It was August of 2018 and I had spent the past 15 months living nomadically, traveling around the world. I found myself walking along a fortress wall in Belgrade, Serbia, when it all caught up with me and I realized, I was ready for a lifestyle change. I knew right then and there, that it was time to move to Bali.
I had spent a month in Bali the previous year, and fell in love with its natural beauty, healthy food, stunning nature, and digital nomad culture. I told myself that when I was ready to take a break from traveling and settle down somewhere, it would be Bali. One year later I found myself spontaneously booking a last minute ticket from Eastern Europe to Bali.
Five days later I was on a plane flying to my new home. I knew nobody, had zero idea where I was going to live, and what I was going to do once I arrived.
After an 18 hour journey, I was in the customs line at the airport waiting to get my visa and enter Bali. Over my shoulder I heard the sound of an American guy, so I turned around and we began chatting. Thirty minutes later we were sharing a taxi, headed to the town of Canggu, nestled along the coast in Bali. I had booked a room at a guesthouse in Canggu for a couple nights, while I figured out what the heck I was going to do.
Shortly after arriving, I met some really great people who I ended up traveling around with for the next three weeks. During my time exploring the island, I continuously found myself immersed in different Balinese markets, and started noticing these different shaped rattan bags that stood out to me. They were like nothing I had seen before, and people seemed to love them.
An idea sparked, so I decided to head to Ubud, Bali’s hub for yoga, wellness, art, etc. and explore it further. I went to the main market, and started talking to the Balinese vendors who were selling these rattan bags, or what I call, “Bali Bags”. I spoke to over a dozen people, asking them how they were made, and where they came from. The answers among all of them were consistent, and they pointed me in the direction of a small village about 50km from Ubud.
The next day I rode two hours out to the village to see what was happening there. I had no idea what to expect. As soon as I arrived, I started seeing rattan crafts that were drying out in the sun, spread across the front yards of homes. I decided my best strategy was to start knocking on doors and meeting the craftsmen. So over the next several hours, I spent my time getting to know different artisans, learning more about the craft of making these Bali Bags, and figuring out if there was a potential to do business with any of them.
As the afternoon started winding down, my energy levels were dropping, and I decided I would visit one more craftsman, and then call it a day. I walked into the front garage of one of the homes where I met a woman sitting in the back corner, weaving the leather strap onto a bag. She spoke little English, but kept telling me that her son, Agus, was coming back, so I waited. When he arrived, I immediately got a friendly, enthusiastic, and genuine vibe from him. We chatted for a while, and he seemed very eager to do business. I loved the family dynamic, and their honest and open attitude towards me. I realized in that moment, that they were who I wanted to go into business with. So we shook on a deal right then and there. I placed an initial order for about 50 Bali Bags, and he said he would have them ready in a little over a month’s time. We said goodbye and I drove off, realizing this was the beginning of a whole new chapter, owning a business!
Over the next month, I moved to Canggu and worked tirelessly on creating the branding, for what would become Nomad Nextdoor the Bazaar. I built a website using Shopify, secured the name on all necessary social media platforms, and prepared for launch. I decided in the meantime that I wanted to introduce handmade jewelry in addition to the Bali Bags. I had spent a lot of time at an outdoor market in Canggu, and had built a friendship with one of the silversmiths there, Santi.
She invited me out to her village, known for being the silversmith capital of Bali. I had the chance to meet her team of craftsmen, a lovely bunch of men and women who came from families that had been working with Santi for generations. I learned that they all have the flexibility to work from their homes, so they can still look after their families during the day. I thought that this dynamic was so special, and I loved how family-oriented Santi’s entire business was.
I had a few necklace designs in mind that I wanted to have made, and she expressed that she could create whatever I wanted her to. I’ve never been big on jewelry for myself, but I’ve always loved the look of distressed, vintage pieces that are little works of art in and of themselves. I wanted to create my own style of jewelry, and had a very specific vision in mind that I wanted to bring to life. I had zero experience in jewelry design, let alone I rarely even wore jewelry, and here I was about to make a business of it!
So over the next couple of days I sketched up a few drawings and sent them to her via WhatsApp. Business communication in Bali is pretty laid back. Email and computers aren't commonly used, especially out in the rural villages, so business is done the old school way, in person or by phone. She told me I could expect the sample pieces to be ready in a couple weeks time, which lined up perfectly with the Bali Bag timing.
It was now late November, approaching December, and I was starting to feel anxious about launching. Agus had dropped off the Bali Bag order, I had picked up my jewelry pieces from Santi, and I was thrilled with how everything turned out. I couldn't believe how beautiful the craftsmanship was for every single piece. I spent several days photographing all the items, using the remote control function on my camera to capture the photos, and myself as the model. I had almost no budget for anything, so had to learn to be self-sufficient and get creative. The website had finally come together, and I was getting ready to launch, or so I thought...
But there’s this thing called fear, that has a tendency to set in at some point for first-time business owners. The feeling that it could be better, it’s not ready, it’s not perfect, what if ‘x’ happens, etc. The reality of it is, it can always be better, it will never be perfect, and everyone is bound to make mistakes. So, not being aware of this at the time, I delayed launching. I waited another several weeks to launch, tinkering around with things on the website, reshooting photos, updating descriptions, until I just about drove myself mad and realized, it’s time to just take the plunge and launch! So I did…
I had no idea what to expect. Would I be overwhelmed with sales? Have no sales? Would people even visit the website? Well, the good news was, I had some sales, and received positive feedback from people, but there was a bit of a problem. The shipping rates from Bali to everywhere else in the world were outrageous. Anywhere between $15- $40 USD to ship one single piece, whether it be a tiny necklace or a Bali Bag. So, I knew that if I wanted the business to succeed, I would have to base it elsewhere.
About one month later, I hopped on a plane back to San Diego, California, my hometown, and moved back into my parents house for an indefinite period of time. I had shipped about half of the inventory from Bali to SD, and the other half was in a bag that I checked onto the flight.
When I arrived home, I was bound and determined to get this business fired back up again, so I started an Etsy shop, and listed everything on there, this time having much lower shipping costs. To my surprise, I started gaining traction from the get-go. I had about ten orders in my first month, and from there it pretty much doubled or tripled each month. In addition, I pitched my brand to some boutiques around San Diego, and got picked up by a few of them.
After three months of being back home, I was back on my feet again and the business was flourishing. I had built a brand on an initial investment of less than $1K, that was doing around $3-5K revenue per month. I was able to work out a shipping system with Agus and Santi, so I was getting inventory shipments from Bali to San Diego about once per month.
My mom had played a huge part in helping me come up with new ideas for the business and motivated me to keep pushing forward. I felt like she had become a part of Nomad Nextdoor the Bazaar, and I didn’t want to move forward without her, so she agreed to come onboard and be my one and only Mom-ployee. She runs all operations in San Diego, and ships every single order out. I couldn't have gotten to where I am today without her help.
Fast forward to now, and the business is just over a year old, and continually growing! My future plans include growing the product selection of the online bazaar to include unique pieces from other countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Egypt amongst many others. The business is still in its infancy, so I am in no rush to go in over my head with expanding rapidly. Quality craftsmanship, happy customers, and building honest relationships with artisans are the foundation of Nomad Nextdoor the Bazaar, and I look forward to what the future brings.