An unexpected twist and trip to the convict colony

A lovely cafe in the Katik Langtan village near our house.

A lovely cafe in the Katik Langtan village near our house.

I’m sitting here in a cafe next to a rice field near the house I share with three other Bule in the village of Katick Langtan, near Ubud. In a few hours from now, l’ll be flying to Sydney, something I’d not contemplated this time last week.

Then, two days after climbing Bali’s three highest volcanoes inside 24 hours, I decided to spend a couple of days at Bali Silent Retreat. I’d been thinking about trying meditation for a long, so I headed there last Sunday and it was a peaceful mini break (which I may write about another time).

The site of Bali Silent Retreat near Tabanan

The site of Bali Silent Retreat near Tabanan

After two days of clear thinking ‘space’, I returned to Ubud on Tuesday with a good idea of what to focus on: health (inspired by the 3 Peaks Challenge completed while woefully unfit), working with Pieter Moorman on our online course for startups, and planning the Balinese craft workshop with Dek, Deco, Ketut and Arcana to be held at the same time as Bali Spirit Festival (31 March to 5 April).

Before I continue, I must make mention of the 3 Peaks. It was an idea I dreamed up when climbing Mt Batur in November – I even made a promotional video at the top! I mentioned it to a couple of the lads at Tribewanted and next thing we were doing it. Ben Keene has written a great post on it.

Me, Liza, Ben Keene, Janine, David and Ben Saul-Garner - the six Tribewated 3 Peaks survivors!

Me, Liza, Ben Keene, Janine, David and Ben Saul-Garner – the six Tribewanted 3 Peaks survivors!

So what happened? 

Within 5 minutes of getting back to Ubud, getting my haircut and generally tidying up my appearance, I was asked to lunch by Pak Dave Fogarty and Olivier Pouillon and I finished up being asked to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Olivier’s super cool Cash for Trash project – the winning team from Startup Weekend Bali back in November. I’m pondering that one.

If that was a tremor to my focus, the email I received from Suncorp Insurance was a monster eruption! And I’m not talking about a premium increase.

In amongst all the usual crap in my inbox (not your email mum!) there was an invite to go to Sydney for Suncorp’s ‘sensing’ day working with the leading ‘future of finance’ firm, Anthemis of London.

I was ‘humbled’ (I take that to mean … I cant find the words) that Frank Ray and me had been invited. It was our New Way of Working video that caught Suncorp’s attention back in October. We really thought that lead had gone dead, but here we were being invited to join in a pretty serious event.

Over the two days at the Silent Retreat, I had thought a lot about my professional worth as I feel at age 39 it is diminishing. Others of my mates are feeling the same thing. To be asked to join a group that I could not even say I see as my peers (they are a long way ahead in my eyes) was both flattering and incredibly lucky.

So, I decided I’d go, even if Frank couldn’t (he is in Surrey with his wife Julia and two daughters). He made me promise that I’d ask Suncorp to cover my costs, which I did and they are paying! I’ve never been invited to an event in my profession, let alone not have to pay the $1500 costs of attending.

Last time I was here was with my great mate Jeremy Wallis watching Aus v India at the SCG in 2008

Last time I was here was with my great mate Jeremy Wallis watching Aus v India at the SCG in 2008

I don’t know much about what will happen at Suncorp on Tuesday but what I do know, as Frank has reminded me today in a video message, I have been invited to go because they see value in my views and opinions. I have become pretty radical in the last 12 months and most people don’t get what the hell I am on about. What they don’t know is how much thought goes into what I say, which goes all the way back to one month, alcohol-free, doing yoga in Bali 12 months ago.

It seems Suncorp gets it. We’ll see on Tuesday.


An added bonus

I had a text from my dear friend Bec Cass today saying (again) how in love with cricket she is, while the World Cup is on in my homeland, New Zealand. As it happens I watched the Rugby World Cup final with Bec at a pub breakfast in Islington in October 2011.

Apart from a few hours watching England get trounced by the convicts a week or so back with Ben Keene, I’ve not watched any of the tournament. I could go to Kuta and watch it surrounded by West Australian bogans, but no thanks.

So, while there are no games on in Sydney while I am there, I’m looking forward to watching a lot of Channel 9 and Wide World of Sports. Life has changed a lot since I interviewed Richie Benaud at the Adelaide Oval in 2004, though I still have the Beige Brigade shirt I was wearing that day, with me here in Ubud.

A final word(s)

If you enjoy reading what I write, please share it with others. I write because I enjoy it and it helps me think and I am trying to be more honest with myself by doing it.

Finally, if anyone can work out how to get rid of the black box covering Ketut’s face at the top of the page, please let me know.


A new job and BIG lessons from the Balinese!

Sunday in Sanur with Bali’s best team

I’m sitting under the shade of the sun on Sanur Beach as a lucky guest of the Bali Spirit Festival (BSF) team. It might bother a few Bule that Yoga Barn and Kafe are closed, so there was no ecstatic dance or coffee today, but it doesn’t bother me. Let me explain why.

BSF is the creation of Pak Kadek Gunarta and his New Yorker wife Meghan. When people stopped coming to Bali after the Christmas/New Year period in 2003/04 following the Bali bombings, Dek and Meghan decided to do something about it – they created a festival to revive the island, based in beautiful Ubud. Ten years on, they are ‘ambition’ – they’ve tried and won.

Who else can say the same? I can’t. I’m here today after agreeing a deal to work for Dek. He calls it slave labour, I see it as an the best opportunity I have ever been offered.

In short, Dek wants me to bring a bit of Bule into his team of Balinese. The ‘problem’ Dek has is explaining his projects to the rest of the world. The problem I have is the lack of a ‘sponsor’ to get the Bule who live in Ubud involved in the community.

Are Bule tight or stupid?

I could say most Bule that come to Bali as ‘digital nomads’, to build businesses and live super cheaply, are taking the piss by not involving themselves in the community. However, I’m not prepared to … yet.

Part of this logic is that I’ve not done enough myself. What I will say though is that the Bule are an odd bunch. Yesterday there was a brilliant evening of Balinese culture in Tegallalang, run by Ibu Sari, founder of PKP Women’s Centre. As an aside, my awesome sister, Bec, is running a campaign to get Sari more sewing machines!

Sari had asked me to sell the Bule tickets (100,000) while she sold the local Balinese tickets (50,000). I managed to sell 13 tickets of 50). 7 were bought by Balinese. It was embarrassing.

Recently at Tribewanted we had tried to run an introduction to Balinese culture (Danielle’s idea) and a screening of the brilliant film, Jalanan, with a Q&A with the director Daniel Ziv (my idea). Both have involved paying and both have failed.

I spoke to Ben Keene, our leader at Tribewanted about this and he, rightly, pointed out that maybe the people we were trying to convince had many people battling for their money. That I accept, that’s life.

What I don’t accept though is that people are not willing to spend 100,000 (five quid) to hear Rucina Ballinger, a 40-year resident of Bali, speak about the central aspect of Balinese culture, ceremony. It simply can’t be the money. It must be the attitude.

Project update

The opportunity to work with Dek, re-shapes the whole mission. It’s a chance to get properly involved with real projects, that won’t have me online too much. It suits me a lot.

Most importantly though, I can already see that my new team wants me because we want that same things. That is a big deal for me.

With Dek and Ketut (and his young lad). What a team to join

With Dek and Ketut (and his young lad) at the Bali Spirit Festival team day in Sanur. What a team to join. It’s like joining Barcelona FC!

When I came to Bali, I didn’t have a plan but what I knew for sure was that it would all start with finding the right partner. I’d bring Frank Ray or Jamie Reichman here tomorrow if I could, but I can’t. As Brian Clough famously said about what made him and Peter Taylor the creators of the two-man job and the fastest in turning two craps sides into champions:  We want the same things.

No skill analysis, no tests – just get the mix of ambition right. When Tribewanted started in January, I hoped to meet someone that needed a business partner. That hasn’t happened, though I am very hopeful of working with Ben Keene in some way. He has so much talent, it’s inspiring just to hang around him.

Now to my update.

1. Startup blog/12 week course

This is still taking shape, though me and Pieter need some help from someone experienced with online education so we can nail down the format.

2. Startup bank challenge

I will most probably stop this tomorrow.It was a crazy idea that many folks like, but getting them to come to Bali has proved difficult. The big lesson from the experiment is that there many people working in banks with a loads of ideas for change.

I don’t think it is fear which is stopping them, it’s the lack of a platform. Next Bank could be that, if it stops thinking of itself as a venue to meetup and talk about banking problems. They could run a global startup bank challenge in say 5 cities easily.

As an interesting twist, I have been contacted by a European challenger bank to startup here in Indonesia. I am totally unqualified for such a venture but, my goodness, it’s exciting to be asked.

3. Better Bali Project

This week at Tribewanted, Diana Moret, asked us a tough question: can you see yourself in your business for 10 years? 

For the the two projects above, both are clear ‘no’s, but this one working within Balinese communities is a potential ‘yes’. It was a super test of one’s motivation and Diana really knows her stuff. I need to speak to her more before she leaves.

Our initial Better Bali Project was a success, at least as far as I was concerned, because we had more than 10 attendees. What was also interesting was the subject we focused on: rubbish! No one in the world has solved it and, here, the Balinese care about it a lot. We’ll see how this one progresses.

4. Songan Pipeline Project

As of today, we are 30% done. Phenomenal, given it’s only been  days since we started and the village has never tried such a thing before! I’m coming to realise why I like being around Balinese – they try stuff.

If we had proposed the same thing in England, we’d have to have had more meetings that the union at Ford to get started. Every risk would have been identified except the biggest of the lot: not building the water supply.

In Bali though, all that is needed is someone like Dek to say ‘we are doing this‘ and it happens. He works it out as we go. The same goes for Ibu Sari – she says she needs to raise funds and it happens.

Everyone needs a leader and so-called flat structures are not that. I think the essential attribute that these two leaders have that I think I may (massive caveat) share, is sheer force of personality.

Their leadership style is very similar to Mandela, and the thing that matters most is that there is no doubt who running the show. Even when Oliver Tambo was running the ANC from Lusaka, he knew his seat was a temporary one.

If I compare the Balinese style to my old workplace, there are very few people who have the same attributes. Chris Meyer is probably the only one I can think of that got the balance right between seeking feedback (as Mandela was expert in) and making decisions.

Even my great mates Jamie Reichman and James Arnold pander to their staff too much. They choose harmony over speed.

In contrast, I’m seeing with Dek that speed builds harmony and that’s why I am thrilled to be his latest team member.

Happy Days in Bali!

On 10 January, after having spent three months here in Bali having had a good look around and a week into being part of Ben Keene’s Tribewanted Bali experiment, I wrote this blog for the purpose of clarifying the various projects and ideas I had going on. Nearly a month on and the morning after a party at Startup House (a gaff I share with few other Bule lads), I thought it a good time to see where I am, against what I was thinking as I blogged back then.

I've moved in here to support Pieter Moorman, who gives to others any more than than any other Bule in Ubud.

I’ve moved in here to support Pieter Moorman, who gives to others far more than any other Bule in Ubud.

Recap – the four areas of focus I identified

1. A local project, by Balinese for Balinese This was more a thought/belief in doing something useful than a formal project

2. A village in need of a pipeline This was a genuine need with a race against time (the end of the rainy season)

3. A startup blog for other startups The was a startup that I’d already been working on with Pieter Moorman, a Dutch lad here in Bali

4. A startup bank This is was totally off-the-wall, random idea that came up a few days before writing the 10 January blog. I concluded that blog by saying:

If I look at my list I ask myself which of the four choices is the one I feel most suited to, eventually it’s either option 1 (local Balinese project) or option 4 (startup bank).

So what has happened since?

I’m often told by folks here in Ubud that I’m not focused enough and I’m sure that is true. It must be when so many of those people describe their profession as ‘coach’, and I don’t mean football or a bus. Despite this, my hunch is that I’m doing pretty well when my overall reason for being in Bali is considered. I’ll write this part as best it comes to me and then at the end I’ll draw conclusions on my ‘progress’ and ‘focus’. These are the things that have actually happened (or ‘doing’) of late:

  • Yesterday I went to Songan village A (Bangli regency) to help out with the digging of the 8km trench to accommodate the 8km pipeline from Lake Batur to Songan village B (Karengasem).
  • Prior to that I took Ben Saul-Garner and Jasper Mutsaerts from Tribewanted to the site and meet the team (led by Pak Kadek Gunarta). My underlying motivation was for our Tribe to partner with Dek’s team to work together on the project.
  • That has not happened, but I wanted to be part of it so I committed to part fund the estimated 125m (rupiah) cost.
  • I launched Startup Bank Challenge Bali on Thursday live while hosting Breaking Banks radio. It’s a joint initiative with Next Bank and it will be a real test of (a) my leadership and organisational abilities and (b) whether the hundreds of bankers that talk about change will actually do something about it – they have the perfect creative platform now!
  • Of most interest is how many folks back in London want to be involved but won’t commit. All the usual reasons (excuses) are there and thankfully Tim Boler at Lloyds is showing some courage by setting up a London ‘bamboo branch’ of the project. The world needs more people like Tim.
  • Of real interest with Tim is how the contact came about – he wanted to speak to me and my mate Frank Ray about how to bring new ways of working into corporates, something me and Frank pioneered last year at Investec.
  • Like I said we need more Tim and less bankers feeling self important and oblivious to the fact that their so-called skills at managing Excel spreadsheets are being swallowed up by robots and algorithms.
  • Today, I am hosting the initial meeting of Better Bali Project – it’s not so much a project but a gathering of 12 young Balinese folks that I have met by going out and talking to Balinese people.
  • I’m often told I need to be ‘doing’ and I’ll be doing something pretty cool this afternoon. Our attendees are more than 50% women, they are drawn from all areas of Bali and I have met 9 of 12 personally, separately.
  • Having Pak Kadek as our ‘key note’ (to borrow that term) is ‘the almonds on top’ (to borrow from Brian Clough).
  • Which brings me to the Startup blog, which is the only project of the four that has a weekly deadline.
  • Over the last month, Pieter and I have decided to turn it into a 12-week online course for first-time Wantrapreneurs. It makes loads of sense because our current readers love Pieter’s openness and jargon-free language.
  • The challenge now is essentially a marketing/sales one – getting folks to our website and proving we do in fact offer value. We could do with some help on this.
  • If we can achieve that, then we can work on our ‘paid’ version ideas. We’ll see.
  • One thing I must add before closing is why I like working with Pieter – he is fully transparent about everything and he operates at a rhythm I like.
  • He’s around 15 years my junior and is running one business and two startups, yet always has time and is not demanding.
  • If I am surprised, I shouldn’t be – after all he was smart enough to work out his team would be better off (money wise) and more productive by moving out of Europe!


If you have been kind enough to read this far, I would say this:

1. My local/Balinese project

I did what I said I would do and I’m quite proud of this. My hunch is that for things to work out for me in Bali, this one will be my ‘stake in the ground’ (to quote a Kiwi lad, one of the many coaches at Hubud). I have realised that I don’t have my own ’cause’ or ‘dream’, so I decided to link together those that I have met that do have one. That’s seriously exciting. I’m writing this before the meeting so it’s hard to rate but I’ll go for 8/10.

2.  The Songan water pipeline

Ordinarily, I’d rate this 4/10 because I’ve failed in my mission for it to be adopted by Tribewanted. However, it rates higher than that because I’m now committed to it, not just as a donor. I’m getting to know the heads of both villages and I’m taking the chance to ‘learn by doing’ from amazing guys like Ketut, the self-taught bamboo guru from Ban village.

I must also add at this point that I have a complex about ‘learning by doing’ vs ‘classroom education’. My mum often says that my dad and my brother have ‘practical intelligence’ (they didn’t go to Uni) while I have ‘real’ intelligence (I did go to Uni). I’m sorry mum, that is crap.

Ketut is the same age as me and he now speaks to audiences in places like Vietnam about the practice of growing bamboo. No one ever asked me to speak anywhere about anything.

All this said, I’ll rate this one 7/10 because it is going to make a major difference to the daily lives of the Balinese in Songan. Even if we forget about the bamboo and the economic benefit, the best bit is they’ll have a water supply for the first time, where they don’t have to walk for an hour to get it.

3. Startup Blog   

I have not given my energy to this enough and Pieter could have easily binned me off. However, I’d like to think I’m applying my own logic to it, primarily working out what ‘value exchange’ really means. In the last two days, Pieter built a landing page for us which took him … two days. If I’d had to do it, it doesn’t warrant thinking about!

Over the last week or so, I’ve ‘tapped in’ to all the startup folks I know to talk to them about what we have in mind. That’s where the value lies – when we each bring (and do) something but, for me, there is no doubt though that Pieter is the gaffer on this one. I’ll keep following! So as far as my personal ‘achievement’ goes, this one ranks 6/10.

4. Startup Bank Challenge 

How do I rate this? I have taken a wacky idea and promoted it on the world’s biggest banking radio show/podcast. I’ve taken an idea that was dreamed up with Next Bank and made it a reality.

Me hosting Breaking Banks live from Bali with Peter Wall, our gaffer at Hubud!

Me hosting Breaking Banks live from Bali with Peter Wall, our gaffer at Hubud!

But, like all businesses, I need customers and it’s not started well. At this point, I have only have three confirmed lads to join the team. As usual, there’s a lot of talk and not enough substance.

It also questions my real motivation for this project. The truth is I am a minority guy that talks a lot (and much of it is utter bollocks, I’m certain), but I do it for a reason: being in the majority for a lifetime will only cause oneself problems.

I’m trying to head those problems off, by using my knowledge of banking to improve the lives of bank workers and creating a place where they can freely ask this: What do I stand for and how can I make my profession fit with this? So, this one scores 9/10 because it’s asking a question that few others are prepared to.

Our mate Arnas and his monkey working!

The photo that inspired the Challenge – our mate Arnas and his monkey working!

Sign up for Startup Bank Challenge Bali here:

Good bye!