Bali born but going global
“I’m not a surfer, I wasn’t someone who moved there for the lifestyle,” says Adam McAsey.
“I went over there to do business.”
Mr McAsey is part of a growing cohort of Australian entrepreneurs using Bali as a launching pad to take their businesses global.
He’s the founder of 8 Degree Projects, which owns Bali-based hospitality businesses Sisterfields, BO$$MAN Burgers, Expat Coffee Roasters and newly opened Bikini.
Mr McAsey headed to Bali as a property investor seven years ago and snapped up some prime sites that now house his cafes and restaurants.
“The market for hospitality there was growing, and still is, being such a transient island and the choice of venues was not there,” he says.
Starting with one cafe and expanding from there, Mr McAsey is now one of the major players in Bali’s hospitality industry with 8 Degrees’ venues serving 300,000 covers last year and turning over more than $4 million.
He says there are pros and cons to building a business from Bali.
“It’s challenging in terms of language barriers and how fast things happen,” he says. “Cultural differences also, we have 230 staff at the moment across a range of cultures and faiths and that’s something to juggle when you are dealing with ceremony days and things like that. We don’t have to pay penalty rates in Bali but all our staff are full-time, we don’t have the luxury of hiring casuals and part timers. You have to carry them for the high and low season.”
Mr McAsey operates 8 Degree Projects as a foreign-owned company in Bali and says he loves island life.
“The lifestyle is fantastic but we are so busy that we tend to work full-time,” he says. “Predominantly it is head down, arse up there because we scaled so fast.”
Mr McAsey has big plans for his hospitality business beyond Bali.
We laugh about that because we had to go and sign the top tier department stores in the US before we could get a contract with a department store in Australia.
“We have just opened up Bikini and now we have another block of land to focus three concepts on. We are licensing those and taking on different discussions about licensing on franchising to Jakarta, [Melbourne], Singapore and Hong Kong,” he says.
The first step in 8 Degrees’ expansion outside Bali has already been taken with Mr McAsey announcing Sisterfields will open in Jakarta in early November in PIK Avenue mall.
“We have created every brand and every concept so it is packaged up and can go that way,” he says. “People picture you are doing business over in Bali and you are living on this tropical island, it’s amazing and OK, we are doing very well, but it’s a lot of hard work. It’s not as easy or as cheap as people think.”
One business that has already achieved its global ambitions from its Bali base is Pared Eyewear, founded by husband and wife team Ed Baker and Sam Stevenson.
The sunglasses company turns over $1 million a year and 70 per cent of its business now comes from the United States where Pared is stocked in Modus Operandi, Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus.
“Initially we moved here just to keep our cost of living down,” Mr Baker says. “Paying rent in Sydney and living on my salary while starting a business was pretty hard. I had some contacts in Bali for freelance work here for different brands so I could move here and keep working for other companies and then Sam could work from Bali and focus on the business.”
The pair say the benefits of being Bali-based have gone beyond the cheaper cost of living.
“We see it as a great Asia hub, it’s very close to Singapore and all areas of China where we do the majority of our manufacturing,” Mr Baker says. “We expanded and set up an office in Brisbane where we have a team of three and we travel a lot between Brisbane and Bali. We have our digital team in Bali and there are a number of entrepreneurs based here and there are Aussie groups here which are good for networking.”
Mr Baker says for a growing business sometimes it can be hard not being based in a major city.
“Often it’s nicer to meet people face to face and sometimes we feel we miss out on a lot of events that would help us to grow the brand,” he says.
The pair met when they were both working for Australian label Ksubi – “it was an office romance”, says Ms Stevenson.
They decided to go out on their own and with support from family, friends and “a few minority investors” Pared was launched with $50,000.
Now Pared is stocked around the world in countries including New Zealand, Canada and Japan and employs staff in Australia, the United States and Indonesia.
This year Pared inked a deal with David Jones in Australia.
“We laugh about that because we had to go and sign the top tier department stores in the US before we could get a contract with a department store in Australia,” says Mr Baker. “The time differences can be difficult. I’m constantly on a 6am phone call or a 12pm phone call with the US. When you are trying to grow a global business with a very small team the time zones are a major killer.”
Life is about to change further with a baby on the way at the end of the year.
“It’s hard to be motivated to work here,” Ms Stevenson says. “There are lots of distractions like the sun and the pool but we do actually work very hard here. Because it’s your own business you have to be very motivated.”