Interview with Location Independent Entrepreneur and the Bali Project Getaway Organizer Tom Huges

Social media is great for connecting with people, but nothing beats face-to-face, real world meet ups. The best part of a travel lifestyle is all the great people you meet. I had the good fortune to meet Tom Huges and his lovely partner Lieve in Chiang Mai, Thailand earlier this year. Tom and Lieve are now in Bali organizing this September’s Project Getaway. It is a one month entrepreneurial retreat/incubator/conference/seminar/working holiday in a tropical paradise. Events like this are a fantastic way to jump start your business and make lifelong connections with like-minded business people.

In this interview, Tom explains exactly what you can expect at the next Project Getaway, as well as provides some great details into his own businesses and travel expenses. Like most of us, Tom and Lieve are still struggling to build their dream business, but they appear to be having the time of their lives while doing it.

Tom and Lieve in Bali

What is Project Getaway?

Project Getaway is an event for adventurous entrepreneurs to live, work and have lots of fun, while inspiring and learning from each other. The event will be held from the 16th of September until the 16th of October in several luxurious villas in beautiful Bali, Indonesia. This year there will be at least 15 participants.

In 2010, the first Project Getaway event was organized by Michael Bodekaer, who loved his lifestyle working on his tech startups while seeking out adventure traveling the world, however he missed connecting with like-minded fellow entrepreneurs. This eventually led to Project Getaway which appeared to be a huge success. To get a feel for the Project Getaway atmosphere and to see interviews with last year’s participants, please have a look at the videos on the Project Getaway Facebook page.

Is this your first experience with Project Getaway?

I attended the second Project Getaway event in 2011 and it was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an environment as positive as Project Getaway, where you get together with a bunch of people with common interests, who are all enthusiastic and passionate about whatever it is that they’re working on. Everyone is helpful and ready to learn from each other. It’s a great place to discuss business ideas, brainstorm and even start new projects during the event.

Project Getaway

Please provide a rough itinerary of the event?

A typical day at Project Getaway is caught on tape. The great thing about Project Getaway is that we really get to focus on what we want to do. The villa’s lovely staff will take care of daily chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. Then there’s also our own proprietary Mobile Luxury app, which enables us to order several items like juices, snacks, delivery-food, additional massages and even a haircut with just a “click” on our iPhones and we’re arranging for a masseuse to be around at certain times.

We’ll have “PG Talks” every few days where one of the participants will talk about an area they are knowledgeable at like SEO, outsourcing, branding or an in depth look in one’s business procedures etc.

We’re looking into organizing a hackathon-like event where participants experiment with starting something new over the course of a few days.

To keep in shape and to clear our minds we’re having crossfit sessions in our back yard. Lieve used to be a sports-instructor back in the Netherlands so we can expect some classes from her at a nearby gym.

We’re planning to arrange for live-video Q&A sessions with authorities on several different topics, like we did last year with Leo Babauta from Zenhabits.net.

Watching movies with the projector proved to be a popular way to spend the evenings, however Seminyak is very close, so it’s easy to go shopping, surfing or just have a drink at one of the nice clubs in the neighborhood.

About once a week we’ll arrange an exciting event like Scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking to the top of a mountain and other similar activities. And to get rid of the tension, we’ll of course be hosting pool and cocktail parties!

And this is just what comes to mind at this moment. 🙂

Applications are open for a few more weeks, so if this sounds interesting, send in your application A.S.A.P.

Please tell us about yourself?

I’m originally from the Netherlands and graduated from Law school in the summer of 2011. While in law school I started developing an educational management software suite targeting poker players, which really lit my entrepreneurial fire. Although I always wanted to run my own business, a few years ago it would have been a career in law, probably gaining experience for about 3-6 years to eventually start my own practice.

I’ve always been a tech-geek at heart though and the online industry just appeared so appealing. While working on the software suite (first trying to develop it myself with limited self-taught development skills, later hiring a professional to do the job properly) I got familiar with all kinds of inspirational blogs like yours and books like the Four Hour Workweek.

I wasn’t alone though since my partner Lieve and I have been living together since 2006. She studied neuropsychology and graduated in 2010. She has been working in the clinical field part-time for almost three years as well as helping me with the software product. Her big passion has always been writing, so now we’ve launched the software product she’s slowly starting to pursue a career in writing and has some concepts in ‘the closet’ that she’s silently working on.

Lieve and I had been saving for a trip around the world for after we both graduated from university, however the software development process proved to be more difficult than I initially anticipated. Due to many reasons (mostly lack of experience to avoid common pitfalls) the launch was being postponed time after time. When we learned that Project Getaway 2011 was accepting applications, it took us less than a week to apply and pretty soon after (way before we heard we made it through the selections) we booked a one way ticket to Bali for the 1st of September 2011, planning to combine work with our initial plans to do a world trip and of course to cut costs due to lower living expenses in Southeast Asia.

This proved to be the magic formula to finally pass my exams in law school and I graduated with a Master’s degree in civil law in July 2011.

Please tell us about your travels?

In August 2011, Lieve and I cancelled our apartment in Groningen, the Netherlands, stored our belongings at our parents and left for Bali. After Project Getaway 2011 we went to the Gili’s (a small island group near Lombok, the neighboring island to Bali) for a few weeks with seven other PG participants and thereafter spend a few weeks at Michael’s place in Bali.

This has been my third visit to Bali (in my adult life that is, sixth in total), and I’m loving Bali more and more each visit. To me Bali just has it all. Extremely friendly people, rich culture which I find very beautiful and elegant, extensive variety of interesting scenery like not-only beaches but also mountains, rice fields, cliffs, crazy partying in Kuta or posh clubs in Seminyak etc. all within a few hours drive. For me the less appealing aspects of Bali would be that it can be somewhat dirty and for Indonesia, it’s relatively expensive.

In November 2011, my niece that lives in Jakarta got married so we spent one month with my aunt in Jakarta in order to attend to the wedding in Jakarta as well as Cirebon. It was great to see my family again and we actually enjoyed Jakarta much more than 4 years ago. Probably because we were mostly working this time around.

Although our initial plans were to primarily travel after Indonesia to destinations such as Nepal, India and Laos, the software suite we had been working on still hadn’t been launched. Keith, a Project Getaway participant who had been traveling for a longer period already, also wanted to stay put for a while and eventually we decided to find accommodation in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a couple of months for the three of us in order to get work done.

We stayed in Chiang Mai for four months, which flew by in a glance. I thought Chiang Mai was great (Lieve is less of a fan). The food is amazing, prices are incredibly low, people are friendly and unlike a major city, it has a cozy feel to it. What amazed me the most is how incredibly hip and stylish certain neighborhoods like the Nimmanhaeman area are; definitely no lack of luxury there. Oh and of course how incredibly cheap you can get the most delicious food.

What also makes Chiang Mai pretty special to me is that there is a very lively community of “digital nomads” or whatever you’d want to call travelers that work from their laptops so there’s definitely no need to feel alone in Chiang Mai.

In April, we debated going to India or back to Bali. When we learned that Michael would be hosting a WDF  development course for his newly hired developers and since we really wanted to participate in the Bali marathon (for the half-marathon) we decided to go back to Bali.

So we’re currently in Bali at Michael Bodekaer’s place. He is running a startup incubator like environment and he’s kind enough to host us here for two months. It’s great to be here since there are about 10-20 people always around. So it’s almost like a semi-Project Getaway around here.

After this we’re heading back to the Netherlands for the summer to see friends and family and we’ll be returning to Bali for Project Getaway preparations in August. What happens after that pretty much is up in the air at this point.

What is it like to work while traveling?

Working while traveling is less productive than we hoped it would be. We work from different cafes, this in itself isn’t necessarily less productive (noise cancelling ear buds help a lot though), however, there are nuisances that all combine to impact productivity.

An example: due to traffic it took us 30 minutes to get to the cafe where we intended to work, only to find out that their internet wasn’t working at that day. Finding another place in the vicinity usually takes about 15 minutes, only to find out that their router doesn’t allow me to connect to our VPN server after having ordered our first cup of coffee. Of course, we’d finish our coffee and relocate after that. This third cafe however apparently closes at 4:30pm on that day so again we would have to relocate. This would be a very bad day indeed. These kinds of issues combined, add up in the end.

Working in tropical environments however, like where we are now, has been great. You have everything that you have at home, but with a much nicer scenery 🙂

Can you tell us about your travel and living expenses in Bali and Thailand?

We consider ourselves low-budget travelers, however we are not as strict as others we’ve met. Although we do seek out the cheapest accommodation and tend to prefer to eat local or street food as opposed to more western targeted restaurants, we do enjoy ourselves. We drink a few beers when we want to, go for a massage or join friends that want to go to the more expensive clubs. So in general we try to keep our costs as low as possible, however we definitely spend money on luxuries.

In Bali, a typical guesthouse is around $10-$15 per night for a “homestay” which we would be pretty happy with in general. Sometimes, the bathrooms are somewhat worn out. However, in general, rooms in this price range are fine. We can rent a scooter for about $50 per month and gasoline is very cheap. A full tank, which lasts us about 3-6 hours of driving, costs around $1.50.

Food costs greatly depend on the location. Often we work somewhere at the beach (Tekor Bali in Seminyak) which targets tourists. A typical meal with a drink would be around $5-$10 per person, however there are local warung-like places that have internet and where you can eat local food for about $2-4 per meal. Liquor however is quite expensive in Bali. A small bottle of beer usually is around $2.50. A typical 1 hour Balinese massage is around $5-10. I remember we tried to maintain a budget of $40 per day for the two of us and at first exceeded this on a daily basis. When we started to pay attention to our budget, it was perfectly possible to stay under the $20 per person per day, however we did have to actively track what we would be spending our money on.

We flew to Chiang Mai through Phuket and stayed for one week around there and the neighboring islands. This area definitely is more expensive than Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai, before we got our apartment, we used to stay in a local hotel (the Inthanin) for $7.50 per night. It was very basic though. Our apartment wasn’t low budget at all. Since we were planning to work in the apartment we opted for a more luxurious 2-bedroom newly renovated apartment with a very spacious living room, two balconies, kitchen, very nice new electronics and furniture in the Hillside 4 building, which was $731 per month, excluding utility bills (approximately $20) and 6Mbit ADSL internet ($20). This was a little more affordable because it was divided between three of us. The Hillside 4 Condotel building had a gym which we could use for either $30 per month or $3 per session. There also is a pool that is free of charge to residents.

Food costs vary greatly depending on where we eat. As mentioned, there are incredibly trendy and luxurious places in Chiang Mai, which of course would be more expensive. Meals are still relatively cheap though, somewhere around $6.50-$10 in a really nice place. Local food, which I find delicious, is very cheap though. We would often get Khao Soi, red/green curry, Tom Yam Kung or Tom Kha Kai for $1-$2 for lunch and/or diner. My favorite place, Lemon Tree on Huay Kaew road even delivered to our apartment for $0.50, so we used to order in lunch almost every day for a maximum of $2 per person. Liquor also is reasonably priced. A large bottle of Chang/Singha/Leo or other beer is approximately $1-$2.50. Asking if a bar “has promotion?” usually would get you a great deal on a certain brand. For transportation we always took Song Thaew’s: red pick up trucks, able to transport about 10 people. These will take you where you want to go for a fixed rate of $0.60. Thai massages also are amazing, the budget massages would start at $5 per hour. We often went to a place that charged $8 per hour, because it was much more consistent in quality.

Currently in Bali our costs are somewhat skewed since we’re staying at Michael’s place. Over here we just pay $50 per month for a scooter and about $8 per person per day for living expenses (there’s staff that prepares 3 meals and 2 snacks per day), so other than that everything we spend is on luxury items such as beer, eating out on occasions, and massages.

One thing one should account for are visa costs and not only the costs of the actual visa, but also the costs you have to make in order to extend the visa. Since one could write a blogpost on this subject, I won’t go into detail, however for 4 months in Thailand we spent about $200 per person. For the complete time we have been in Indonesia (5 months) we spent about $250 per person, not including time and costs to go to the Indonesian embassy in the Netherlands and Bangkok.

How do you earn an income now?

We aren’t earning an income that can support us. The money that does come in is fairly random and not able to support our software development costs. We’re living from savings that have actually run out not that long ago. Lieve got into freelance article writing and I’ll start applying for legal or web development freelance jobs, while we continue to work on our projects.

What are you working on at this moment?

Currently we’re working on the following projects:

  1. PokerEduManager – a poker training software suite. We’ve just launched in April.
  2. EasyOnlineResumes.com – Where people can get their own personal website at a very low rate.
  3. Niche Sites – We’ve created a portfolio of niche sites in Chiang Mai.
  4. Project Getaway
  5. Groepsdruk.nl – This is Lieve’s baby, where she pursues her passion for writing (in Dutch).

Please tell us about your PokerEduManager.

PokerEduManager is an educational management software suite targeting poker players. I used to play poker a lot myself and invested a great amount of time and resources in becoming a better player by reading books, watching training videos and participating on forums etc. I had a hard time keeping an overview of what I’ve studied and therefore essentially wasted a lot of time, since a lot of my efforts were lost, due to not reviewing studied material.

This led to PokerEduManager, a platform to structure ones’ endeavors to become a better player with all kinds of tools like a knowledge base to archive studied content, a quiz player that measures progression (time needed to complete the quiz and overall quiz score), a messaging feature, calendar, goal-setting etc.

At this point we’re having some issues with development capacity. Once this has been sorted out, we’re going to create a market place where users can offer their own training packages, which they create with our product, for sale to other users.

Please tell us about EasyOnlineResumes.com.

EasyOnlineResumes.com basically was a weekend startup. Lieve wanted to have a personal site to be able to refer people to while applying for freelance jobs. After we created lievedelint.com, we figured we could easily re-purpose the custom content management system that I created for our niche sites, in order to create more of these portfolio sites without too much effort.

We haven’t done that much to market the service yet other than posting it on Fiverr.com, from which some organic sales came in. We just had a hot-seat session after lunch about easyonlineresumes.com where we got some great feedback and suggestions on how to proceed. We’ll be getting into that in the near future.

(Should any of your readers be interested in a personal site, we would be happy to provide 6 months of hosting instead of 3 months for our Standard Package if they mention jetsetcitizen in the job instructions.)

Please tell us about your experiences with building niche sites.

While in Chiang Mai we’ve created 25 niche sites. 21 of these rank organically anywhere from #2-#200 however income still is quite low (a few euro’s per day). We haven’t done any link building at all yet though. After the software suite launch in April I didn’t have the time to get familiar with link building.

It is the passive aspect that initially attracted us to this model. Since we haven’t yet completed all the steps we want to take in order to form an opinion about the niche site business model, I can’t really give an objective opinion. Personally I wouldn’t recommend getting into niche sites if your sole purpose is to rank by any means. I just don’t think this will be sustainable in the long run, since I think the search engines will eventually outsmart you.  Therefore, I think you should provide value with your sites as in trying to think of what the user is actually looking for and answering this question.  As our former room-mate Keith puts it, your site has to deserve the spot it’s ranking for.

A major perk that is a result from creating this portfolio is that we learned a great deal about keyword research, onsite and offsite SEO, which all are a very useful skills to have.

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My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

One Response to Interview with Location Independent Entrepreneur and the Bali Project Getaway Organizer Tom Huges

  1. Roy Marvelous says:

    Wow this is super interesting and inspiring. Especially as I venture forth into location independent entrepreneurship.

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