The year was 2014. The place was Hubud Bali. I was waiting to use a meeting room. Next to me a man in board shorts and a singlet was cutting a deal over Skype. The figures he was talking about were not hundreds, not thousands, but millions. Of pounds. Sometimes he’d put on a shirt for conference calls with London, I later found out, but today it was too hot.
We were sitting in a bamboo building overlooking a rice paddy field next to a monkey forest. And this was my introduction to tropical coworking. Previously, I’d been working from beach huts, but doing so alone. And here was a room full of people doing the same thing.
Mr boardshorts, I later found out, was working on his fintech startup. And at that early stage, he was able to run the whole thing from Ubud in Bali.
On the other side of the table, an American woman in yoga clothing was Skyping someone. I listened to her conversation; I heard something about a website being constructed, tasks being outsourced and items being shipped somewhere. Another girl was working remotely for a company in Australia, her employers had agreed to let her work remotely after she’d gone on holiday to Bali and threatened not to come back.
That weekend I went to a party next door, where a house full of young Spanish developers were building apps and hosting parties in their villa in their spare time.
I’ve since met hundreds of people doing the same. Sourcing labor in one part of the world, selling products into another, working for clients in one country, while living in another.
Doing your work over the internet isn’t new or novel. The interesting part was exploring what that freedom enables you to do. For me, that freedom meant running a UK company while living in a villa in the tropics. It meant opting out of the deadly daily commute. And to be more picky about the work I took on.
Living pretty much anywhere other than London means you have the luxury of saying no more often.
What I also saw, however, was a growing number of people who were traveling abroad to work on their (very) early stage startups. Back in the US or the UK, startups often emerge from parent’s basements, sheds, urban coworking spaces or coffee shops. But there are plenty more imaginative options out there, as this list shows:
Ubud, (Bali, Indonesia)
Hubud is a big reason Bali has become a destination for many startups. And it’s virtually impossible not to be charmed by this place (and indeed, the whole town). The bamboo. The monkeys. The people that inhabit it, who are some of the cheeriest people on earth. And then there’s the toilet art. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know what I mean. I arrived in Ubud planning to stay for two months and stayed for 9 (and I keep coming back).
There’s also an abundance of great accommodation, allowing some teams to cohabit. Bali is getting more expensive but by most European, North American or Australian standards, it’s still relatively cheap, and infrastructure is improving: I’m also told that 4G recently arrived in Ubud.
Surf Office (Various Locations)
After being inspired by Silicon Valley-style hacker houses, Surf Office Founder Peter Fabor was looking for a place in Europe where he could work, live and surf.
Unable to find anywhere suitable, he moved from Slovakia to the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain and founded Surf Office, before opening another location in Lisbon, Portugal. Surf Office isn’t just a coworking space; it’s a co-living space. You check in, work and stay there. And it’s already had well over 500 guests. My friend is staying there currently, and she says one of the best things (aside from the weather and the nearby beach) is the fact that everything is taken care of – so you can focus on working (or surfing).
Betahaus, Barcelona (Spain)
The city often makes the league tables of most beautiful cities. But Barcelona isn’t just pretty. It’s also home to a thriving startup and coworking scene. And if you’re from the UK, then it’s also cheap as patatas bravas to get between Barcelona and the UK. You can fly between London and Barcelona for as little as £15.
Billed as a ‘workation’ retreat, Coconat offers the chance to work from the comfort of a rural idyll in the German countryside. A 60-minute train ride out of Berlin, it’s aimed at workers who want to escape city life to work on their projects. Guests can eat and sleep at the retreat, and it also offers biking, canoeing, hiking fishing and swimming nearby – although I’m told some visitors are often too busy grafting on their startups to spend too much time on the water. It’s re-opening for spring, you can find out more here.
Ho Chi Minh City
Not for the fainthearted. This a bustling city full of fun and distractions. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a thriving startup community, with more homegrown startups than many other Asian regional hubs. Fans cite cost of living, access to coworking spaces, weather and food as key attractions. Another big attraction for many startups is the nation’s growing GDP. The Vietnamese economy saw a growth rate of 6.68 percent in 2015 – its fastest pace in five years.
Who wouldn’t want some free money? Especially if you’re a startup. Chile has become an unlikely startup hub thanks to the Chilean government’s Startup Chile scheme which rewards successful applicants with grants of up to 86,000 dollars (for companies willing to incorporate and build operations in Chile). And for those that aren’t, grants of up to 30K equity free are also available.
The scheme draws people from all over the world. Maptia, a startup of British twentysomethings were one startup to benefit from mentoring and funding – after completing the scheme they were accepted on to the TechStars accelerator program in Seattle.
Got any more suggestions? Leave them in the comments below: