Updated: Sep 4
Are you curious about the future of work and how it's evolving in the 21st century? Look no further than Lavinia Iosub, a pioneering figure in the world of remote work and founder of Livit Hub Bali and Remote Skills Academy. With a passion for building inclusive and innovative work environments, Lavinia has built one of Asia's Best Workplaces and has been recognised as a Top 50 Remote Innovator globally in 2023. As a founder, angel investor and member of several prestigious think tanks, investment clubs and education programs, Lavinia is at the forefront of reshaping the way we think about work in the digital age.
1: Lavinia, you are the Founder of Livit Hub Bali & Remote Skills Academy! Tell us more about these ventures and your journey as a female founder!
Hi and thanks so much for having me! This is always an interesting question :) I never set out to be an entrepreneur or a founder. I stumbled into entrepreneurship. I started my career in a bank, working in business development & sales. And then jumped ship to NGO work and then the medical field. I showed up at work every day trying my best to do excellent work. I then discovered I can easily envision projects and ventures that don’t exist yet, clearly see the path to getting them done, and also that I can easily get a group of people to gather around an idea, a project, and work well together. So 10-12 years ago, I started partnering up with people who had both similar views of the world as well as complementary skills, and we got to work.
Livit Hub Bali was an organic evolution of an existing startup community we used to run before that in Bali - it became clear it was time for us to build a tech innovation & Co working hub of our own. The hub is part of the larger Livit International umbrella, which is an ecosystem of various companies, services & people helping entrepreneurs, startup teams and remote workers build amazing businesses, projects and careers with a positive impact.
2: Congratulations on your recent achievements, including being named a 'Top 50 Remote Innovator 2023' and Livit, your company, being ranked as one of Asia's Best Workplaces! Can you share what factors contributed to your success and what these accomplishments mean for you and your business?
Thank you so much, you are kind! It’s definitely always nice to get recognition. Personally, I define success as feeling accomplished and fulfilled and having fun at work on a mundane Tuesday or Wednesday, when absolutely nothing happens but business and life as usual.
Are you happy then? Do you feel content with where you are and what you do? That’s success for me. But awards are nice, too, and they open the door to new opportunities!
In terms of factors, I think this is always very context driven and personal as well, but I would mention a few things I advise:
Building a healthy culture and fostering ownership in our team. People, especially high-performers, must have agency, be allowed to do their work however they see fit (within certain boundaries, of course) and must feel they will do well when the company is doing well, too. Otherwise the incentives are only for the business owners. Allow people to be in the driver’s seat and make mistakes and support them when they do. This is how you end up with “adults” on your team that don’t need supervision every minute of the day.
Question everything, especially the status quo 😀 Some things serve us the way they are, some don’t. Do we all need to go to the office and be in the same physical space with each other to do good work? Do all teams need to follow traditional hierarchical structures? Do we need to micromanage and boss people around to have results? These and many others are worth questioning and deciding for ourselves and our teams, rather than just follow the standard ‘recipes’.
3: You are a firm believer in that when we design more purposeful, sustainable teams, businesses and lifestyles, we shape a better reality! Can you tell us more about this and how we can all contribute?
I believe that work is something people will do even when everything is automated, taken care of by algorithms, AIs, and robots, and countries pay out Universal Base Income to their citizens. Because we humans have an innate need for things like meaning, purpose, belonging, expressing ourselves, and often that takes the shape of what we call work.
But work (or how we traditionally thought of it) is broken.
To name but a few aspects pointing to that:
● Modern offices (and many remote or hybrid team environments, as well) tend to be distraction-central; urgent requests make it impossible to focus on your priorities.
● You need to “look busy” and fill those 8 hours to justify your salary – as if we’re still all working in factories, back in the ’60s.
● So much about office work is meta-work, work about work. Meetings, status updates, planning, reports. There’s very little time left for actual work.
● There’s a need for middle managers, whose job is simply to “parent” office workers and fill their days with chunks of meta-work. Otherwise, workers aren’t engaged, or intrinsically motivated to do the work. So we bring in the stick and carrots. It seems obvious to me that we should focus on fixing modern work, making processes and collaboration better, irrespective of where people physically sit or work from. Once we do that, where employees ‘‘sit’’ does become a detail.
If I had to point to the three things most companies can improve, I would pick these 3:
Enabling asynchronous work or the ability to do focused work, uninterrupted, for at least a few hours a day. To make this happen, teams generally need fewer meetings and better documentation. This also requires flexibility/agency, empowering people to behave like adults at work, and treating them as such.
Meaningful work - studies estimate that up to 95% of work time in some teams is spent on reports, meetings, looking for documents, internal communication and other bits we generally refer to as “meta-work”. Help your team shift from spending most of their day on meta-work, from tapping shoulders and interrupting each other every 5 minutes, to a version of the world where we have clarity on what's meaningful, and you’re aligned on purpose and direction.
Clarity on goals and alignment in measuring performance and delivery on goals. If you know what needs to be done, by whom, and you can measure it, when or where teams work from is irrelevant.
When we make these shifts, we shape a more sustainable reality where work doesn’t have to destroy us, work & rest of our lives don’t always have to be in competition or imbalance, and we all lead more meaningful lives.
Once we decouple work from the old limitations we got used to, the future of work also becomes the future of living.
4: At Livit, the company you run, you have inspired and enabled over 2500 entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts, remote workers, and digital nomads to build disruptive businesses with a global impact and truly enjoy work & play! Amazing - can you tell us more. Who have been some impactful persons/businesses you have worked with?
I’d mention here Labster, an inspiring company that builds virtual laboratories for teaching science in high schools and universities. We incubated them and have been helping them grow for many years now - it’s been such an exciting journey!
I’d also mention working with Lia and the team on the Remote Skills Academy. The academy originally emerged from my frustration from seeing the disparity between the way nomads/expats and Indonesian locals live in Bali. Over the last 6-8 years, Bali has become a huge hot spot for digital nomads, remote workers, freelancers and location-independent entrepreneurs, who take advantage of all these new ways of working and live as they please thousands of kilo meters away from their employees, partners, clients or providers. But the reality was (and still is) very different for many of the locals ‘servicing’ the tourists, nomads and expats. And we wanted to do something about it. We taught our first course as the pandemic was starting to unravel in early 2020 and we’ve re skilled and up skilled 1500+ Indonesians and Thais since then. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling project to work on. We’ve seen many of our alumni going through literal life-changing transformations, and we’ve seen so many heartwarming stories like, for example, stay-at-home mothers that went from zero income to making more money than their entire family combined.
5: What is life like in Bali as a female entrepreneur?
Life in Bali and doing business in Bali are, counterintuitively, two fairly different things.
Living in Bali is wonderful. Lately, there’s been quite a bit of talk about the traffic and over-tourism in some parts of Bali. I, fortunately, live on the quiet (and less transient) side of the island (and I hope it’ll stay like that). Bali has something for everyone to enjoy. It doesn’t matter if you’re into water sports, beaches, jungle/volcano/rice paddies treks, cultural & musical events, entrepreneurial masterminds & personal development workshops, spa, workouts, yoga/pilates, spirituality or full-on hedonism, etc - there’s always something to explore. It’s also a place where many creative, daring minds from across the world and the Indonesian archipelago gather, so there’s certainly lots to be enjoyed, even after almost a decade of being here.
Doing business in Bali is, however, a very different ‘animal’. It comes with a few layers of complexity and uncertainty stacked on top of the usual up-and-down entrepreneurial journey. “Small” foreign investors face lots of challenges like bureaucracy, countless, unclear rules conflicting with each other and so on. Larger investors have the luxury of having entire departments dedicated to navigating these that SMEs don’t. Indonesia unfortunately treats any foreign investment company as a large enterprise (there’s no such thing as a foreign-owned “small startup” - any new investment requires a min. initial investment of 650k USD if a foreigner is involved).
But there are lots of opportunities to create, contribute and definitely be challenged in ways you never thought possible 🙂
There are times when doing business here is different for a female, and a funny story comes to mind here. I’m a (still) young, petite person. A few years back, my “right hand” in the business was an even smaller Indonesian woman. One day, a few local government representatives dropped by for an unannounced visit, and one of their first questions was: “Are you alone here?!”, probably meaning “Is there no grown-up/man supervising this facility?” - which both of us, of course, found hilarious.
6: What obstacles have you faced along the way? How have you overcome them?
I’d mention here a couple: overall judgement for being a (young) woman in business, especially in a foreign country; bureaucracy and corruption - these are personal pet peeves of mine.
In terms of overcoming them, regarding being a woman in business especially in Muslim or more traditional societies, I’ve always tried to give this as little headspace as possible. I know this might sound trite or unhelpful, but focusing on what I do best and thinking less about what others think of me or how they might discriminate me (even if I have evidence they indeed do) has worked for me. I choose to focus on things I can control - like occasionally being twice as good just to get the contract/role/etc 🙂
With regards to bureaucracy and corruption, these are unfortunately facts of life, in most places, although disproportionately so in some societies. A few strategic and tactical things that worked for me: hiring people who are much better than me at dealing with these (e.g. an internal legal team and external council, local partners who lobby for us), accepting that I will have to deal with some of it, and not allowing it to get to me. They say “An ocean of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship.” In entrepreneurship, it’s often all about what you allow to get to you, both positively and negatively 🙂
7: With experiences across 4 continents, 40+ countries, and various industries, could you share where you have lived and worked that positively influenced your career and expat life?
I’ve visited 40+ countries, some of them for leisure, some of them for work, and I’ve lived in: Azerbaijan, Belgium, Indonesia, Romania, United Kingdom, United States and briefly in Germany, Portugal and Mauritius. Running businesses in places like Azerbaijan and Indonesia taught me resilience and how to thrive in a vastly different environment.
Places like that offer tons of opportunity, but also lots of uncertainty and barely any predictability at all. If you are able to not only survive, but actually thrive in highly unpredictable, volatile environments, you can do anything. Because entrepreneurship is like that itself, no matter where you run a business (although certain countries do add a whole other level of complexity to the mix). So it really is the best bootcamp one could ever ask for 🙂 Another thing I’ve learned is that “non-obvious” places like Azerbaijan or Indonesia are where you also find some of the most interesting people amongst expats and locals alike.
8: What advice do you have for fellow female expats? What are your key tips for female entrepreneurial success?
The first thing that comes to mind is: become rooted in the local society you live in rather than just being an expat. I know it’s comfortable and definitely helpful and needed to stick to expat activities and groups. But having good local friends, attending local events and truly understanding the culture of the place you find yourself in makes for a much richer experience in so many ways.
As a female entrepreneur, whenever you have the chance, take your seat at the "big table" fully, like you own it. You are, very likely, just as (if not more) capable and accomplished as some of the people you admire (pro tip: everyone is winging it). As an ambitious woman, your 80% is probably other people's 120%.
9: How do you as a female entrepreneur maintain work/life balance?What do you do for fun?
I live in Bali for at least half the year, so I’m incredibly fortunate to have easy access to lots of exciting activities I enjoy: I trek (jungles, rice terraces and volcanoes usually), I take beach walks, I attend live music concerts and festivals, I do CrossFit, yoga and HIIT. I’m also a foodie so you’ll often find me trying out some new interesting dish somewhere 😀
10: Where do you envision your career and business heading in the future?
I’ve honestly never been the type that has rigid or very specific goals for the next 5 or 10 years, which has allowed me to accommodate changes of direction and welcome into my personal and professional life opportunities I could’ve never imagined. So that’s served me well, and I plan to continue 🙂
But what I do know is that, at Livit, we’ll continue to question the status quo, work on exciting projects that help entrepreneurs and remote workers put a dent in the world, undergo digital transformation and make remote work more and more inclusive.
Longer term, on a personal level, I also know I’ll always do something I’m passionate about, something that has to do with reimagining and reinventing the ways we work and live. Because if you are of the opinion that we should work to live not live to work (life-centric vs. work-centric), and that we should build our careers around meaning and purpose, then the future of work becomes the future of living. I’m really excited about all the changes and transformations taking place in the world as we speak, and the potential to solve some of the concerning issues we’re faced with as humankind.
Connect with Lavinia:
LI Lavinia: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laviniaiosub/