Three entrepreneurs share their experiences of running businesses part of the year from Bali
Zoe Paul, co-founder of Mister Zimi, says she felt a special connection to Bali. Photo: Supplied
Hundreds of thousands of Australians travel to Bali each year for holidays but what if there was a way of living on the holiday island?
After falling in love with Bali these Australian entrepreneurs decided to try to prolong that holiday feeling by setting up a business based from the beachside paradise.
It’s not all sunset cocktails and swimming pools.
According to Zoe Paul, Janine Hall and Michael Klim, life running a Balinese business offers a great lifestyle but also comes with its challenges.
Janine Hall, founder of Escape Haven, is now “location independent”. Photo: Supplied
Zoe Paul, co-founder of Mister Zimi
Zoe Paul says she felt a “special connection” with Bali after frequent visits to holiday on the Indonesian island.
The idea for Mister Zimi came about after Paul ordered a leather jacket to be made and got requests from friends back in Melbourne for something similar.
Michael Klim, with wife Lindy Klim and family, splits his time between Bali and Melbourne. Photo: Gusde Mahendranata
Paul and her husband Jimi decided they were on to something and relocated to Bali to try and build a business, named after the delivery label on that first jacket, which mistakenly combined Zoe and Jimi as Mister Zimi.
“We arrived in Bali and literally hit the ground running, or scootering should I say,” Paul says. “Our days were spent on scooters in dirty, dusty, stinking, hot Denpasar trying to find factories and suppliers without speaking any Indonesian. It was full on, no one had given us a leg up or information on where to start. But it worked for us.”
Now Mister Zimi has a staff of 245 people with factories in Bali and shops in Bali, Australia and online, which sold more than 1700 pieces of clothing in the last week alone.
Hall has built her business on corporate high fliers who want to destress and escape. Photo: Steve King
While Paul won’t reveal turnover, on conservative estimates, the business, which sells clothing that retails from between $50 for a “Mini Zimi” dress and $350 for a leather jacket, has a turnover of more than $10 million a year.
“Bali was amazing in terms of allowing us to push ourselves, and find strength in our self-belief and be as creative as we wanted to be without anyone judging our inexperience or making us feel inferior for not having any traditional training,” Paul says.
“But god was it tough. It’s not all sunset cocktails and swimming pools.”
Klim says it’s a logistical challenge operating a business between Bali and Australia. Photo: Josh Robenstone
With two young children the Pauls juggle life between two countries.
“I have to travel back and forth quite a lot,” Paul says. “Twice a year we will go for a long stint to Bali as a family for two to three months.”
The Pauls have an Indonesian owner of the Mister Zimi business in Bali, as laws prohibit Westerners from owning a business there.
“The process of setting up a business in Bali takes a long time and it is very expensive and extremely difficult and frustrating because the way everything works in Indonesia is so different to Australia,” Paul says. “We have been doing it for seven years and I am still really baffled by it.”
Paul says entrepreneurs need to be “open minded” in order to succeed in Bali.
“All those people who think they can go to Bali and start a business, it is a massive undertaking,” she says.
Janine Hall, founder of Escape Haven
Janine Hall was working as a marketing manager when she took a “much needed” holiday to Bali for three weeks.
“Feeling burnt out and stressed” Hall came up with the idea for Escape Haven wellness resorts, which are now located in Bali, Byron Bay, Noosa, Sri Lanka and Morocco and turnover more than $2 million a year.
“It felt like a change of pace and just going to yoga every day, having spa treatments and eating healthy foods made me recognise the importance of creating a space for other busy corporate women around the world to give them that spark back,” Hall says.
She initially started the Escape Haven business in Brazil but it failed and Hall lost all her start-up capital, so she returned to Bali with “a meagre amount of money” eight years ago.
Since then Escape Haven has had 2000 women come its week-long retreats, with about 50 per cent of the women from Australia.
Hall says she is now “location independent” and running a business partly from Bali allows her to be part of a “wonderful” culture.
“The way they do things in Bali is very much based on community,” she says. “The Balinese find everything funny so it is difficult to get as stressed and as frazzled as you do in Australia, so it’s a lovely work environment.”
Hall says the lifestyle in Bali is “amazing”. “I have never worked in a place where you have the freedom to be at the beach in a minute from waking,” she says.
But like Paul, Hall says life as a Balinese entrepreneur “definitely comes with its challenges”.
“Bali is a third world country and so the law is not black and white like Australia,” she says. “Now I’m a lot more comfortable with it but when I first started it was very confusing to have so much ambiguity.”
Michael Klim, founder of Milk & Co
Former Olympic swimmer Michael Klim was already splitting his time between Bali and Australia when he started up his skincare business Milk & Co, so running a business across the two countries was a natural progression.
“Initially it wasn’t really about the business, the objective for us was to set up the family there for a short period of time. With [my wife] Lindy’s Balinese background we wanted to expose the kids to a Balinese upbringing,” he says.
Milk & Co now employs 12 staff and turns over more than $5 million a year, with its products stocked in 13 countries around the world.
“It requires a fair bit of commuting but ultimately for me it creates a really good work-life balance,” Klim says. “I’ve got a really great team here in Australia and I feel confident that I can go away and things will still run well.”
Klim says technology has made it easier to stay in touch wherever you are based and he splits his time between the two countries, spending about two-to-three weeks at a time in each place.
“It’s a lot of logistical organisation but it’s doable,” Klim says.
“Living in Australia you can be time poor trying to fit everything in and the natural pace in Bali is much more relaxed,” he says.
“I like that in Bali I can surf and live a healthier lifestyle. It’s a good balance.”
The difficulty for Klim comes when he needs to be physically in Melbourne and gets stuck in Bali due to flight delays or volcanic ash.
“You have to be really adaptable and if you can’t be adaptable it is not for you,” he says.