Startups: Taking it to the beach
By Gabey Goh February 10, 2014
- A beach getaway for your startup may allow you to focus, or takes you away from essentials
- Still, the idea of beach-based startup hubs may be a business opportunity in Malaysia
IMAGINE if your office was located on an island, with bright balmy sunny days and a clear view of the vast blue ocean from your desk.
You are free from the rat race of the corporate jungle and unshackled from the menial concerns of daily household chores, and have only one focus: Building your startup, in between sipping cocktails at the beach.
At least that was the vision painted by The Fetch Blog in an article titled Work-life haven: Why entrepreneurs and digital nomads are settling in Bali, where a few entrepreneurs who call the island home talked about the benefits they’ve gained from doing so.
The blog also highlighted organisations such as the island’s first major co-working space Hubud, which has set up shop to cater to this crowd and currently has over 200 members, and around 50 to 60 daily ‘co-workers.’
There’s even a co-working and co-living startup accelerator Startup Getaway, located near Denpasar, which offers one-, three- or six-month stays for entrepreneurs to work on their startup without any distractions or daily chores.
To confess, the first thought my cynical self had after reading the piece was, “Hah! How many Malaysian startups can afford that kind of luxury?”
For entrepreneurs coming from the United States or Europe, South-East Asia is an exotic realm that, thanks to currency exchanges rates, tips the dream of working on a tropical island into the region of affordability.
However, the piece also got me thinking about when isolating yourself on an island would be beneficial to a budding startup.
The ideation phase seems most appropriate, when focus is needed to really pin down the unique value proposition. The creation phase as well, when most of the work is centred on coding or building the product.
But I don’t see many bootstrapped startups, especially those coming from Asia, being able to afford such a move.
In conversations with Malaysian startups about the whole notion of working from an island, Azrul Rahim (pic), founder of Slashes & Dots, shared that the JomSocial team did go away for a week in 2012.
“It was after my time with the project and I did not go but was told that the time spent there was worth it,” he said.
That made sense to me, considering that JomSocial is a more mature operation and setup. The week away is akin to the practices of large corporations which have company getaways for team-building or brainstorming sessions.
One friend noted that startups choose their office location based on where their talents are. For example, many startups are based around Petaling Jaya or in areas easy to get to, as an added incentive for choosing to work with them over other companies.
Hard to imagine many potential hires being able to extract themselves from spouses, children and the general responsibilities of life to go work on an island, no matter how attractive the proposition may be.
Another dismissed the entire notion, saying that startups needed to be close to where their customers and talent are.
“Even if it was free, I wouldn’t consider it. Startups need to be where their customers and talent are. Not to mention, investors also like to be near the companies they invest in,” said my startup friend.
Another startup friend noted that if it was a web-based consumer service type of business, it could work, as your customers are everywhere.
iTrain and 1337 Ventures founder Bikesh Lakhmichand (pic) said that perhaps an island environment was exactly what startups in the Klang Valley needed.
“Now, when in the city, they seem to be busy with other things apart from their startup, having the option to get away from distractions to focus can be a good thing,” he said.
Bikesh also said that such a life may not suit everyone. Some would long for a return to the concrete jungle, and all this depends on the role they had within the company.
Of course, any founder would welcome the freedom from daily distractions being physically apart from your hometown can offer, especially when the startup is at a critical stage.
But a part of me can’t quite shake the slight sense of disapproval (or is this maybe jealousy?) over the entire concept.
I still think it’s a luxury only those fuelled by the greenback or euro seeking to indulge in tropical climates can partake in, and any startup that tells me they are planning to do the same would probably get a cynical smile in response.
Or maybe I’m just looking at this whole ‘startups on islands’ thing wrong, and that there is instead, a fantastic business opportunity for Malaysia.
After all, we have islands as well.
I have been told by a few in the scene that attempts to create island hubs for startups have been attempted in the past to no avail. Perhaps it is time to revisit this.
The country has a fairly decent communications infrastructure, and boosted pipes to islands could be a viable endeavour should there be a ready customer pool for such services.
We can’t let Indonesia or Thailand have all the fun in housing ambitious and adventurous entrepreneurs who want to code or take phone calls with their toes in the sand, sea breeze ruffling their hair accompanied by a tall icy cocktail.
Langkawi, the duty-free startup hub of South-East Asia – think about it!
This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.
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