The culture of co-working means different things to different folks. In Silicon Valley, they’ve already evolved past co-working into co-living spaces where like-minded entrepreneurs live and work together. But in some parts of Southeast Asia, startup success is less about community and more about having your own office with a sign out front.
In cities such as Hong Kong where space is precious and rents are soaring, co-working spaces are mostly seen as real estate plays. But in Bali, it’s an indicator of a growing ecosystem where a co-working space isn’t just a desk to park with your laptop — it’s a place to find community.
We visited the most famous co-working space in Bali, the ardently community-focused Hubud, to see what they’re doing different.
“My philosophy is that co-working spaces are super important anchors of ecosystems because they enhance collaboration and they speed up creative collisions,” said Peter Wall, Co-founder of Hubud. “We see that happen everyday Hubud, randomly people start chatting. Especially in an environment like Ubud in Bali, people are often from somewhere else so they’re open to connecting and chatting with people they don’t know.”
Finished primarily of artisan bamboo, Hubud (which is a mash-up of Hub-in-Ubud) is 4,000 square foot space just around the corner from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Because of that, you might see the odd monkey swinging through the co-working space’s open air hammock/beanbag-covered backyard and cafe. At the time of this interview, that particular work zone was buzzing with conversation, team collaboration and the tapping of keyboards.
Wall explained that it was a particularly busy time for Hubud as there’s been an influx of newly-minted members. “In the last month, we’ve had 111 new members join the space. Most co-working spaces have that in maybe in a year? We have a very mobile, transient and entrepreneurial population. We didn’t set out to be the Mecca for digital nomads, it just kind of happened by accident,” he said.
As enlightened worker bees begin to embrace their location-independent roles, more are swapping the cubicle for a remote work arrangement. Spaces like Hubud, as an offshoot of this movement, have become a destination for digital nomads seeking paradise and a decent WiFi connection.
“Working is becoming more transportable, flexible and mobile. You can now work wherever you want for a lot of jobs and projects. In the West in particular, there are a lot of people that are not happy with the work that they are doing — people are kind of worn out and they’re looking to be their own bosses,” said Wall. “Now with the Internet and connectivity that we have, those changes are coming faster than ever before.”
(Click to enlarge — panorama of co-working at Hubud)
After spending a decade with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a video journalist, Wall took a sabbatical and headed straight for Bali with his wife and two kids in tow. After succumbing to the Island of Gods’ charms, Wall left the CBC and moved out to the Indonesian island where he met new friends and eventual Hubud co-founders John Alderson and Steve Munroe.
The three incidentally all had the idea of bringing co-working culture to Bali, which at the time was still waiting for their first shared space to materialise. The founders tested the market with a pop-up in 2012 where they took over a cafe for two weeks and created a coworking-friendly space. Over the span of two weeks, “Hubud the pop-up” saw 200 people pass through the space and the founders knew they had a viable project on their hands.
Today, the two-year-old space fluctuates between 275 – 375 members depending on the time of year and hosts weekly events as well as Startup Weekends and the annual Coworking Unconference Asia. With the influx of new members, Wall said that they’re planning on moving Hubud to a larger space in the next 6-12 months. After all, the space is coming up on their third anniversary in March 2016.
Wall reflects on the evolution of Hubud in the last few years:
“We started the space for ourselves: expats living in Ubud who had one foot in one world and one in another. What we ended up attracting was a lot of digital nomads that were attracted to Ubud because of Hubud,” said Wall. “They have stayed in Ubud because they were able to interact with such a dynamic, entrepreneurial comunity that has been created here.”