08 Nov 2017
By : Stacie Broek (Discover Out Loud)
From New York, to London, to Zürich to Tokyo and all of the stops in-between, I have always felt that one of the most enriching facets of my life is the diversity of the people I meet.
They come with varied backgrounds, cultures, interests and dreams. Some exotic and others mainstream.
"And they all have real and vivid stories to tell."
The people I tend to meet have all had handfuls of experiences, which have brought them to that very place in life. That is the story I find intriguing.
When I met Nilesh and Audrey, the founders and owners of the luxury rentals company Villa Seriska Bali, I was instantly drawn to them. They were relaxed and happy. They were confident. They were welcoming and sweet and I immediately wanted to know more about them.
During my stay in Bali, I had the pleasure to sit poolside at Villa Seriska Satu Sanur and chat with them about their life, their business and their journey.
It turns out that that calmness they were vibing comes directly from the fact that they are exactly where they want to be in life and never look back at the decisions which brought them here.
Ten years ago, Nilesh and Audrey found themselves in a less than perfect life situation and had the gumption and the bravado to take a leap and make a change.
No stranger to hard work, success and failure, Nilesh has a degree in Economics and had started up businesses in far away places like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. He is confident in his risks and calculated in his approach.
"Today, the elegant duo admits that they’ve never worked harder and never been happier."
What was a typical workday like for you before you moved to Bali?
Like many people in the corporate world, we were working six days a week, eight – nine – ten hours per day. I was the CEO of a language training school start-up in China and business was booming.
When I graduated from college, we were telexing – not texting! Now, business is competitive and global.
We worked under huge amounts of stress, with all of the pressures of the modern life.
Can you pinpoint the moment that you decided to make a change?
Absolutely. We were a growing, thriving business. In two and a half years, with limited resources, we had built fifteen language schools in China.
But, at the end of 2008, we found ourselves in the middle of an economic stress in China and around the globe. In an uncertain environment, spending becomes more conservative and nice-to-have add-ons such as English training, suffers. So business got stressful. Costs were hard to cover.
We had already found the villa in Sanur (Bali), which was standing empty. We built a simple website and had received a few holiday bookings. So, on some level we knew we had a potential.
Something happens, your mind is perhaps toying with this idea and then there is a catalyst, which is the tipping point. So, we made the decision to leave China and moved permanently to Bali.
What were your considerations?
Our first and most serious consideration was income. We knew we could make something – we wouldn’t starve. And we didn’t have to be well off but we wanted to enjoy life. We believed in the business and believed that we were taking an educated risk as we had already seen a rental potential. It was only a matter of “how”?
Thru our experiences – both successes and failures – we believed we had an advantage. We knew we would learn from our mistakes.
One of the biggest mistakes I have always made is expanding too fast. When you do this, it is like a house of cards. It can all fall down. This time, I am more careful. In the ten years we are here, we only have 5 villas. We could have more, we certainly have the infrastructure and the know-how, but we want a nice pace.
Did you make a plan?
Not as such. We made a decision more than a plan. We made a decision particularly due to historical pressures in our lives. We wanted balance. We built slowly. After the first villa in Sanur, we found three others in derelict condition in Semiyak, which we renovated and now manage.
We grew our staff from two people to twenty-five solid, committed team members. And then we grew again, by building another villa in Sanur. Each step we’ve taken has been laced with an underlying promise to deliver service at the highest level.
What challenges have you faced?
Tourism in Bali has enjoyed double-digit growth recently, so competition increases as the business becomes more interesting. So, it’s again a question of “how”? How should we change? We know that if we are not flexible and look for change, we will be closed.
We are always open for and adapting to new business models. For example, we’ve just built and opened a five-bedroom villa in Jimbaran, in collaboration with very old friends of ours from Malaysia. We manage the rental when the family is out of the country and open the villa for them when they return. Likewise, we need to invest in areas we do not know. I know marketing. I have a long background here. But, it is moving and evolving so quickly that I know I have to invest in this area or be left behind.
Where are you in executing your life plan? Does this match your initial vision?
We don’t have a typical business plan, no five – ten – twenty year road map. We have a life plan and it is a question of seeing how it goes. We know we have to be flexible and adapt. At the end of the day, we are foreigners in Bali and things can change. We want to stay as long as possible, but have to be flexible.
In terms of building the business, we still feel we can build a few more villas and keep the personal feel, as well as a manageable cost base. Last month when the volcano became active, bookings stopped for a couple of weeks. When I don’t get bookings for a couple weeks, I know I am in trouble. If the volcano goes and we have a long-term problem with dust clouds, etc. we will suffer. So, we are conservative.
If everything runs smoothly, we can see perhaps five to seven more villas. We still want to enjoy the Bali life.
What advice would you give anyone who is thinking of making a life change?
I talk to my friends from Uni and some complain that they want to change their lifestyle. The problem is, it is not that easy. I always ask, are you at the right time of your life to do this? You must be at the right time for you. How open to risk are you? It is always a risk (to start over), but it should be an educated one. And, finally, if you are not flexible you will fail.
How has your life improved through your experiences?
People don’t believe us when we say this, but we are still working ten hours a day. Perhaps three to four hours intensely and the rest is relaxed. I might get an inquiry at ten o’clock at night that have to follow up on it, but our time is ours. We don’t have stress like we had before. Here, we have blue sky, nice environment and smiling people. It is not a job. It is a pleasure. It’s a lifestyle. And almost the perfect balance of life.
We have the chance to meet so many different people. People who are on holiday and have come to relax. They are happy. We get joy from seeing the guests’ reaction when they see the villa. It is a big joy showing guests their rooms and seeing the smiles on their faces when they see the master bathrooms. This is more than earning money. This is satisfaction.
What does a typical day look like for you now?
We develop each villa, but once it is up and running, the team takes over the day to day operations and we focus on the marketing and finance. Of course, we try to welcome every single guest when they arrive and perhaps one other time during their visit. We are always available for emergencies, but Putra, our property manager handles all guest relations during their stay.
For the most part, we work within our own agenda. We have the chance to take the dog for a walk on the beach or to go to visit friends and relatives. We can work from anywhere on our computers. But if we’re away and cannot say a personal say hello to a guest, we apologise ahead of time. It is a perfect balance of life.
Last question, where does a couple based in the Island of the Gods go on holiday?
We love culture, food, history and nice people. We have a lot to look forward to – our plan is to travel and to see the world. We go to London a lot to see my parents who are older. Our favourite in Europe is northern Italy. Last year, we met some friends in Italy and then went skiing in Switzerland with them. We have many friends in Australia, Audrey loves Japan and Korea, Malaysia is like a second home me and Audrey luckily Audrey likes it too. We haven’t been to Canada together so that’s on the list. Scandinavia we would love to go to see the Northern Lights.
We have many plans!