Bali is a success story in branding, known the world over for being a paradise. Say ‘I’m going to Bali’ to anyone and you will encounter similar responses as if you said Hawaii, Fiji or the Seychelles.
Bali is beaches, beautiful scenery, volcanoes, wildlife, good food, five-star resorts, year-round sunshine and warm temperatures, and did I mention beaches already? As volcanic Indonesian island near the equator, it is blessed with an abundance of life, beauty and warmth we in northern Europe spend most of the year longing for before jumping on a plane and escaping somewhere warm for a couple of weeks of the year.
With a large expatriate population – consisting of Europeans, Brits, Australians, Canadians and Americans (made popular with Americans thanks to the Liz Gilbert novel, Eat Pray Love, and movie of the same name staring Julia Roberts) it has become something of a destination on the international startup scene.
Benefits of Bali
Startup founders and so-called ‘digital nomads’ – freelancers who can work with clients irrespective of location – are best suited to living and working in Bali. Low living costs are one major benefit, especially for founders with a runway to consider (£1000 a month is more than enough to live in a nice villa, travel around and eat out almost every day).
Proximity to Asia and Australia (flights are affordable and quick to Singapore, Thailand, Shanghai and Hong Kong), relatively fast broadband in urban centres and thriving startup community are also a big advantage. For yoga enthusiasts, creatives, artists and surfers it’s also a great place to stay for a while.
Overview of the Startup Scene
- Hubud. Located in Ubud, a popular tourist village of 30,000 (where Liz Gilbert lived for about four months – hence its popularity with Americans) and heart of the startup scene on the island. About an hour and a half from Denpasar, where the international airport is. A lovely place to work, with rice paid views and the fastest and most reliable broadband around, with all the facilities you would expect of a tech hub. There are activities and events on almost every day and night, to make you feel at home and give you the chance to network with a diverse group of global entrepreneurs.
There are also opportunities for those looking to learn new skills, incubate their ideas or go in a different direction:
- Change Ventures: A combination of “personal discovery, entrepreneurial grit, leadership development and wellness training.” A 21 day designed to bring more balance to startup founders, drawing upon one of the main reasons why people go to Bali: seeking balance. The program which includes accommodation starts at $2950.00.
- Ruby on the Beach: Learn Ruby on Rails in a small class of 10, with three instructors, and lessons planned around “how you really learn.” Classes start at $6000 for a 4-week course. They run a few times a year.
- Startup Getaway: An incubator for early stage startups. They have six houses, plus a co-working space in the Denpasar area, making it a great location for startups during the ideation to iteration stage, in the first 1 to 6 months.
As far as startups and digital nomads are concerned, the infrastructure and networks are strong, growing, and relatively speaking, sustainable enough for the moment.
But there are disadvantages.
Can you build a startup in Bali?
The location isn’t everything. Several times Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already publicly said that Silicon Valley is no longer the place you need to be. At the same time, being too far away from the centrifugal forces of the startup community – not to mention customers (unless you work with Australian or Asian clients) – does put, in my opinion, startups and digital nomads at something of a disadvantage.
The cost of living in Bali has also, in real terms, increased, as Indonesian authorities are keeping a more careful eye on expats. This means every 30 days you have to leave Bali (paying a £20 fee as you go in and out of the country) and return, to renew your tourist visa. Even a quick trip to Singapore, including fees, taxis and a hotel can add an extra £250 to monthly costs.
Timezone differences (12 hours from the eastern seaboard of the US) can be a nuisance, as are wild street dogs, language barriers, and a crumbling physical infrastructure due to a lack of investment and too many tourists.
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to launching a startup in Bali or at least working on one during the bootstrapping / development phase. As a place to visit it is great for a holiday, or a few weeks away to think about things. In the long term, except for the nomadic expat community, it is trying hard to live up to the paradise label it once earned more easily, and for that reason, it may not be an ideal place to build a successful startup to scale.