Pietro Bonomo is a 44 year old digital nomad entrepreneur, based most of the year in Bali. He has a track record in serial entrepreneurship, having developed and sold successful businesses in the past. Pietro’s current venture is Viral Octopus, a virtual business incubator and digital marketing agency.
Originally from Turin in Italy, Pietro Bonomo came to Bali to start his nomadic lifestyle and chase the waves back in 2012. “I’ve always believed that I can follow my dreams by going where the waves are, and using my phone,” he smiles. “And it’s certainly worked for me so far.”
It sounds like a very laid back attitude, but his approach belies a shrewd business mind and a sharp eye for opportunity. Pietro first started in business in the 90s, when he opened a bar in Italy.
“Having been a DJ in London, I was interested in providing a safe alternative to drugs. So, I opened a bar and started selling cocktails which contained smart legal drugs. It was a great success and a really fun time. We were travelling around the world in search of plant extracts, visiting Africa and Brazil.”
Changing his business model to eCommerce
“But then the politics in Italy changed, and it became quite right wing,” he explains. “And in 2007, a cop came to our shop to search it, as they were suspicious of what I was doing.
“He was actually quite a nice guy, and he could see I wasn’t doing anything wrong. After he searched the house I got chatting to him and he showed me his new iPhone 3, which he’d just bought. He asked me if I wanted to buy it as he didn’t know how it worked.”
“I’d never seen one before. Suddenly I saw another path in front of me, one where I could build my business online, from any place across the world. It was like fate. I immediately decided to change my business model.”
From that point onwards, his company started selling smart drugs ingredient packages to other drinks suppliers, using a business to business model. “It developed into a successful ecommerce business, and I made a lot of money,” he acknowledges. “But I started growing bored. So I sold the business at the right time, in 2012.”
Becoming a digital nomad entrepreneur
“At that point, my wife Alessandra and I became nomadic. We came to Bali and I focused a lot on surfing. We also visited other countries for the waves, too.”
He points out that what drives most successful entrepreneurs isn’t so much the money – it’s a desire to bring value to people’s lives.
“My inner drive is to make lives better. So I started thinking about an idea for a virtual business incubator that uses robots to search for the best freelancers to execute the work. That was how the vision for Viral Octopus began.
For his first two nomadic years, Pietro developed his thinking whilst he travelled the world, surfing.
“I didn’t want to use up all the money I’d generated through the sale of the other business. So in 2014, I started doing some ecommerce consultancy whilst investigating other opportunities that could result in income streams.”
“In my view, there are two ways to make money – building wealth over the longer term and building something up, then cashing out. Over the years I’ve invested in Bitcoin and flipped houses, and invested in companies. I’ve always got my eye open for an opportunity.”
In 2016, Pietro started working on the technology to support his vision for Viral Octopus.
Viral Octopus: a virtual business incubator
“I wanted to bring the whole business incubation process online. Starting with idea creation, business strategy and modelling. Moving on to offer and product development. Following up with branding, marketing and customer experience.”
“I was also interested in the idea that human biases prevent us from making the right decisions at times. This was based on my own experiences. I was born and grew up in the north of Italy – an area where most people have paler skin – but my skin is dark. As a first generation immigrant, I’ve experienced discrimination.”
“It’s problematic for humans to think in this way as it stops us from making decisions based on facts. This leads to a situation in which we don’t have the best outcome.”
Exploring this idea further, Pietro developed the tech to find the best possible freelancers for use in Viral Octopuses’ business incubation model.
“We scrape freelancer data from LinkedIn using technology. We then invite freelancers to undertake a robust skills test, which is difficult to pass. If they pass, they stay on our books.”
“We have around 80 people on our system now. And what happens is that the robot – which we have nicknamed H.Alg – matches the right freelancer to the right job, removing human bias in the process. Within 2 to 3 days, we have exactly the right freelancers lined up ready to do the work.”
“We then encourage the freelancers to use our standardised models for implementation. This job is completed to an excellent standard, in a very quick time – much quicker than a normal agency.”
H.Alg manages jobs through a chat bot functionality. Payment is in $USD through Stripe, held in escrow until the job is complete.
Pietro’s vision for excellence
I smile at the robot’s name, which is a shortening of the words Happiness Algorithm. It’s also a reference to Hal, the onboard spaceship computer in my favourite film, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. It might be a fun reference but Pietro is very clear about what he’s trying to achieve.
“Mediocre has become the new normal. Take a look at our world leaders, for example. Viral Octopus has a vision – and that vision is excellence. We live in a world where it’s possible and we’ve got the technology to support us to achieve this.”
Pietro currently lives in Bali for 60% of the year, and the rest of the time he’s predominantly in Portugal, where he has legal residency.
Educating nomads to give back to local people
“In 2014, we came to Canggu, Bali. That’s when I started getting involved in giving back to the Nomad community, and also the local community as well. My wife and I were the first people to install fibre optics in the town. I started the Bali Digital Nomads Facebook group around the same time and it now has over 13,000 members.
Pietro is also involved in Nomads for Change, a group which supports local social and environmental initiatives, all across the world.
“I’m really keen to educate people to embrace the location independent lifestyle in the right way. If you are going to come to a country as a nomad and benefit from geoarbitrage, then you owe it to the local community to give back in some way.
“It’s about developing the right mindset,” he explains. “Not thinking like a hippy, but thinking like an entrepreneur with a conscience and a heart. That way, in the end everyone benefits.”
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