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Welcome to silicon rice paddy

Ben Keene

Why we left London to build our startups from Bali

I woke around 5am. Jet-lagged, I ducked under the giant banana leaves and out of the large wooden gate. I like to go on an early morning jog to sweat out the journey and explore my new neighbourhood. This one seemed to be dominated by market sellers building their coconut-mountains, meandering motorbikes, and endless bohemian cafe’s offering juices, great coffee, holistic therapies, and lots and lots of free wifi. So most of the answers to life, then.

Ubud, a rice-paddy encircled town on the lower slopes of Bali’s volcanic heartland has long been know as the island’s spiritual and cultural centre-piece (Eat, Pray, Love etc…) and now there is a new tribe of escapees in town: the digital nomads. I mean, why work in an over-crowded basement in wintery East London when you could be here? Exactly.

So, we’ve been to more remote, less-touristy locations (Fijian Islands, Sierra Leonian beaches) but here in Ubud, we’re finding a new home; one where we can simultaneously immerse ourselves in a cultural paradise and keep the wheels turning on our projects. 25+ intrepid escapees are joining us for this pilot adventure in Ubud and we’ll split our time working on our own startups (50% of the time), teaming up to support each other and exploring local projects (Green School, East Bali Cashews, and the intriguing Bamboo Chocolate Factory etc…).

Personally, I’m here for three reasons: to test the idea of a remote working winter with my family inspired by Sam Tyres and JetsetMama (we’re here with our 1 year old who loves the fish pond in our ‘living room,’ no soft play areas here), to connect with innovative, creative people in an inspiring location and to discover somewhere new. The first impressions are that its great to be back in a culure that’s so open and where smiles abound. It reminds me of Fiji especially. But that also in leaving the cold behind, we now have to live closer with nature again — mosquitoes, spiders, and monkeys.

But we’re not the first to try this new way of life here in Bali. The team atHubud (which will be one of our main hangouts) have built a remarkable little co-working home and community where alongside groups like us, they host events like Startup Weekend and Co-working Unconference. Startup groups like Project Getaway, The Change School and Decelerator have already tested similar ground. It’s no wonder that Nomad List ranks Ubud as one of the top 10 places in the world for remote working and living.

Of course I’ve lived a little like this before to know it won’t all be swimming pools and sunsets. Exotic living is exciting, until the experience becomes less foreign and more like everyday life. Our daughter banged her head for the first time on the hard floor today. The good news is we have aloe vera in the garden to control the bruising. Everyday life in Ubud — time to get offline and go trek through some of this ocean of rice paddies.

The tribe will be blogging from Ubud about our experiences, beginning today with ex-city worker Andy McLean who has found a new home here already!

Join the tribe in Bali, January — March, 2015.

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