Lily is an international community builder and content marketer who helps startups tell their story. She is the Country Manager for Thailand at Draper Startup House and she’s an avid advocate for digital nomad visas.
1. You are a keynote speaker at Digital Nomad Week in December. Tell us a little about DNW, why you decided to get involved, and what you will be talking about.
Olumide and I have known each other for a while due to our mutual interest in advocating for digital nomad visas. He knew me as a community connector thanks to my work with Draper Startup House, hosting Clubhouse communities, and he was on my panel at the Work + Travel Summit. When he asked if I would like to lend a hand with Nomad Week and help shape its direction, I was thrilled to jump in as an organizer and moderator. Most of my sessions will focus on policy, infrastructure and communities that enable digital nomads.
2. How does DNW rate on the nomad conference/festival calendar in your opinion in terms of size/importance?
Lots of similar events are strongly focused on helping newbie nomads join the movement, and I think DN Week will do a great job of this thanks to the wealth of workshops, but this conference is really a who’s who of thought-leaders in the movement. People who don’t just live the lifestyle, but are committed to shaping the future of the community, and it’s always exciting to feel like you’re part of creating something rather than just logging on to learn some new tips and tricks.
Since it’s our first year, the jury’s still out on what the numbers will be, but I know it’s a guaranteed good time because so many of the panels are composed of friends and colleagues having fun and nerding out together. I think audiences appreciate authenticity and will value that more than some of the events that win out on hype and size.
3. The pandemic put an increased focus on the potential of remote work, but the trend has been building for some time. Where do you think all this will be in 5 years?
I never would have believed it pre-pandemic, but I think the dream of a “Nomad Passport” can really become a reality thanks to all the countries getting on board with the trends in global mobility! Before, we dreamed of just one country having a proper visa for digital nomads, but now the idea that we can create a Schengen-esque system where one application gets you entry to a network of remote-work friendly countries seems not just likely, but inevitable – and that’s going to be GAME-CHANGING.
4. I would like to ask you about Croatia, as that is my primary focus, and I understand you recently visited Zagreb. Tell us a little about your experience of Zagreb and Croatia as a DN destination.
I really enjoyed Zagreb! I wish I had gotten to spend more time there. I adore European cities for their history, architecture, and walkability. Having previously spent some time in Split, a visit to Zagreb impressed me with Croatia’s cultural diversity. There’s a lot happening in a relatively small country, and that makes for a fun place to visit. Also, as confusing as it was, I loved that there were so few signs in English and that I was constantly perplexed at what was going on since I didn’t know any words besides thank you. In Thailand where I live, because visitors often look different than the locals, you’re always spoken to in English. Nobody assumed they ought to speak English to me in Croatia (except at the airport and hostel) which was kind of refreshing.
5. What is the perception of Croatia as a DN destination, and has it changed in the last 12 months? If yes, in what way?
When my, mostly American, friends were scrambling to bunker down somewhere during lockdown last year, I think Mexico and Croatia were basically the two options open to them, so I had a lot of friends pass through. I think this really opened people’s eyes to the spectacular country that had been there all along, but was flying under the radar. Thanks to the nomad-friendly policies, I think Croatia has a good chance of attracting these types of visitors for years to come, but there’s still not a lot known about the community.
6. You are a community builder. How would you assess the Croatian DN community at the moment. Can you give us a few quick wins to make it stronger?
More coworking spaces please! And places in general that nomads can go to find each other. Coming from Thailand where we have a strong cafe culture and it’s very normal to buy a coffee and park with your laptop somewhere for a couple of hours, I was surprised at how hard it was to find places like that in Zagreb. While I noticed plenty of young folks out and about, if it weren’t for staying at a Hostel (shoutout to Swanky Mint!) I wouldn’t have known where to find my people. The community grows and connects itself when you give it hubs to gather around, so I would really increase the visibility and density of these, and work with local businesses and communities to maintain an active roster of events.
Editor’s note: The TCN Guide and Map of Zagreb Co-Working Spaces for future reference.
7. You are installed as the Croatian Minister of Tourism. What are the next steps you would implement to develop Croatia’s DN strategy?
Speak to the Ministers of Education and also Science and Technology! Digital nomads represent an attractive target group for tourism, but we’re a community truly devoted to giving back. The easier it is for us to integrate, the more we do give back by teaching, training, starting businesses and more. We’re entrepreneurs and explorers, and we represent some of the most educated and professionally privileged people on the planet, so we have a lot to give.
We also want to learn and understand the places and cultures we move through, so creating experiences and opportunities outside of the urban areas for digital nomads to immerse themselves should also be prioritized. When you travel a lot, many touristy places start looking the same, and the conveniences and amenities are nice, but you also want to get that sense of place and to dig deeper to make the most out of exploring. To me, it’s all about exchanging culture, knowledge, and opportunities, not just spending dollars in exchange for photos and Instagram Likes – you know?
You can learn more about Lily Bruns, as well as connect via her official website.
To get your ticket for Digital Nomad Week, check out the event website.
For more news and features about digital nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.