About Living, Working and Writing in Bali – Interview With Startup Founder Matt Oldfield

Work and live where other’s holiday – for Matt Oldfield this dream has come true. From the Indonesian island Bali, where he is residing with his family, he pulls the strings of his online dive travel agency ZuBlu. In our interview, he talks about his workflows and tools for managing the content of the company’s website. Also, Matt reveals what made him go to Bali and if his life is as dreamlike as it sounds.

Please tell us something about you and what you are working on.

Matt Oldfield
Matt Oldfield

My name is Matt Oldfield, I am a photographer, writer, biologist and diver based in Bali, Indonesia, although originally from the UK. I left the cold and wet behind over 20 years ago and lived in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, for more than a decade, then did a lot of traveling before ending up in Bali nearly 6 years ago. My wife is from Java and we have a beautiful daughter – Saraswati – who was born in Bali.

Having worked as a freelance photographer and writer in Bali for the last 6 years, I recently launched a new online dive travel agency – ZuBlu – for which I am responsible for managing all of the site’s written content, amongst many other jobs!

In your previous life, you have been working as a biologist. How did you come up with the idea to move to Bali and found a dive travel start-up?

I studied biology at university and spent a year doing research on coral reefs in Borneo after I graduated, but have always been very much involved in photography, so in 1995 joined an agency in London as a picture researcher – sourcing scientific and medical images for editorial use in the UK. Despite loving the job and spending all day, every day, surrounded by glorious images, I couldn’t cope with being cooped up in an office. I was offered a chance to become a dive guide back in Borneo where I met a group of cameraman and photographers from the UK who were running a business in the area. After a year as a guide, I jumped at the chance to join this company and ended up spending close to a decade as a photographer and cameraman, working as a local ‘fixer’ for TV productions in Borneo’s jungles, and writing – including publishing my first book about the reefs of Sabah.

Looking for a change, I moved to Bali to work as a freelance photojournalist but ended up focusing on commercial and event photography to pay the bills – shooting hotels and villas mainly. The underwater world was always at the back of my mind however, and so after meeting up with an old colleague from Borneo we decided to launch ZuBlu together – something I hope will allow me to combine photography, travel, writing and my love for the environment.

ZuBlu’s landing page

What is distinctive about ZuBlu, and how is it working out so far?

We like to describe ZuBlu as the first sustainable dive travel agent. As far as we are aware, we are the only dive travel agent in the world that emphasises sustainability and conservation, rather than the cheapest price. We believe this is very necessary today and the only way forward for dive travel. There is certainly a demand for the kind of information we feature on our site. Divers are generally very environmentally-aware; they are daily witnesses to the effects of pollution, destructive fishing practices or climate change and very sensitive to change. So in a sense, we are catering to a market that already exists, but has not been serviced particularly well in the past.

As well as working with resorts that employ sustainable business practices and highlighting conservation projects in the destinations we feature, ZuBlu is making its own commitment to conservation and the environment. We are donating a percentage of profits to an independently-run trust fund and the monies raised will then be used to support conservation efforts in the destinations we share with our guests. So rather than making a donation to a large, anonymous global NGO, we are going to direct the money to where it will make the biggest impact – and that is often at the grass-roots level where we hope to be working.

The ZuBlu site also has a clever search engine running in the background – another first for ZuBlu we believe! Our guests can simply enter what they would like to see and when they would like to travel and the search tool delivers a list of destinations tailored to the guest’s preferences. They can then further refine the results according to whether they would like beautiful beaches, family activities or a romantic break for instance. Basically, we put the power of discovery into our guests’ hands – something quite unique to ZuBlu.

We launched the company in November after more than 6 months of planning, design, fundraising and content writing. Currently, we have around 60% of the destinations and content online so have a lot of work ahead of us over the next few months to get everything up and running. We are very much a startup, but we are starting to get some enquiries and will be doing a major PR push early in 2018 to get our name out into the world.

When I look at the website of ZuBlu, I imagine the life you live now must be like a dream. Is it dream-like in reality? What is a typical day of yours like?

Well, working for a startup means the vast majority of my time is spent at a desk! My focus is getting all the content up in place and broadening the selection of destinations and resorts so as to ensure we can cater for every budget, every preference. This has taken longer than anticipated but we are nearly there and I hope that I will be traveling a lot more in 2018. My daughter has just turned 1 so it might be a little early to introduce her to diving, but I hope we can travel together. My ambition is to share Indonesia’s amazing natural history with my family – there is simply so much to explore here and the biodiversity is, quite literally, like nowhere else on earth. We work with resorts who’s house reefs have the highest recorded fish species diversity on the planet! I want my daughter to grow up exploring these places and developing an appreciation of conservation and the environment.

So whilst it might not be a dream, I still get to wake up in Bali every morning with the sun shining, amazing cultural events happening every day and the beach just minutes from my house. A typical day is spent at a desk in a fantastic co-working space called Kumpul but I always try to get out by 5pm and meet my family at the beach for a swim – even if it is just for 30 minutes, it makes a huge difference to my day. Over the next 6 months I have trips planned to Ambon in Maluku, Indonesia, Palawan in the Philippines, Singapore for a dive show and will be heading back to Borneo for both work and holiday I hope. A great deal to look forward to.

 

Bali
Matt Oldfield has been living on the island of Bali for six years.

Which role does writing play in your life?

During my time in Borneo, I would write articles for dive and travel magazines whenever possible but it wasn’t until 2005 – when the company I was working for produced its first book – that I started to consider myself a ‘proper’ writer. We went on to publish two more book projects together and since then, writing has become a major part of my professional life. Even whilst working as a photographer I would take on copywriting jobs, script writing, or putting together pitches for tv productions, and I came to the conclusion that whilst I may not be the most natural of writers, it is something I enjoy a great deal and a very useful, complimentary side to my photography business. Writing started out as a sideline but over the years has developed into a significant part of my career and something I love to do – I still get excited when I sit down in the morning with a coffee and half-baked idea and see it take shape and evolve.

“I still get excited when I sit down in the morning with a coffee and half-baked idea and see it take shape and evolve.”

My main role at ZuBlu is managing the site content so I spend probably 90% of my time writing or editing my business partner’s copy. It has been a challenge to keep the writing fresh and original across every page but also very satisfying seeing the site develop and the amount of information grow. We both have a huge amount of knowledge and experience of the different destinations we feature on the site and sharing this knowledge is something we both feel is right at the heart of our business. My job for the foreseeable future is to use my writing skills to turn this knowledge into something that will both inform and tempt our guests.

How did you find out about Ulysses?

I came across Ulysses earlier this year whilst searching for an alternative to the combination of Scrivener, Word and TextEdit that I had been using in the past for book projects and keeping tabs on other work. I used Scrivener in the past to write two books but wasn’t entirely happy with the software – simply because I felt I needed something a lot simpler.

As my business partner and I started to work on the ZuBlu site, we quickly realised we needed a simple way to manage a great deal of content from different sources and at various stages of development. We have the site copy, resort and destination information, packages, blog posts, outlines of conservation projects and PR material to keep track of, all written by myself, my business partner and a copywriter. So I started to hunt for an app that could manage all of this and that’s when I first learnt about Ulysses. The fact that the app is such a joy to use when writing was almost a bonus! It was the library and keywording abilities that first caught my eye.

 

A glance at Matt Oldfield's library...
A glance at Matt Oldfield’s library…

Could you please describe the way you’re using Ulysses, your typical workflow?

I have a rather simple workflow when working on material for the ZuBlu site. I tend to use the inbox as my ‘working folder’ and this is where I will start any new sheets. For instance as I research a new destination or resort, these notes will be written up as a new sheet, alongside notes from meetings, blog or social media post ideas and anything else I think of over the course of a day. When I start to write up some final copy, I will use the notes as reference as I work on another fresh sheet in the inbox. Then after a couple of days – or when I realise I am getting in a mess – I will make an effort to clean up the inbox and move sheets to where they should be.

I organise most of the ZuBlu content into groups broken down by country and region, plus several extra groups for site copy, press releases, quotes and templates. Indonesia for example is broken down into 9 groups including Bali, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and West Papua, and as I clean up the inbox, the individual sheets for destinations and resorts from within these broad regions are moved into the relevant group. As I do this, I keyword every sheet – and this is where I like to think I am being clever with Ulysses. I use groups as traditional ‘folders’ to keep together all the sheets for a destination or particular part of the site. I then use keywords to keep track of different types of information, for example the status of a piece of writing – notes, in progress or finished – or different sources. I like to think of these as being two different layers of organisation at right-angles to one another and by then using filters for specific keywords or combinations I can pull out the sheets I need and keep track of all the different content I have to manage.

I also set up a filter to identify any sheets without keywords – a failsafe to make sure nothing has slipped through my system! And I often drop a filter down into the hierarchy of a group to help me when I am working on a particularly complicated country with lots of destinations and resorts and different people working on the content at the same time.

 

... and at ZuBlu's website
… and at ZuBlu’s website

What do you like best about Ulysses? Do you have a favorite feature?

Probably my favourite features of Ulysses are the keywords and filtering, and the fact that the app is, at its core, just about putting words down on screen. Groups, keywords and filters keep my work organised. The rest of the app just lets me write, without thinking about formatting, without worrying about document compatibility, without getting wrapped up in the mechanics of it all. I simply start to type. I don’t even use markup beyond a few headers and italics, and strikethroughs when editing. I don’t use goals or attachments. I just need an easy way to manage my documents, plus screen space to write – and that’s it.

“I just need an easy way to manage my documents, plus screen space to write – and that’s it.”

I am also a big fan of the ability to quickly jump from library- to editor-only view – ⌘1 and ⌘3 get a lot of abuse when I am working with different notes in different panes. The quick open ⌘O is very useful indeed when trying to track down a research note or random idea.

Is there anything I would change about Ulysses? I would love an outlining tool with the ability to move around and collapse or expand sections, ideally using keyboard shortcuts. I use OmniOutliner alongside Ulysses when I am working on ideas and thrashing out bigger pieces of writing. The basic app is very simple but it allows me to quickly break down an idea and juggle the different parts around until I am ready to start writing – all with just a few keyboard shortcuts. If Ulysses had something similar I would be very happy indeed.

Which other tools and productivity apps are you using, and how do they help you?

As I mentioned above, OmniOutliner is my tool of choice for outlining, working on ideas and putting together bigger projects. I will normally start in this app, then move over to Ulysses as I begin to work on the full text. I generally don’t bother exporting an outline from OmniOutliner – I simply have the two apps open side-by-side as I work.

Magnet – probably the one app I use continuously, all day, every day. Using a few keyboard shortcuts, I can send one window to the left of the screen, another to the right, and easily view research notes or a website alongside Ulysses. I also use it to run columns down the screen from three different apps – Ulysses, OmniOutliner and a website page. I am certain there is a way to do this built into OSX, but Magnet works for me.

ZuBlu uses Slack for communications, various Google apps, Toggl for time tracking, Tawk.to for chatting to guests. We also use online apps such as Xero for accounting and Asana to manage our editorial calendar.

For editing and managing images, I use Lightroom. I rarely need to touch Photoshop.

Even if you’re not planning a diving adventure in Asia, check out ZuBlu’s profiles on Facebook and Instagram – these photos make for a nice little escape from the humdrum of everyday life!

Rebekka Honeit

Blog-curating writing maniac and public relations person. Loves coffee, chocolate cookies and literature. Finds peace in tweaking press copy.