Living the Bali dream: ‘digital nomads’ find their nirvana
‘Disparate group of geniuses’ find Bali’s huge entrepreneurial community, exotic lifestyle and hospitality enhance the appeal of tropical island
When Canadian expatriate Steve Munroe co-founded a start-up business in Bali in 2013, he conceded that the infrastructure was a bit dodgy. Four years on, slow internet speeds and limited mobile phone coverage are a thing of the past.
He says that the growing tribe of “digital nomads” can run just about any kind of enterprise with confidence from Bali – and the success of his own venture, a co-working space called Hubud in Ubud, is testament to that. Hubud was the first of about eight co-working spaces now scattered around the island, says Munroe, its CEO, who came to Bali on a sabbatical, like so many in the burgeoning start-up scene: people from all corners of the globe, from all different backgrounds, who are dissatisfied with the status quo of their old work/life and want to take a breather.
Hubud’s three co-founders met through their children’s school and decided to create a hub for “this disparate group of geniuses”. Their 4,000 sq ft venue is an ethical workspace built of bamboo and recycled wood overlooking rice fields. It has three work zones – open-air or air conditioned – a conference room, booths for Skype cons, and a raw food/organic/vegan cafe.
Hubud at present has 250 members from 30 countries, working largely in e-commerce and creative streams – although in Bali, anything goes. Events “are the lifeblood” of the space, Munroe says. “We held 430 events last year, mostly learning events.” These include a brainstorming think-tank every Wednesday, where people present their business opportunity or challenge; a Bitcoin meet-up every week – Bali being something of a hot spot for the digital currency movement; interest group meet-ups; and start-up weekends.
“We also celebrate failure stories through our F**kUp nights, combating the myth that failure is a negative thing – rather, it is one of our greatest teachers,” he says.
Many among the community are sole-operating entrepreneurs, or small businesses like Start Me Up, an education start-up which sends students all over the world to gain work experience.
“This year, we are sending 50 students from eight different countries to three different continents,” says Clare Harrison, founder, whose journey to Bali stemmed from the realisation, as a newly minted graduate from Britain’s Oxford University, that she didn’t want to be part of a corporate set “too scared to leave their generous salaries and comfortable lifestyles behind”.
Some, such as Nevena Tamis from the Netherlands, are part of a corporate team. Tamis is a country manager for the Dutch website of Skilled.co, a Britain-based start-up established in September 2016 to help companies find the reliable and high-performing web, mobile app and SEO agencies based on reviews from their previous clients. The company runs its business in the US, France, and Russia, and belongs to Potential.co, a conglomerate of successful web companies.
Its remote team enjoys Bali because of a huge entrepreneurial community, exotic lifestyle and the Balinese hospitality, Tamis says.
“Hubud attracts many interesting entrepreneurs from around the world to network with other like-minded people,” she says. “We learn a lot from different events and workshops happening at the co-working space and this contributes to our business growth.”
Living on a tropical island improves the team of eight’s quality of life, in turn increasing their motivation.
Bali is like that, Munroe agrees. “Well before we ever got here, Bali is where people have gone to for inspiration for hundreds of years. It’s a place that feels like if you dream it, you can do it,” he says. And not a suit or pair of heels in sight.