24-year-old Dutch entrepreneur Pieter Moorman is already on his second startup. The first he founded in the Netherlands, before recruiting an international team and relocating them to a tropical island. His second startup is entirely conceived and launched in Asia, Arielle Anthony finds out how he did it.
Tell me a little bit about the business you started
I came here running a different business than I work on now. We moved here with a Dutch recruitment business. We moved half the company to Bali, which was three people. I’ve been here for a year and a half, but a few months ago, I moved out of that business and founded a new company. It was time to move on to something else.
What made you decide to move to Bali with this company?
We were hiring people and we figured if you want to hire smart people, you need some sort of angle that brings those kinds of people to your company. If you want to have better than average people you need to either pay more or have something really special or sexy that you’re working on. We figured it was hard to compete in that market. It’s probably much easier to go with this nice story of moving our business to a tropical island. There are people who are going to be interested in that. We made a landing page to describe the general concept, but we hadn’t decided on Bali at that time. We figured, let’s just pitch the story and see what happens.
Was there a moment in this whole process where you really felt like Bali was the right choice?
When we pitched the idea, we were appealing to the digital nomad dream, the tropical island dream, the Four Hour Work Week kind of idea. I felt that when I lived here for a while, even if that might be the reason you move here, you stay because there are so many interesting people that come and go in this ecosystem. Ubud is very small, and there are always people coming through with different stories and backgrounds, and different views on life. If you look at the people who stay here longer than a tourist might, all of them have made a decision to get their shit together to the point where they could move here. For me, that’s the reason I stay. When I went to see what was happening in Chiang Mai, in Thailand, it wasn’t what I was expecting.
How did Chiang Mai differ from your expectations?
It was different in that Thailand is much cheaper than Bali. Most people I met there are single founder entrepreneur. They were doing simple business models, like drop shipping on Amazon. They were not at all trying to change the world or trying to make the world a better place or anything like that. They were just trying to live the Four Hour Work Week lifestyle, where they have to put in as little work as possible and be able to live the digital nomad lifestyle. That is not sexy at all, as far as I’m concerned. Those aren’t the kind of people I want to hang around with. We don’t share the same ambitions- to be on lifelong holiday.
I don’t necessarily want everyone to be a workaholic, but that’s not an exciting drive. You’re not putting in your best effort or trying to be the best version of yourself. I didn’t feel the same energy and enthusiasm and sense of entrepreneurship that I like about Ubud. That’s why I felt disappointed in Chiang Mai and felt really good about Ubud. Most other parts of Bali don’t have the same kind of entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What is this new project you’ve started in Bali?
The new project is a set of online courses where we teach people the technical side of online marketing. Currently, I’m working on pulling the whole platform together. We want to develop six courses and we just need to get three courses ready before we launch. I just completed two of these courses. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been recording video episodes, every day. I didn’t realize it, but video production has so many practical concerns. It’s hard to do it quickly. For instance, at my place, I’ll try to do my recording during the day, but five minutes in, the neighbors start a cement machine, so you need to wait. At night, I can’t record because I live in the rice fields, and all the frogs and all of that are super loud. There is a constant buzz, so that doesn’t work. So I decided to record at the Onion. Starting next week, we’ll switch focus to the marketing.
What ideas do you have for marketing?
We are tailoring these courses to tech startup founders and other kinds of entrepreneurs. We’ll do a big launch on lots of blogs, but we need to build up to that. We need to inform journalists on what’s going on, so by the time we go live, everyone publishes on the same day. After that, our biggest challenge will probably be partnerships because there are a lot of people who have big audiences of entrepreneurs on their mailing lists, and when we partner up, we can reach those people.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The best ideas have come on my own. It’s best when I’m working at home, alone with no one to interrupt. That’s where most of my best ideas come from. I wake up every day with tons of ideas, and I write everything in Evernote. I think when you write everything down, it’s much easier to spot the gaps in your reasoning. If it’s all in your head, you might go in circles.
How are you taking advantage of being in Bali?
All the basics of life are taken care of. It’s incredibly nice and convenient. There are so many things you don’t need to worry about, so you can focus on your work. And there’s a lot of cool people you meet here. In Ubud, everyone you meet is a newbie in a sense. Everyone is coming and going in constant flux and flow. The ecosystem isn’t fixed. Here, everyone’s a lot more open to meeting new people. It’s much easier to build a big network of people to work with or be friends with than most other places.
What are some of your biggest challenges right now?
After about six months of living here, a lot of people started visiting me. And they’re in holiday mode, and I want to build a company. It’s a constant conflict. I need to be very clear when friends come here to set expectations. I think most people’s biggest challenge here is discipline and just being focused enough to pull off the lifestyle and ambition they have. A lot of people come here intending to build their business, change their life, and then end up going to yoga 30 hours a week. And changing their life becomes a second priority. And after three months, six months, or a year, the money runs out, and they go home. For me, it hasn’t been a problem because I moved here with a company that had structure. There wasn’t a lot of room to slack. Sometimes it’s hard to balance work and personal life here. Ubud is such a receptive place that’s asking introspective questions and is receptive to working on yourself and exploring. But if you also try to build a business, both of those things cost a lot of time.
Also, the internet used to be a problem, about a year ago. But it’s been improving a lot. I think in one year, there won’t be a problem at all. Sometimes it’s unreliable, especially in the rainy season.
You’re pretty young (24 years old). Do you have any mentors that have helped you along in your entrepreneurship?
I’ve had a lot of great mentors over the years, especially back in Holland. Different situations call for different kinds of mentors. The ones that were most helpful a couple of years ago wouldn’t be much help now because we’ve been going through so many changes. There is also so much information online. I think it’s a way for other entrepreneurs to pay it forward. Because starting a business is such a struggle. There is a range of people online that have been incredibly helpful in figuring out things, and they’re available to everyone. There’s a lot of value in having mentors that are running very different businesses in different industries.
How do you see your business changing the world?
The excitement of entrepreneurship is helping people in the end. That’s the core concept of entrepreneurship. Help people and then charge for it. It’s the basis of business the way I see it. I try to help other entrepreneurs.
You owe it to the world to give it your best. To put in whatever, you have. I think it holds true in how you treat your friends, those around you, and in business. I don’t have any judgment about what kind of business you’re doing, as long as you’re not hurting the world. For example, one of Google’s core values is ‘don’t be evil’, which pretty much sums up my opinion. I think you should go for it. Don’t settle for something mediocre when you could shoot for the moon. You also owe it to yourself. I think the brand of digital nomad in Chiang Mai is a new flavor of consumerism. Most people have optimized for the Four Hour Work Week and are having a good enough life. But I think the core of happiness is in production and in giving it your best shot. It’s not easy, but I think it’s worth working for.
Do you have any advice for those budding entrepreneurs who are thinking about moving to Bali or starting a business here?
People overestimate how complicated it is to move here, or anywhere for that matter. All those practical issues like visas, housing, making friends, all of those questions are much less of an issue than you think. On the other side, running a business is a lot harder than it seems. If you look at all the skills you need to master to be a successful entrepreneur; it’s a massive list. You need the drive and enthusiasm not to be too demotivated by that.