls, but soon he had a full roster of clients and enough income to make social media his full-time job. He took an online course in social media marketing that helped him structure his business, and an old friend in San Diego referred him to his first two clients.
Once his visa expired, he traveled to Mexico for four months, then went back to San Diego. “But I realized I wasn’t happy living …….