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Work-life haven: why entrepreneurs and digital nomads are settling in Bali

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“I’ve never been as productive as I have been living in Bali. There’s an opportunity here to access yoga, healthy food and fresh air that’s more difficult to come by in a city. It’s a place people come to get perspective on their lives… a unique opportunity to get perspective and focus.”

Bali, with its tropical climate, laid-back lifestyle, beaches, jungles and cheap beer, has long been a holiday-maker’s paradise. The ‘Island of the Gods’, a province of Indonesia, is a popular playground and place of reflection for Australian, Asian and, since Julia Roberts had a mid-life crisis on its shores in Eat Pray Love, American travelers. In recent years, the very reasons for the island’s booming tourist trade have also made it an attractive place to do business from. Bright, driven folk striking out on their own have realized they can live and work in paradise, rather than just holiday in it. So what business realizations are travelers having on their wanderings around the island?

  1. Eat, drink and generally live like a king = cost of living (and of doing business) is low relative to developed economies, and time can be bought back by outsourcing the chores of life.

  2. Relax and reflect in paradise = escape the daily grind of big cities and stresses of everyday life, and gain new perspective on your work.

  3. Soak up the island’s renowned nutrition, wellbeing, art and culture pursuits = immerse your work mind in a creative, inspiring and energetic atmosphere.

Peter Wall, co-founder of the island’s first major co-working space, Hubud, speaks of the hinterland town of Ubud as the island’s creative hub, and the perfect place to escape the rat race:

“Bali has always been recognized as an incredible creative hub. You can come here and experiment, do things a bit differently, step back from the business and work harder or smarter. The day-to-day grind in a big city can wear you down. Living here no-one doesn’t want to come to work. No-one is doing things they don’t want to do. There’s a really nice energy in our space; there’s something about getting out of your normal cubicle and working in a space that feels different.

“My commute to work is two-and-a-half minutes through a monkey forest. I’ve never been as productive as I have been living in Bali. There’s an opportunity here to access yoga, healthy food and fresh air that’s more difficult to come by in a city. It’s a place people come to get perspective on their lives… a unique opportunity to get perspective and focus.”

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With over 200 members, and around 50-60 daily coworkers, Hubud is one factor in the growth of Bali’s creative and startup business community. Wall and co-founder Steve Munroe use the space to help build a stronger community of entrepreneurs, hosting 25 events in November, encouraging ‘exchangeable learning’ and sponsoring hackathons and Indonesia’s social innovation award. The pair are also developing a ‘soft landing solution’ for new arrivals which will include airport pickup, phone number and phone, accommodation, cleaning, laundry, food, desk space and other support for a monthly rate. Understanding and transparency of costs is a sticking point for many, according to Munroe.

A similar set-up can be found at co-working and co-living startup accelerator, Startup Getaway, located near Denpasar and offering offers one, three or six-month stays for entrepreneurs to work on their startup without any distractions or daily chores. The same team is also behind the 30-day networking event Project Getaway and the Contenga International co-living and coworking environment.

One of the facility’s alumni, co-founder and CEO of Windows mail client Mailbird, Andrea Loubier, says the community in Bali is fresh, innovative and creative but, like a startup, still in its early stages. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Loubier has stationed her team – a mix of Danish, Indonesian and Colombian nationals – in a town between Ubud and Kuta. She believes:

“Operational costs can be bootstrapped much easier than in the US or Denmark, simply due to the high cost of living in Europe and America.

“It’s beautiful here; it’s in an up-and-coming, rapid-growth market, with Indonesia being the fourth largest population in the world. The tech industry is growing rapidly as well, and more and more students are seeking degrees in technology which is very promising for building a stronger economy in Indonesia. We have some of the best team members on Mailbird from the prestigious Institute of Technology Bandung right here in Indonesia. We are excited to be part of the movement specifically in Bali, where we already feel that our startup community is a great example of eliminating the extra day-to-day to-do’s, so you can fully dedicate your time to building an exciting business while also enjoying life.

“It’s funny when you tell people that your startup is based in Bali – they’re surprised or don’t take you seriously. Then they are surprised when they see the traction and global awareness of the startup.”

“Our little, Bali-based startup has been recognized worldwide after we were picked up by major tech news publishers and blogs like TechCrunch and Lifehacker.

“The warm weather keeps you happy and very motivated in Bali too.”

Another coworking space in the island’s coastal town of Sanur, a female entrepreneurial group called Secret {W} Business and #subali meetups add to the community on the island.

Three years ago, TEDx made its way to Bali’s shores, started by digital designer Daniela Burr. Earlier this year the event was attended by a curated group of 400 innovators, creatives, cultural leaders and social pioneers. Burr started TEDxUbud after falling in love with the island:

“It happened unintentionally. I took a sabbatical in 2010, inspired by designer Stefan Sagmeister and came to Bali following his advice. I loved it. I started TEDxUbud just two months after landing and it grew exponentially, completely changing my life. I run a digital design studio and have the ability to work from anywhere… Bali quickly became the perfect spot. I’ve met the most incredible people on this island, we now have a great co-working space, and I get to live what I always thought was a dream life.”

Working in paradise, and in a developing country remote from  major business centers, has its drawbacks, but those working there find them insignificant compared to the benefits. Budgeting, safety, language/cultural barriers and internet speed can be factors to contend with, but are issues easily managed. Access to outside networks, events and resources not yet established in Bali also need to be managed – raising investment requires flying in or flying out, for example.

The picture painted by the entrepreneurs and digital nomads who’ve chosen the Bali work-life haven is a rosy one. The business case is strong, and the vibe of the island is proving for many to be the special ingredient needed to unlock inspiration and creativity. It’s not hard to see why it’s becoming a hub for startup business and creative industries.

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About our contributor // Chris Byrne is a writer working on the journalism-marketing merger. He’s a data journalist, content and comms freelancer. Follow him on @penseive.

Image credits: All photos from Hubud coworking community.

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24 thoughts on “Work-life haven: why entrepreneurs and digital nomads are settling in Bali

  1. Marc-Antoine says:

    Indeed, Bali has that rare combination of elements that can provide a refreshing working experience if your’e coming from a fast-paced urban environment. But founding and running your business in Indonesia is no walk in the park, and comes with its load of frustrations and sometimes costly mistakes. Bali may retain many characteristics of “paradise”, but even in places such as Ubud, one also has to face the reality of a fast-growing population (migrants from abroad and within Indonesia), traffic jams, and increasingly severe pollution. This is not to dissuade entrepreneurs from trying to set themselves up in Bali — but to make them aware that there are many facets to working and living in Indonesia, and this article only presents one of them.

  2. Great entry! Nowhere is perfect, every places have their pros and cons. I guess the strong advantage of Bali is the balance between local culture and modernization. I would definitely visit one of these places when my startup expands to Bali :)

  3. Love this! As someone who has been digital nomad-ing in Ubud for the last 6+ months I completely agree. If you want to see firsthand what a digital nomad working day in Bali can look like, I made a video of ‘a day in the life of a digital nomad in Ubud’ just last week – what a day here can look like from morning to evening: http://www.free-range-humans.com/location-independent/free-range-human-ubud-bali/

    The video happens to include footage of Hubud which you mentioned above (nice co-incidence on timing with both of these coming out within day of each other! Clearly a zeitgeist here :).

    (BTW I don’t normally share links to my posts on someone else’s blog… but I’ve had two separate people send me this article in the last hour (!) as it was on the same topic as my latest video, so I hope it’s ok to share it here. If not feel free to delete this comment- totally understand). Marianne x

  4. Ubud is expanding way too fast, during day time it almost constant traffic jams on jalan hanoman and monkey forest rd, it’s hard to walk and and almost no one is bicycling, it’s cars and scooters everywhere. And IMHO ubud it way too hot and rainy, at least november->may, which makes it hard to work. What baffles me is that so many restaurants and cafes are openly facing the street so they’re incredibly noisy and polluted, there are of course exceptions but still. Todays Ubud is definitely not my kind of paradise..

  5. Personally i am glad read this article. I am originally from Bali, and now build a startup that still bootstrapped. Due to the new nature and echosystem here in Bali for digital startup,there so many things that we need to learn and share. I beleive that Bali could become a right place to develop your startup if we can build a good echosystem and culture within foreigner and local people.

  6. My wife, Laura Cohn, has lived part of every year in Indonesia, mostly Bali and Java, for decades, and I’ve visited it with her about eight times. We have many friends (locals, expats, and regular visitors) there. During a six-month period, we and our son did live and work in Ubud: I’m a freelance grant writer. It is not difficult, and I suspect it is even easier now, 14 years later, with better Internet connections. Like working anywhere, the key is having the self-discipline to actually do the work and keep marketing, and not be tempted by the many opportunities to visit friends, hike, eat, sun, swim, visit Ubud market, go to the volcanoes, and so much more. Re. Bali as paradise, while nowhere on earth is truly paradise, if you can see past Ubud’s traffic, noise, etc., and focus on the people and the overall positive experience, it can easily live as a paradise within you.

  7. Bali sounds great but I have concluded why just settle on one place? In fact if you get the travel itch after just a few months of being in one place like I do, the only downside is that you have to re-establish all your basic necessities again like fast internet, transportation etc. and then of course starting a new network of friends and like-minded people is never easy either. Thats why I’ve started a group called “Happy Hubs” do a search on it if you’re interested in finding us. We have our first HQ established in Costa Rica and my goal is to have several HQs all over the world that have everything a remote entrepreneur could want.. and then they can travel between them. I’m going to need plenty of help so if you want to connect, feel free to message me James AT JamesRick.com

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  9. Interesting article. I am a Hubudian, and find the space to fill a social niche more than anything. I am pretty productive at home and have decent internet, but I enjoy the energy at Hubud, the fantastic protein bars, and the feeling that I am part of a digital nomad community in this Balinese village.

  10. SUPI says:

    Reblogged this on LIVE YOUR LIFE and commented:
    One more reason to start changing your working habits and (home) office to create a better and more handsome place to work.
    Even if you are a freelancer, you can use a wide community of startups, entrepreneurs and digital nomads to share ideas, opinitions and working expierences.
    And who wouldn’t love to work on Bali?!

  11. It might look like paradise, but I’m always having ethical problems thinking of outsourcing and “exploiting” other people to free my own time. Even if it might still be a benefit also for these people

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  13. “since Julia Roberts had a mid-life crisis in Eat Pray Love, American travelers”… xenophobic much??? and how is cheap beer relevant??? FYI this article is a GOLD MINE for indonesian customs officials… sheesh

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