Saturday, 2024 July 20

David Abraham of Outpost on leading a meaningful life: Startup Stories

Unlike many other startups, Outpost wasn’t established to solve a problem, a “pain point.” At least, that’s not how its founders frame the company’s origins. Rather, the Indonesian startup was set up just to provide temporary working and living spaces that, in particular, attract digital nomads who are open to exploring new ideas, cultures, and environments.

“For many, it’s easy to say, ‘I’m going to take my career and bring it overseas.’ But the real challenge is to make that dream lifestyle a successful reality and to truly know where to begin. That’s where Outpost comes in, with our community, services, and our nascent tech-enabled platform,” David Abraham, a co-founder of Outpost, told KrASIA.

The roots of Outpost

Founded in 2016, Outpost is a co-working and co-living space with properties in Bali’s Ubud and Canggu, as well as Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The company’s business model is simple: it acquires and takes over the management of underperforming hotels or cottage properties and transforms them into communal work and living spaces catered to anyone who is looking for a conducive environment to work on their projects away from home. 

The company’s founding coincides with the rise in demand for flexible work arrangements that many millennials have adopted. Seeking a better work-life balance, some members of the workforce who are in their 20s and 30s are utilizing web-based tools and stable internet connections to link up with their colleagues. This mode of operation isn’t replacing conventional nine-to-five arrangements, though it has created a new way of working that Outpost is capitalizing on. 

The company occupies a niche. Most other co-working and co-living brands’ locations are in urban areas for the sake of convenience, but Outpost has chosen to set up their three current locations outside of city centers. The decision to do that is traced back to Abraham’s own experiences.

The founder’s professional background spans many fields. He was a consultant at the United Nations Support Facility for Indonesian Recovery, oversaw budgets and foreign assistance programs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and even had a stint in risk management at Lehman Brothers. He also ran a non-profit organization in Uganda, lectured in Lithuania on negotiations, and wrote a book titled The Elements of Power that discusses the effects of the growing demand of rare metals on the environment. 

To say that he is peripatetic would be an understatement.

Abraham spent most of his time working in cafes in Beijing and São Paolo when he was conducting research for The Element of Power. In these locations, he met people who, like him, were working on various projects that didn’t fit into a conventional office environment—and in fact demanded them to be in the field.

Whenever Abraham needed to focus and write, he would travel to Bali. Its distance from urban hubbub induced productivity in him. “[I] would see people working there [in cafes] and wonder why. Who were these people and why were they stuck in metropolises? Couldn’t they be based in idyllic locations at least some of the time?” Abraham wondered.

It was during his writing process in Bali that he started exploring the idea of setting up a space for those with the flexibility to live remotely, bringing them together to work and enjoy a slower pace of life. Outpost was established shortly after he finished writing his book. 

Promoting an alternative lifestyle

Co-living is not a new concept, and it certainly hasn’t seen mass adoption. After all, if you can afford your own space, why wouldn’t you?

However, the idea has found its fans in recent years, or at least people who are willing to experiment with it in small doses. Outpost, in turn, charges a hefty price tag for access to its locations. A four-week pass for its Ubud branch costs USD 1,039, or USD 945 for Canggu. As a comparison, the four-week fee for a workspace and a bedroom in Jakarta’s CoHive starts at IDR 3 million (USD 210). Clients can choose to move into a compact room, single bedroom, double bedroom, or a studio.

Outpost, after all, isn’t targeting urbanites. It’s bringing traveling professionals to what are normally vacation destinations. In particular, Bali is known for its nature, sunset spots, exotic beach resorts, as well as its culture that combines Hinduism with local animism. It’s also a place for adventurous outdoor activities. For two of its locations, Outpost has co-opted those characteristics and turned them into selling points for its spaces. It organizes tours in Indonesia, taking its clients on trips to Komodo island and hikes up Mount Batur.

Phnom Penh, on the other hand, is fresh with sights and sounds for newcomers. However, Outpost revealed that its space in Phnom Penh is meant to be a pop-up experience. The company’s  marketing representative said Outpost will not remain in the city and will relocate.

“Yes, people can pop in to our place to check an email, but ultimately they can do that at their hotel. They come to us to be part of something greater,” said Abraham. The young startup wants to be part of a wave that shapes work culture, injecting values of exploration, growth, and connection.

Even so, it isn’t a permanent arrangement. Outpost’s clients typically stay between two weeks and two months. The sense of transience is always present.

Expanding to more remote areas 

In May, Outpost raised USD 1.3 million in seed funding to open more locations. The company will soon announce its fourth destination, which will definitely be outside of urban areas or metropolises so that the brand remains consistent, says Abraham. As he puts it, “My greatest goal is the success of our members, knowing that they can live the life they wanted, at least for a portion of their time. To get emails from members telling me they’re plotting their way to get back is inspiring.”

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in Southeast Asia.


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