Being a Founder is a Privilege

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Michael Pryor, CEO of Trello, was up on stage at SaaStr 2017 (a conference for Software as a Service/cloud software) and as I watched the interview with Jason Lemkin (SaaStr), he mentioned something that I’d love to highlight.

“I’d like to mention that I came from a very privileged background as a white male and with high education and a nice family to back me up”

Something similar to that.

And the point being, if he wasn’t all that, he might or he could not have started Trello.

While diversity and gender are all the rage in Silicon Valley, we might not highlight it enough in the SE Asia region, or specifically in Indonesia.

Events and conferences might not highlight or showcase this but if you dig deeper into funded startups in Indonesia, you can see a trend where most funded tech startups are founded by founders who have studied overseas and came back. In fact, 2 out of 3 unicorns in Indonesia are founded with such background. Which I’m kind of dumbfounded of a VC who announced they will only invest in such background, while the market reality is already happened that way.

Founders with such background has a safety net where they can take the highest risk and if the company was shut down – they will always can go back to their family business (however small or big they might be)

Despite not being part of such background, I still want to be thankful of the fact that I have a supportive family, I don’t have to work to support each and every one of my family, and even if I failed (knock wood) – I know I can find a decent job. I have all the time to learn languages by myself through the internet (fluent in English and Korean now). I definitely would state that I am privileged and thanking God for it.

This lack of diversity will also resulted in less snowball effect as the rich gets richer and might have less rags to riches story from tech. Again, I’d love to applaud William Tanuwijaya (which went to the same university as I did) as he might be the poster boy for that story.

Here’s to hoping there will be more diversity of (funded) startup founders in Indonesia and in the region.

Defining Value Driven Life with Vision and Passion

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Over the past 5 years of my 20s – I get to learn tons of things and things seems to be moving pretty fast over that duration of time. Personally, I got to graduate and worked at some pretty interesting companies making huge network of connections and ended up building Talenta for the past 3 years now. At the same time the ecosystem that I’m in have resulted 3 companies with more than $1b in valuation (Tokopedia, Traveloka, Go-Jek). Even further, the tech ecosystem globally has gone from Uber for X (on demand marketplace) to Artificial Intellegence, AR/VR, and cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more)

Realizing this, I feel the need to define my values, my vision, and my passion — to be the anchor and north star of my life. Otherwise I’ll be just following the current and ended up in a rat race.

My vision: is to be/to create a scalable solution to a huge problem specifically in Indonesia and generally the world. Which is why I’m in tech as it is the only way to scale a solution beyond solving problems for small circles.

Values or things that I want to relate myself into:

Maker – creating things (whether it’s writing, shooting a video, drawing comics, music, or any things) are a basic human responsibility and needs. I want to continue my goal of making valuable things vs consuming and being passive.

Movement – I want to relate myself to positive and impactful movements that can create change

Minimalism: I got this value from watching this documentary basically less is more. You should be able to pack your belongings in 1-2 suitcases. Owning too many things doesn’t make you happy – in fact more choices can lead you to being unhappy.

Mindfulness: Being mindful in the age of distractions (read: technology and especially our smartphones) is super important. Mindful of what you think, you eat, you read, or even what you do and who are you friends with.

Mentorship: Experience matters despite the pace of change in the world that we live in. That is why I believe in giving back through mentorship and also receiving it from someone I admire/trust. We need mentorship whether in faith, in business, in life, in love.

Things that I am passionate about:

Software: Just around 6 years ago the term Software is eating the world is “announced” by Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz the famous Venture Capital. It couldn’t be more true, essentially software (or tech) is touching every single things in our life.

Subscription: While William Tanuwijaya of Tokopedia have famously said that “marketplace is the most awesome/beautiful business model in the world” – I beg to differ, I believe that subscription is the best. While the past decade or two, we’ve only been familiar with subscriptions through its connection with media (newspaper, cable tv, Internet Service Providers) and at its core it is still going to be the biggest use case, I believe it will expand to more things like subscribing to your favorite restaurants or businesses.

Sleep: Despite the lack of it, I am intrigued, and thus became curious, and at the end became excited about sleep. Whether the supporting industry (supplements, or even the mattress) or the act and the knowledge of sleep itself. I believe that we need enough sleep to excel and perform in our waking hours and the world needs to be educated more on this.

Savior: God, and in this case (and the only case for me), Jesus Christ have changed my life. And I’m passionate about learning about Him and celebrating Him. I want to be influential and spread the word of God. Especially to non-believers.

I hope I can look back to this day and thanking my past self to have created this. Amen.

It’s a Payment War not Ridesharing Battle

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As it became official today — Kudo has just been acquired by Grab. This just confirmed my theory that I fought for in a WhatsApp conversation with a startup friend: This SE Asia region war isn’t in the ridesharing, but actually in the payment space — and Uber might be losing out.

Let’s look back and track how the two companies are doing it:

GoJek — yes they started with a ridesharing, and then expanded even more successfully in the food delivery space: GoFood. After that it keeps adding more use-cases (Go Massage, Go Glam, and more) and became an on-demand platform (for platform play, see WeChat in China).

At first, I was thinking that GoJek was aiming to become WeChat indeed — adding all things into one app and become the go to platform in our daily life. I heard they are even on the verge of closing a $1B round from Tencent (HA!)

After launching their payment platform, GoPay, and basically just subsidize the whole lot of usecases for the sake of people pumping money inside its wallet. Now, I’m confirmed that in fact this is a payment war.

It is the war to actually banking the unbanked

if you think about it GoJek are creating its own ecosystem with its drivers — they are essentially the drivers’ bank by holding their income and in fact even enabling them to buy things through its payment system. Imagine this: whatever things that GoJek sell to its drivers — most likely they might buy it e.g. micro insurance or even loan.

With GoJek present in technically all big cities and potentially all cities, it has the (huge) potential to become THE bank for people who are usually out of reach from the traditional banks.

Now on top of that growing ecosystem is also all the middle class who are becoming more and more used to using GoJek that having millions on its GoPay system are a norm now.

Back to the big news of the day (congratulations for Albert and Agung — you two never cease to amaze me, and can’t thank you guys enough to be our early paying customers), at the other side of the arena, Grab is a bit too late in expanding its use-cases, such as its GrabFood (May 2016) and even its payment system.

While its ride-sharing market share isn’t far from GoJek, it has to add more users and more use-cases to its platform to make the payment (or digital bank) works. Kudo, who’s basically went from 0 to $100m (the unconfirmed value of the acquisition) in just 2 years, has tens of thousands agents on the field who are giving access to:

a) e-commerce for those who aren’t familiar with it and doesn’t even trust it and, b) banking the unbanked again by its payment platform

By buying Kudo, Grab gained access to its ever expanding ground workers who are acquiring more and more users. While this might not beat GoPay, yet, it is a step in the right direction and in my opinion — they might be buying Kudo while it still can :)

I’m going to close this post with two predictions:

1) Similar players to Kudo such as Ruma (one of the most awesome – yet under the radar startup by the way!) and or Kioson might be on the radar of GoJek to expand its payment user base

2) GoJek might not be acquired by a “similar” player such as Uber and or Didi but in fact payment players such as Ant Financial.

What do you think? :)

Living in Silicon Valley

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This is not an article about a tips or an experience of living in Silicon Valley, but more of an observation from what I get by being here for around a week now. It is definitely an “American Dream” or to me, “Indonesian dream” to work and live at the States but let me just give you a picture of what it’s like:

With a few years experience (not totally green or fresh graduate), after tax, you’re going to have around $70-$75k per year which is around $6k per month. And the cost of living here are:

  • Let’s say you live in the South Bay (San Jose or Santa Clara), a rent for one bedroom apartment is around $2,5k to $3k.
  • If you own a car, that’s another $500
  • Eating out for lunch and dinner might cost you around $25 and with daily coffee it’s a total of $35 (assumption) per day which adds up to $1050 per month
  • Minus insurance, weekends entertainment, and so on.

You practically just getting by with almost no ability to save. Well, at least this is from what I observe. But despite all that, I do think that it is really an awesome city/place to live. Every little thing is here, transportations are awesome, I love the weather so much that I’d kill to have the same weather in Jakarta.

Considering the picture, I sometimes consider our life in Jakarta is really good. Minus the traffic, you can literally eat out and still have cheap foods. Coffee are (still) cheap. You can still save and invest for your future plus I think there are much more opportunity to build your own business in Indonesia compared to the US considering all the problems that we still have in Jakarta. Plus, the labor are still cheap that you can have drivers and maids. (I know I’m totally not an independent guy)

So, building a business vs working for a tech company in the Valley. Which one is better?

Value of Experience (and Loyalty)

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In this generation of young, tech-savvy, yet want everything to be instant. The career path of someone graduating between the past 3-5 years to the next decade is gonna look like Mario jumping from one block to another. Job hopping is something that I see (and afraid of) is happening and becoming a trend. Yet that is not what I’m going to talk about.

This post is for those who are graduating, has already graduated recently, or had been in a workforce for a year or so. We are young, so YOLO, right? Yet, I still don’t get people who choose a boring corporate jobs over fast-paced, learning-a-ton, building-network job in a high growth startup. Okay, you might say: “Well, corporate jobs paid me 30 percent more or even twice! I need money to support my Starbucks morning, and weekends at clubs”

Too bad, you’re wrong. Not on the part where you will get paid well for corporate jobs, but on the part where you value money too early in your life. Unless you have to support your family (parents or young siblings) OR you are a young married couple with kids, then this post is not for you. BUT, if you are single (not married) and don’t have that much of a responsibility – explore things, do new experiences, work where you know you will learn tons of sh*t and grow your network by 10-20-100 times.

To give you an example of what I faced, I worked for East Ventures and Tech in Asia. Back then, I’d say I’m getting peanuts but to learn under Willson Cuaca and Willis Wee on a daily basis. That is priceless. I have grown my skills and network – both which are super duper useful in my life as a founder, building Talenta. In the middle of that, with my experience from TiA and EV I got to work for KakaoTalk, earning 10 times what I make at the previous companies – and able to lead the expansion and marketing for KakaoTalk in Indonesia.

Money is important. Peer pressure exists. But please, don’t value yourself over how much salary you got and comparing it to your friends. Make sacrifices for the next 1, 2, or 3 years and reap all the benefits after. This is a generation where we will see tons of changes for the good for Indonesia. Be part of the change, don’t just got stuck up in a corporate rat race.

(To add to this, I am totally biased as I have worked all my career so far in startups. I don’t have anything against corporate, but my post won’t hurt you guys. Any smart and bright talents that I can convince to join the startups movement can only be good for this country.)

And even after a few years in startups and you don’t feel like this is for you, the corporate job will still wait for you to take. Getting a job is easy. Getting the value of experience and being loyal to a company is a chance that you shouldn’t miss.

P.S. Talenta is hiring :)

Branding an Enterprise Software

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We are at the last phase or stage on our product building and we’re going to launch our public beta very soon (Excited!). With this in mind, we recruited a Sales team and also someone who is more or less experienced with branding. I realized that most enterprise software nowadays act just like consumer apps. They have a “character” or a brand.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about it at all before I brainstormed with them. All I can think of is building, building, and building the product and just sell it to as many companies as I can. I was totally reminded on the past few days that in fact, we ARE selling to humans too. We sell to the HR managers and the founders of companies – although we are a B2B/Enterprise Software.

I’m quite unsure how many of you reading this will be on the same journey of building an enterprise software but it is an interesting question when people ask you “How do you want to brand your enterprise software?” – to which I answer “I want to be the Uniqlo of HR software – simple, affordable, but they have an awesome quality”.

Slack and or HootSuite is a B2B software that I am quite inspired in terms of branding, how Slack is perceived as cool, awesome, and simply the best communication tools out there (at least for me). While HootSuite has this friendly owl as its mascot. One of our sales staff also mentioned Zendesk’s Buddha to which she said “I might not remember what Zendesk is, but I definitely remember the Buddha”.

So if you do have experience in branding an enterprise software, would love your feedbacks or probably share it to your friends?

On Growing

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As I have just posted this morning on Facebook, as per January, we are a team of 15:

teamtalenta

Except our intern, everyone is here. More than half of us are focusing on the product side. We just recruited a few people on the Sales team too, getting ready for the launch. I hope this is just a start of something bigger. There’s a lot of excitement for sure, but lots of responsibility too.

If you think I magically recruited 15 people out of thin air, you’re wrong. I would say that this is what thousands of messages on LinkedIn, hundreds of interviews, and a lot of e-mails get you. Recruitment is a full-time job, and as a founder (moreover, solo founder), this takes most of your time (except product).

In fact, I’d love to say to any founders, soon-to-be founders, or bootstrapping founders. IF you think, creating awesome product is hard, try scaling the team. Even William from Tokopedia has hinted of hiring abroad thinking how hard it is to hire/recruit here. Doing startup is hard, convincing other people to join your journey is even harder.

All the best for Indonesia startup founders in 2015 and would love your take on recruitment in Indonesia if you have different opinion (perhaps you can hire tens of developers in 1 week? – we’d love to be your client).

Tokopedia Funding and its Effect For Indonesia Startup Ecosystem

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So, Tokopedia has just raised $100m funding by Softbank and Sequoia. Who is Tokopedia you ask?

A little background (if you’re from Indonesia you can skip this): Tokopedia is the leading e-commerce startup in Indonesia on a C2C marketplace model. Its tagline is the biggest online shopping mall in Indonesia, meaning that most of the shops in Tokopedia are small and medium businesses that actually are depending on Tokopedia on their livelihood. Sounds familiar? Yes, you can say Tokopedia is like Indonesia’s Taobao. Even its CEO has often said that he see Jack Ma as his role model.

So far the startup has raised multiple round of funding from East Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures on 2011, Netprice on 2012, Softbank Ventures Korea last year. As it still operating on a free transaction model, it has little to no revenue thus has to depend on the funding and they have raised almost every year if you keep track on them

Now that we have put that away, my take on how this would effect the Indonesia startup ecosystem:

  • This proves that funding rounds and the money that is going into Indonesia and generally Southeast Asia are getting bigger and bigger. As Justin Hall famously called here: The Rise of Holy Shit Money in SEA
  • E-commerce is very close to a tipping point/mature period. I predict that Tokopedia won’t be the last e-commerce that has raised a whopping round. My prediction Traveloka will raise a mid to high 8-figure-round too soon. Followed by other verticals.
  • As e-commerce matures, VCs and investors will start to invest in other business models as well. Next wave can be on the B2B/Enterprise/SaaS startups.
  • This one is more of a hope: as startups are getting more attention and success stories, we will see more and more people start a startup or at the very least, increasing value for startups as a place to work at.
  • This is truly is the time to start your business as the money that is going into Indonesia are really getting bigger and bigger – it is huge. Though it doesn’t mean you should start a startup just for the sake of it.

What do you think? Tweet me @jshkvn and let me know your opinion

P.S. Congratulations to William and Leon. You guys have always been my role model ever since I first met you guys!

Why We Need To Work a Little Bit Harder

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Don’t work too hard. Have a work and life balance. Enjoy life. These are some of the things you see in blogs or websites lately advising us to do less work and have more time off, and disconnect. I’m not saying that it’s wrong or false, all of these are really really good, but when you apply this advice to our country, Indonesia? I personally would say that it’s a bit misplaced. Why?

Indonesia has a very laid back culture. There, I said it. This is something that we all admit. We tend to or prefer to have more meetings than to do the actual work. We really, really, like to hang out and chill in a cafe or a bar with our friends. Lunch hour is literally an hour because we spent more time talking than actually eating. Again, there’s always two sides of coin to everything, but we certainly not a country that you can describe as “hard working”.

This culture has made a lot of foreign companies or management teams coming from abroad, surprised or sometimes, dumbfounded. Because we ask for a higher salary, yet sometimes we arrive late and always waiting for 6pm to come sooner so we can just go right away (in Bahasa Indonesia we call this “teng-go”, when the bell rings, we just go). We have a tendency to “work slowly” or in Bahasa Indonesia “Santai aja/Selow aja”  and when the deadline came, sometimes miracle happen and you “finished your work” (you can define the meaning of the quote).

Obviously, this stereotype doesn’t apply to everyone or the whole country (it applies to me too), if you are working hard already, that’s awesome. And if you say “work smart, not work hard” – yes, but can you apply that to the whole work force? Some might not be able to do the former, but I believe that everyone can pretty much do the latter.

But, but, we have potential, a huge one, in fact our nation is predicted to be in the top 10 of global economy in the future. If you have been reading about Indonesia over the past few years, we have been hearing, writing, mentioning, talking, pitching, about Indonesia potential for quite a while now. This is what I am afraid will happen: that we will be complacent, that we will keep saying we have potential but we never know when it will unfold. Why? Because we are not working hard enough.

I tweeted that almost two weeks ago and I really meant every words of it. If you see Japan’s successes, and now China and Korea too. It was all built on a foundation of working hard. In fact, it’s not a surprise anymore that you heard about people getting sick or even worse because of overworking. They eat their lunch quickly, and get back to work right away. Even in Korea, there is a culture where students in the university would take a gap year or sometimes more than one year, because they know, once they graduated, there is no “life” anymore for them. But if it isn’t for hard work of that tens of millions (for China it’s hundreds of millions) of people, I don’t think they will be where they are right now. Alibaba’s $150b valuation? All because of hard work. (Please do watch Crocodile of the Yangtze to prove my words – it’s an awesome documentary)

Another thing that has been mentioned about Indonesia is that right now and for the next 20 years, Indonesia will have a golden generation because of our demographics. Again, this is a potential not a sure win. What if you have tens of millions of young people or generation but they are not skilled worker, they prefer to post pictures to Instagram compared to learning something new like coding or a new language, they prefer to read 9gag over “thick books” (Even Harry Potter is too much to read). The potential bubble will be burst and we might have more unemployment rather than a productive young workforce.

That is why I think in this post, as someone who wants Indonesia to succeed and exceed all the prediction (like you do), I would love if we can work just a little bit harder. It doesn’t have to be in a form of staying over in the office one more hour without doing anything, but it can be reading more books, it can be learning to code, it can be learning new skills or languages. I think rather than speaking to all the people, I’d dedicate this post to people who are between 15 years old-30 years old. Because the next 20 years will be on us, not on anybody, but on us.

This isn’t even specifically for tech/digital/internet industry because if we go there, we have two potential here: either we own our market by having locally made products/company founded by Indonesian succeeding or we just sit in our comfort zone: Googling everything because we just don’t want to think, liking pictures or stalking on Facebook, posting what you’re doing on Twitter, scrolling and double tapping on Instagram, and updating your sleeping hours on Path –  resulting in a scenario where we only became a market for foreign companies. I wish that Indonesia will not be the latter, but the former.

If this post offended you, it’s good, it means that I hit the right target. If this post resonates with you, please share it to your social media. If you have opinion, would love to hear it on the comments or tweet me: @jshkvn – I prefer not to hear a quick reply or comments such as but we want to enjoy life OR but we have to have a work and life balance.

On Health

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As a founder of a startup, it feels like we are expected to work as hard as we can, in fact forget about 9-to-5 weekdays, we probably still work on our bed or even on the weekends. This is all good if we can keep up with our physical and mental health.

I thought of this post two nights ago, as I was stuck on the bed, having craziest headache ever and ended up puking all of my dinner out (sorry for the NSFW image on your head) and ended up resting almost all day the day after. Obviously everyone has their own limits, and you are open to work as hard as you can but I think here are a few things that we can do.

  • Drink more water. Done? Drink some more. Our body needs a lot of water everyday to work at its best and it’s very good for our dietary too.
  • Take every chance you have to walk or exercise. This especially true for startups in Indonesia, we spent most of our days sitting: either on the way to the office/back home/meetings, working, meetings. So if you have a lunch break and you can walk somewhere instead of taking a taxi or say elevator, do it.
  • Sleep well. Get yourself a regular pattern of sleep even though you only have a few hours of sleep every day, this way your body can adapt and process. Don’t bring your iPad, iPhone, or even worse your Macbook to your bed with you.
  • Take a time off work to just chill or even better, have a holiday somewhere to clear your heads up and back feeling refreshed and full of ideas.

I know some of the ideas here feels like old and cliche but that’s the thing, we keep reading the same thing and we keep forgetting about it and destroy our very own body.