Digital nomadism might be great for teams, but not for founders

Our startups, Interview
You may know Nurlan Abdrassilov as the founder of the startup NutritrionPro, which is currently being incubated with our copilots in UP21. What you probably don’t know about Nurlan is the journey that brought him here. It took him literally halfway around the world - and he told us why Prague’s Karlin is a better place to work than some of the most renowned nomadic destinations.

What led you to from abroad?

When I was still working a large corporation, I used to travel everywhere I could. Europe, Asia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Brazil, and so on. Usually they were trips for a month and a half or two, and working during them was no problem. So when I left the corporate world, I founded the first project of my own and victoriously proclaimed that I was free - I could live anywhere in the world and jump into another startup while I’m at it.

Nurlan Abdrassilov, Founder of the startup NutritonPro

Your first stop was Bali. Why did you end up there specifically?

I love surfing, that was the main deciding factor. When my wife and I left Prague it was exactly like people always describe it. We sold or gave away everything we had, and flew to Bali with two suitcases, with the idea that we would live there for half a year.

If I understand correctly, you ran into a few problems there. What was that all about?

We tried a few regions. We lived in Canggu, Nusa Dua, Kuta, and a few others. On a vacation or a month-long escape from the European winter it’s fine, but if you decide to actually live in Bali, you find out that everyday life there is completely different. Transportation there often doesn’t work, the banking system is dysfunctional for locals, not to mention for foreigners, and you have to set aside a week or two to get anything done at the municipal offices. Regular gym sessions? Forget about it, on all of Bali there are just a few working gyms. After a few weeks we were completely drained, and the last thing we felt like doing was working.

How did you sort it out?

After a month and a half we left for Singapore, thinking that everything would be completely different in a city of almost six million people. I’m going to sound like a nit-picker who’s not happy with anything, but we didn’t really get settled in there, and in the end we were just really looking forward to moving home. My wife and I said to each other: “Why are we always trying to find European comfort and workflow in Asia, when we can just go back to Europe?” As soon as we got off the plane in Prague, we knew we had made the right decision. And so we finally started working seriously on NutritionPro.

Nurlan Abdrassilov, Founder of the startup NutritonPro

Even though your experience is to the contrary, do you think it is actually possible to run a startup “long-distance” from a country like Indonesia, Thailand, or somewhere else similar?

Honestly, I don’t think so. In coworking spaces throughout Asia you run into teams who have raised a lot of money, and they’ve left to go develop their product in countries which have a much lower cost of living. This all makes sense if you look at price comparisons on Numbeo. But people often don’t take into consideration one key factor for the success of their project: will my team and I actually be able to work well in XY destination? Sure, pricewise San Francisco is a completely different ball game in comparison with Thailand or Bali, but it’s also completely different in terms of work morale and overall “vibes.” The startup epicenter of the world will eat you alive if you aren't careful. But at the same time, it kicks you into high gear in a way that thirty-five-degree heat, five minutes from the beach, with two dollar drinks, absolutely can not. At least that was my experience.

What about from the point of view of a team member?

Of course there are positions where it would be possible to work long-distance without any problems, and if someone has enough self-discipline, they’ll manage. For example development teams usually work over several time zones and it has no impact on their work. Part of the team has to get used to working early in the morning or late at night to accommodate the time difference, but it’s nothing unmanageable. However, in certain positions remote work will just never work. You can’t have ninety percent of your clients in the Czech Republic and run sales from Thailand, it’s just physically impossible.

Would you do it again? Would you, as a founder, pick up and go and work from abroad?

It was a great experience, but the biggest take-home message for me was that I would like to stay at home. I will always be very happy to return to Bali and to other countries, but just for a couple of weeks on vacation.

Nurlan Abdrassilov is Founder of NutritionPro startup. 

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