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‘They Just Left Us There’: Startup Remote Year Strands Customers Abroad

After a failed WeWork acquisition, job cuts and a new CEO, Remote Year is trying to make it past Covid-19. Some customers just want their money back.

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Photographer: DaniloAndjus/iStockphoto

David Kinoranyi had never been to Asia before his plane touched down in Vietnam in early March. He got a rush when he disembarked to see palm trees and a driver at the airport holding a sign with his name on it. Kinoranyi, 28, was starting his four-month program with Remote Year, a startup that promises to help people see the world while doing their day jobs. For a fee, Remote Year Inc. handles the lodging, office space and some meals—everything a long-distance worker needs for a life-changing sojourn abroad.

Kinoranyi, a user experience designer from the Netherlands, had a magical stay in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi for the first week or so. He worked on his laptop, explored the city and sampled bun cha (grilled meat over rice noodles and pickled vegetables) with the other people in his program. He didn’t worry too much when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 11. Remote Year seemed to have the situation under control, Kinoranyi said. That day, the startup told customers in an email that it would find the “safest option” for its participants if the virus threatened to interfere with their trips: “If that option is getting you out of the city, that is what we will do.”