The BBC published an article last year about how COVID-19 may well have kick-started the fast-growing growing digital nomad trend saying:
“the remote-work genie is out of the bottle … and as more workers turn nomadic, the lifestyle has mainstreamed: telling your family or company you want to move around while you work might have drawn sceptical looks in the past, but the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched now – especially as some companies are increasingly allowing their staff to work remotely indefinitely.”
With this backdrop, we sat down with Belgian creative designer and entrepreneur, Florian Jacques, who has created something called Midstay – an interesting and well-timed start-up geared specifically to helping digital nomads.
Q: Many thanks for your time Florian. Let’s start by explaining what Midstay is.
A: Midstay is an all-in-one platform that gathers all the tools you’ll need to work and travel.
We certify and integrate local services like visas, insurance, local sim cards, co-working spaces, yoga studios, scooter rentals, and more. Our mission is to bring remote workers to their online work faster, instead of them wasting time running around looking for these services when they arrive in a new location. We also provide solutions to companies, where managers can organise the budgets of each employee and send them to work from Bali for a few weeks or months. All services are on-demand and integrated under one roof to provide a frictionless platform for remote workers so they can settle in and reach their productivity levels faster.
Q: Where did the Midstay idea come from?
A: After travelling and working in different places for more than five years, I guess you could have called me a digital nomad. But to be honest it was a hassle to relocate every three to six months to a new city; you have to meet new people, find a new gym, find co-working spaces and the like. I know it would have saved me a lot of time if Midstay had been around then. We believe Midstay will be a very useful tool for a lot of people like me that like to travel and work at the same time.
Q: You’ve currently got three hubs in Bali; one in Canggu, one in Ubud, and one in Uluwatu. Why those locations?
A: Simple. These are the most popular locations for digital nomads in Bali, and also where the infrastructure is the best. We’re also looking to expand in the future to Sanur, Ungasan, and Jimbaran.
Q: Is a digital nomad the same as a digital worker or a remote worker or an independent-location worker? What’s the difference?
A: That’s a very good question! We’re actually struggling to find the right wording because now everyone has experienced some kind of “remote work”, but not everyone connects with the term “digital nomad“. My father, for example; he’s been in Bali for two months enjoying working from here, but he doesn’t identify with being called a digital nomad at all. I think it’s best to use Remote Workers (abroad.)
Q: How many digital nomads or remote workers are there in Bali?
A: According to Nomad List, there are 6,600-digital nomads in Canggu alone, but trust me there are much more than this; only a few people that I’ve met here are actually familiar with this website. I’d say there are at least ten times this number.
Q: Are there any other popular places for remote work in Indonesia?
A: Yes for sure! There’s Flores, where the diving, boat trips and Komodo dragons are amazing. There’s also the Mentawai Islands for those that like surfing, but it’s quite remote and not really ideal for work. And there’s always Lombok, especially as the recent MotoGP has really put the island on the map. It’s a beautiful place with amazing surf, great diving, and plenty of hiking too.
Q: What are the key things to look for in a new destination?
A: I’d say WiFi and infrastructure. Find somewhere that suits your lifestyle and is “remote worker-friendly.” It’s also important to be able to hook up with other surfers, yogis, or divers for example. And that’s where Midstay comes in because you’ll be able to check all of those things, like profiles based on interest and lifestyles, in the hubs you’re most interested in.
Q: What are your key pain points?
A: Our main one is on the B2B side of our business model because we need to educate the managers of big corporations that remote work is here to stay. Another one is ensuring on a daily basis that the layer of certifications we’re promising to our users is always up to date. We’ve been working hard to make sure they keep receiving the best data to make sure they can settle as fast as possible when relocating to a new hub.
Q: On your website, you talk about an all-in-one ecosystem platform. What is that and why is it important to your business model?
A: Our platform asks our members to have a “temporary home address” so we can map and source all the services available that best serve them. We’re talking about visas, insurance, local sim cards, co-working spaces, yoga studios, gyms, wellness centres, and more. We also understood that these remote workers like to give back and help local communities, so we’re introducing a feature that certifies all local NGOs around the temporary home address of these nomads, where they will be able to either donate funds or offer their time to volunteer. We also have something called home-pooling, which is a key feature allowing any villa to be shared by like-minded people, most of the time around a common lifestyle or interest.
For us, an ecosystem means growing side by side and having values from one segment to another. It’s a place where people interact and discover so, typically with Midstay, remote workers have a frictionless experience. Our members have everything they need so they’re completely set up to actually work. No other website or portal does this for this market.
Q: Your website has a long list of lifestyle partners. How difficult was it to have them agree to offer discounts for the Midstay community?
A: It was actually quite simple and our timing was good. Because Bali was closed to tourists for two years, these businesses were looking for new ways to market their services, and nomads became the target. On top of that, I think we’re offering them a great way to keep control and not be dependent on us as a sales channel. All we’re doing is bringing them potential new customers and they have nothing to lose by being listed on Midstay. Actually, it’s almost like an endorsement because being listed means you’ve been certified by us and passed our checklists.
Q: Are you noticing any business or travel trends among your members?
A: It’s a bit hard to say since we are at the very beginning of the journey and the world is only opening up slowly, but generally I’d have to say people are staying longer and embracing a slow travel mindset being more mindful of their footprints; settling in a place for a few weeks or months, discovering local cultures.
Q: There have been reports recently around a digital nomad visa in Bali. Thailand, for example, has introduced a 5+5 year visa that seems to be suited to digital nomads. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I think it would be a great idea to have a visa for nomads in Indonesia. I’m not 100 percent sure about the Thai model though, because five years is too long for a typical nomad and it might be too expensive. Nomads usually travel away from their home country for around 69 days a year, so having a visa for three, six or 12 months makes more sense. They’re generally looking for travel flexibility, not being tied into one place for five or 10 years.
Q: We’ve been encouraging digital nomads, either individuals or groups of friends, to establish a PMA to comply with tax rules and regulations. What are your thoughts on this?
A: Yes, I think it’s a great idea, but it could also bring problems in the future if nomads are splitting up and are not staying in Bali anymore. That’s why I’ve always decided to create and open my own business so I’m not dependent.
Midstay is based out of a large villa in Umalas and offers plenty of space to work as well as a pool and garden to chill out and meet like-minded nomads. They’ve already been approached by new start-ups from Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur willing to bring employees to Bali, using this as a way to attract and retain talent.
For more details and to join the Midstay waiting list for a free one-year premium access pass, go to www.mymidstay.com. They’re also on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter) or connect with Florian Jacques directly on Linkedin.
By: Andrzej Barski, Co-Founder and Director, Seven Stones Indonesia