For some, the entrepreneurial dream is raising millions of dollars in funding and working tirelessly towards that $100 million exit scenario. For others, the dream is building something sustainable that you and a small team can be proud of while having fun at work and answering to nobody except yourselves.
This post is for the latter group.
Coworking is how many startups begin life. It's a big step up from the noisy and unpredictable nature of working at Starbucks, but doesn't come with the commitment and overhead of renting a whole office. Asia is fast becoming a hotbed of coworking spaces, which got me thinking...
If I were to cowork in a different country each month in Asia, what would that look like and how much would it cost?
If you've ever dreamed of taking your startup on the road for inspiration and amazing experiences, here's how you could make that happen.
For consistency, I've converted all prices to US$.
Singapore is known as Asia 101. It's a geographical crossroads where Chinese, Malay, Indian and a whole bunch of other ethnicities co-exist. It's modern, clean, everyone speaks English and while accommodation can be expensive, food is cheap. It's also an excellent place to start your Cowork in Asia tour, as budget airlines such as Air Asia fly from Singapore to dozens of different regional destinations daily.
The Singapore Central Business District at night.
Tasty street food such as Chicken Rice can be had for around US$3 per plate.
If you have cash to burn on nightlife, Singapore has you pretty well covered from US$5 per glass casual wine bars such as Wine Connection to more extravagant US$20 per drink bars and nightclubs such as Avalon (above). There's also a rampant champagne-buying culture in Singapore...
Singapore also has a beach nearby at Tanjong Beach, where you can soak up some sun and go for a swim. There is a small fee (a few dollars) to get into Sentosa where the beach is located.
MakeSpace coworking space in Singapore.
Coworking spaces in Singapore
- The Hub - US$450 per month
- The Co - US$600 per month
- PlusConcept @ Purvis - US$480 per month
- MakeSpace - US$300 per month
- Coworking Singapore - US$215 per month
Cheap accommodation in Singapore
- Shophouse The Social Hostel - US$30 per night (mixed room)
- Hotel 81 Chinatown - US$80 per night (single)
- Mercury Backpackers Hostel - US$70 per night (entire room, 3 beds)
US$15 per day in Singapore is enough to eat 3 square meals at a Hawker Center with a little left over for a can or two of local beer for celebrating those continuous deployments! Your budgetary needs will rapidly increase should you want to take taxis or check out the nightlife scene.
Malaysia is a good next stop after Singapore. Malaysia is big and offers everything avid explorers could want - pristine beaches, jungles, sprawling cities and historical towns. It's well known for its food culture, often claiming to be "better and cheaper" than Singapore in the food department! English is widely spoken.
KLCC in the day.
Banana Leaf Curry - a cheap and delicious dish popular with locals and tourists.
Malaysia also has a number of giant national parks, such as Taman Negara where you can go hiking.
And finally, some of the world's best beaches. You'll have to travel quite far from Kuala Lumpur for them though. The Perhentian Islands (above) and Tioman are particularly famous for their white sand and turquoise waters. Domestic travel over land is quite cheap in Malaysia and you can find budget accommodation in the Perhentian Islands for around US$20 per night.
Fluent Space coworking space in Petaling Jaya (just outside Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia.
Coworking spaces in Kuala Lumpur
Cheap accommodation in Kuala Lumpur
- Cube Boutique Hotel - US$25 per night (single)
- UFO Capsule Hotel - US$12 per night (single capsule)
- Apple Hotel - US$28 per night (single)
You can live cheaply on street food - US$10 per day will keep you fuelled with local culinary delights. However if you want to take taxis or indulge in a bit of nightlife expect to start paying much more. Domestic travel is done via budget airlines or bus - both of which are cheaper than you might think. Air Asia flies around Malaysia but also check out domestic budget airline Firefly.
Thailand is a much bigger country than it might first seem. It's also a hotbed of new startup activity so it's definitely worth a visit. The food is fiery and cheap, the nightlife is colourful and in general most creature comforts can be had at comparatively lower prices to the rest of Asia. You'll probably base yourself in Bangkok but will want to check out the southern islands of Thailand such as Koh Samui and Koh Lanta.
Bangkok is definitely a notch up on the madness scale when compared to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Yum Woonsen is a visually unassuming dish that will set fire to your mouth.
The city certainly isn't devoid of fancy places to celebrate, should you hit the millionth user mark while on your Asia tour... (Lebua Sky Bar pictured above)
Some of the most idyllic beaches in the world are found in Thailand's southern islands such as Koh Samui and the famous Koh Phi Phi (above). Thailand is fairly well wired up with internet access - this is backpacker country after all. Compared to Singapore and Malaysia, free wifi is easy to come across. Basic accommodation in the islands will be around US$15 per night.
Hubba coworking space in Bangkok.
Coworking spaces in Bangkok
Cheap accommodation in Bangkok
- IMM Fusion Sukhumvit - US$28 per night (single)
- Take a Nap Hotel - US$25 per night (single)
- HQ Hostel - US$11 per night (mixed room)
Like most of Asia, you can get by on street food very cheaply. Even the more expensive street food found in mall food courts is cheap by western standards. US$10 per day will keep you fed with enough left over to get around the city on public transport. If you're adventurous, food carts on the street sell various Thai treats for around US$1. You won't go hungry in Bangkok!
Vietnam is another Asian country much bigger than you might think. It's a little less touristy than the previous 3 (Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia) which means getting by on English alone will be trickier. As working hubs you have the historic Hanoi in the north or the bigger, more developed Ho Chi Minh City in the south. As we are now moving further north in Asia, the climate is more temperate - northern Vietnam gets cold in the winter (down to around 15C) while south Vietnam has subtropical beaches. Eating like a local in Vietnam is an order of magnitude cheaper than food back home. To put living costs in perspective, most urban Vietnamese live on around US$200 ~ US$300 per month.
Hanoi is still relatively low-rise compared to other capital cities of Asia. That will no doubt change fast though.
The Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi is considered one of the best hotels in Vietnam and was built in the French colonial style. French influence can be seen all over Hanoi.
Pho is found everywhere from hole-in-the-wall diners to makeshift stalls right on the street. A bowl can be had from around USD$0.50.
If you're feeling adventurous, the southern beaches of Vietnam such as in Phu Quoc are amazingly beautiful and very much off the beaten path.
5desire coworking space in Hanoi.
Coworking spaces in Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
- 5desire Hanoi - Price on Request
- The START Network Ho Chi Minh City - US$40 per month
- Hackerspace Ho Chi Minh City - US$45 per month
Cheap accommodation in Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
- Thaison Grand Hotel Hanoi - US$20 per night (single)
- Hanoi Royal View Hotel - US$25 per night (single)
- Luan Vu Hotel Ho Chi Minh - US$16 per night (single)
If you're fine with eating local food 3 times a day, then US$5 per day (!) is actually enough to survive on. Vietnam is a country where you can also afford to live large now and then, even if you're just getting your startup off the ground. The Sofitel Metropole - regarded as one of the best hotels in Vietnam - houses a lavish Vietnamese restaurant with a set dinner menu costing just US$55.
Hong Kong is a highly developed country that has a growing startup scene, and is often viewed as a "gateway" to the massive market of mainland China without all the regulatory hurdles of the motherland. It is split into Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories. Most of the action is concentrated around the island and the south of Kowloon. Hong Kong is also just a ferry ride from Macau - the world's biggest casino market, triple the size (in revenue) of Las Vegas. Along with Japan and Singapore, it's one of the more expensive places on this coworking tour.
Everyone remembers seeing the breathtaking Hong Kong skyline for the first time.
The streets of Mongkok get pretty crowded.
If you like dumplings, you're in luck. Dim Sum is ubiquitous and cheap. Except to pay around US$1 to US$2 for a dish in a local restaurant / diner.
Hong Kong is mountainous and you don't have to go far to escape the city and get in some good hiking.
Cocoon coworking space in Hong Kong.
Coworking spaces in Hong Kong
Cheap accommodation in Hong Kong
- Espace Elastique - US$75 per night (single)
- Hop Inn - US$50 per night (single)
- Paris Guest House - US$25 per night (single)
Hong Kong is famous for its food but due to a policy change, the street food vendors known as Dai Pai Dong are becoming rarer. That said, you still have plenty of cheap eating options - walk into any small restaurant or diner in Hong Kong and the average dish will be around US$3 to US$5. US$15 per day will keep you fuelled!
China is huge and the market potential is limitless. However, it's traditionally been a tough nut for foreign entrepreneurs to crack. Whatever the case, you'll get some good advice hanging out with the local startup scene and possibly even some big ideas you can bring home. Shanghai is the partying scene and is worth a visit, but the capital and cultural center of Beijing is the place where many tech startups base themselves. Beijing experiences 4 seasons unlike the countries / cities we've looked at so far. It is bitterly cold in the winter and scorching hot in the summer. Basic English is spoken in some places, but be prepared to learn some survival Chinese!
Hidden behind the shimmering new skyscrapers are the hutongs - backstreets and residental areas.
Eating cheap in China will expose you to a whole bunch of food you never knew existed. This is yang rou chuan a popular street snack in Beijing, originally from Xinjiang the western, muslim part of China.
You can take a trip out to the Great Wall from Beijing. It's a couple of hours drive... I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I spent a few months living in Beijing and didn't make it out to the Great Wall!
Garage Cafe is gaining a reputation as a place where bootstrapped startups can work, drink coffee and connect with investors.
Coworking spaces in Beijing
Cheap accommodation in Beijing
- 7 Days Inn - US$40 per night (single)
- Holiday Inn Express - Temple of Heaven - US$60 per night (single)
- Jin Jiang Inn - US$35 per night (single)
Eating like a local is cheap although you might experience a language barrier now and then. A basic bowl of noodles or dumplings will cost you around US$2, so US$10 per day is enough to survive on if you're happy eating local food and practicing your mandarin!
I spent 10 years living and working in Japan and to me it's a second home. It's an amazing place, tons to discover, and the people are brilliant. As a tech market it's mature and developed. English isn't widely spoken and Japan experiences 4 seasons, so plan your trip around that. Tokyo - my home for about 8 years - definitely has enough to keep you occupied for a month. Bear in mind that Japan is expensive, especially domestic travel. If you intend to travel a lot by train you can buy a US$300 7-day JR Pass that will allow you to travel as much as you like. Only foreigners are eligible to buy this and it's well worth it.
Get up high somewhere in Tokyo and you'll see it stretching off into the distance forever.
The first time you see Hachiko crossing in Shibuya, you'll probably just stop and stare for a good few minutes.
Ironically for ramen-profitable startups, ramen is not the cheapest thing you can eat in Japan. It's soba. A basic bowl of soba costs around US$3 from a chain cafe - a bowl of ramen costs more like US$8.
It's not all endless metropolis either. Hakone is an hour train ride out of Tokyo and is famous for its greenery and hot springs.
The Scape coworking space in Tokyo.
Coworking spaces in Tokyo
Cheap accommodation in Tokyo
- Kimi Ryokan - US$40 per night (single)
- Khaosan Tokyo - US$30 per night (single)
- Sakura Hotel - US$65 per night (single)
Tokyo can get expensive quite fast. Eating like a salaryman will help keep costs down, which means US$3 soba or yoshinoya. If you grow tired of that, regular food will run around US$5 to US$10 per meal. It's possible to do Tokyo on US$20 a day, even allowing for some travel across town by train. Taxis will cripple your survival budget!
Lets say we want to spend one month in each country on a bare minimum budget. Coworking space for one month, budget hotel for one month and survival spending money for one month!
- Coworking space: US$300
- Shared Hostel: US$900
- Food: US$450
- Total: US$1650
- Coworking space: US$200
- Private Hotel Room: US$750
- Food: US$300
- Total: US$1250
- Coworking space: US$150
- Private Hotel Room: US$750
- Food: US$300
- Total: US$1200
- Coworking space: US$50
- Private Hotel Room: US$600
- Food: US$150
- Total: US$800
- Coworking space: US$130
- Private Hotel Room: US$750
- Food: US$450
- Total: US$1330
- Coworking space: US$0
- Private Hotel Room: US$1050
- Food: US$300
- Total: US$1350
- Coworking space: US$160
- Private Hotel Room: US$900
- Food: US$600
- Total: US$1660
7 months. 7 countries. Meeting tons of new people. Having amazing new experiences. All while making progress on your startup. You will need...
This will cover all your basic expenses for a month in each country such as coworking desk / wifi (and hopefully some friendly coworkers), a roof over your head and food in your belly. This doesn't include regional travel, but with budget airlines such as Air Asia this is cheap - expect to pay less than US$100 for a one way ticket when hopping between these destinations, apart from the countries further out like China and Japan.
A Little About Us
Hope you enjoyed that post. We are Pitchpigeon - a startup marketing tool. We help you easily create & send the perfect pitch email to over 200 different tech journalists around the world. We're based in Singapore.
I'm yongfook and I've lived in Asia now for over 11 years. I lived for most of that time in Tokyo, but have had the chance to travel all over Asia for business and leisure - and I've spent time in each of the destinations above. If you have questions about running a startup in Asia, hit me up on twitter @yongfook.