Vorovoro: The desert island set to become an unlikely business incubator

In the 1970s Fiji was driven by sugar and tourism. Trading was a large part of their growth strategy. Arguably, Fiji itself only hit world news in 1987 when the military overthrew the newly elected government. And since the second coups in 2000, Fiji started struggling to maintain its economic stability.

But former cleaner Mark Bowness sees something magical about the island and has leased Vorovoro and launched a global search to find six people who deserve to be flown to the 200 acre island in order to work on… a business idea.

Each participant “will be selected for their personalities and compelling life stories”. A serious need to get away from your current life is on the check list, alongside, of course, a viable business idea. After all, this won’t be any old beach holiday. Bowness intends to have participants join a bootcamp while they’re there.

Essentially, this won’t be the first time that Bowness has worked with the people of Vorovoro. The story behind his first journey to the island, however, may be stranger than that of ThisIsYourLifeChange.com.

In 2006, chief Mali was trying to find ways to develop the island in order to create more jobs and increase income. It was only due to his tech-savvy nephew called Ulai that they ended up listing the island’s availability on the web.

During this time, Bowness sent his friend, Ben Keene (on the prowl for start-up ideas), a unique proposition. It was reported that the email subject line read: A TRIBE IS WANTED.

In it, Bowness said: “We will establish an online community and call it a tribe. Members will create profiles, post photos, and chat online, and then do something with no known precedent in the history of the Internet: The virtual tribe will become a real one. We will travel to a desert island and form a partnership with an indigenous tribe. We will build an environmentally friendly tourist facility and show it off to the world as a model of low-impact development. We will be a 21st-century tribe, and you, Ben Keene, will be a chief.”

That was how Tribewanted.com was born and how the business world seeped back onto the island of Vorovoro.

A local newspaper reported the chief’s excitement, explaining that it would provide the island with three years worth of work.

The Gaurdian’s Simon Orr, who visited the island, likened it to “a unique new virtual timeshare.”

“Members would pay a modest fee for one, two or three years which would give them the right to the equivalent number of weeks on Vorovoro,” he said. “Each member would have equal rights and could vote on any issue affecting the community. One of the members would be elected as chief every month and would have control of a budget to carry out a pet project – if approved by the virtual democracy.”

With this relationship in hand, Bowness plans to bring more work for ‘his tribe’ and hope to inspire potential entrepreneurs by introducing them to Fiji’s culture. There is seemingly a lot that can be learned.

Ben Mones, who previously worked in Fiji, explains that there are many essentials that start-ups can lear from Fiji farmers alone.

“By planting on an incline and walking slowly, they expended less energy to get the same reward, maximising the deal they made with mother nature,” he said. “So why is this at all relevant? Because, when you think about it, this is exactly what lean startup teams do — or should do, at least.

“Lean teams with endless responsibility and an autonomous, no-heavy-oversight-layers-of-management working style have to be conscious of how they spend their time. Every hour spent iterating on that perfectly flat design, creating the right Facebook presence, user testing again and again, or searching for someone to promote the biz, must be quantified. Did that hour actually move the needle? Thinking in the way of our Fijian farmers, how slow do we need to walk and what incline do we plant on to get the ripest fruit?”

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