Despite a high risk of failure, more young Indonesians are building their own internet companies straight out of college. Inspired by big and successful startups, they hoist their flags, pull the sails, and do what it takes to survive. But only true pirates can cope with a tough market. Here is what four entrepreneurs had to say to students at
Here is what four entrepreneurs had to say to students at BINUS University campus last week. Content Collision moderators were joined onstage by Steven Kim, CEO of Jakarta’s popular food tech website Qraved; Hanifa Ambadar, CEO of Female Daily Network; Sudhakar Kondisetty, CTO of budget hotel finder Nida Rooms; and Tianwei Liu, CEO of e-payments firm Xfers. Minus the moderators, all speakers on stage are part of companies that have been backed by local tech investment firm
Minus the moderators, all speakers on stage are part of companies that have been backed by local tech investment firm Convergence Ventures. BINUS is famous for supporting entrepreneurship in Indonesia. The school aims to pass on technical skills and the startup mentality to its students, which is why company-building is sometimes at the core of its curriculum. The event was buzzing with students and campus media on Monday, June 6.
A traction appetizer
The session kicked off with panelists sharing their traction numbers to date. This included figures like the number of active users each firm currently has, as well as key stats like the total dollar value of facilitated transactions. Steven Kim claimed more than 1.5 million users on Qraved, with the site featuring over 35,000 restaurants around Indonesia. Hanifa Ambadar of Female Daily—an online forum and community dedicated to beauty—said 2.3 million females across Indonesia are now actively using her site.
Room finder Nida Rooms boasts the slogan: “Asia’s largest hotel chain,” with operations in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. According to Sudhakar Kondisetty, the firm has over 200,000 users and has partnered with 3,500 hotels across Asia Pacific, within seven months. Tianwei Liu of Xfers said his company is currently processing S$20 million (US$14.7 million) per month in electronic payments.
Hanifa Ambadar of Female Daily—an online forum and community dedicated to beauty—said 2.3 million females across Indonesia are now actively using her site. Room finder Nida Rooms boasts the slogan: “Asia’s largest hotel chain,” with operations in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. According to Sudhakar Kondisetty, the firm has over 200,000 users and has partnered with 3,500 hotels across Asia Pacific, within seven months. Tianwei Liu of Xfers said his company is currently processing S$20 million (US$14.7 million) per month in electronic payments.
A starter entrée of backgrounds
Steven Kim comes from the tough world of Rocket Internet — a German firm worth billions seeking to become the largest internet company builder outside of China and the United States. In Southeast Asia, you may recognize named like Lazada and Zalora. Both companies were born from Rocket Internet. “I used to sell clothes for Zalora.
Now, I’m in the food industry, because I’m a foodie,” said Steven. The CEO explains that he first saw the problem of finding food in Indonesia, then arrived at the conclusion that the web is changing everything as we know it. Recognizing the problem as something he wanted to address with his co-founder (Adrian Li who is now the founder and managing partner of Convergence Ventures), Steven claims he wanted to be “proactive with things that matter” to him.
Hanifa, on the other hand, started up as a lone blogger back in 2005. Her method of presenting her own unique stories attracted readers, and advertising revenue soon followed. As more women came to the blog, Hanifa decided to “make it not just about me.” She then transformed her site into a place where Indonesian women could discuss beauty and lifestyle.
Tianwei went to work for a startup business in Silicon Valley after he graduated from the National University of Singapore. After the company got acquired by Google (an acquisition that saved the firm from demise), Tianwei went to Amazon. According to him, however, he got bored in his role of not being able to tinker with products.
At this moment, he realized the startup life was for him. He built Xfers with a mission “to unify banking networks across Southeast Asia.” Sudhakar was the head of IT and ancillary revenues for Spicejet Limited in India before getting involved in the hotel business. He built a track record as a tech entrepreneur, having founded and sold startups focused on the financial services industry. Looking for a new technical challenge, he soon linked up with Kaneswaran Avili, CEO and co-founder of Nida Rooms.
“Shit!” It’s what’s for dinner
At one moment or another, every entrepreneur has what we call in the industry an “Oh shit!” moment. This is a time when your company is facing what seems to be an insurmountable challenge — time to sink or swim.
For Qraved, which until last year positioned itself as a platform for restaurant reservations, Steven said the customer acquisition cost was too high for the firm to sustain itself. Plus, partnering exclusively with upscale restaurants wasn’t helping, as India’s better-funded Zomato was also competitively ramping up in Jakarta.
Unable to continue bleeding money, Qraved pivoted by now focusing its attention on a wider range of culinary coverage, including street food. Additionally, Qraved decided it would focus on building an online community for foodies to simply get inspired and discover new restaurants. Almost overnight, the firm’s business model changed from relying on B2C transactions to a company that would one day collect money from restaurants in exchange for coverage and exposure.
Cash flow was the problem for Female Daily. The company was highly dependent on ads, and if a client did not pay, the whole business slowed down. Hanifa said that in most cases, the client would need to ask their supervisors, who were also usually waiting for permission of some sort. The result was a painstaking process that Female Daily had to endure every time just to get paid.
Hanifa says her “Oh shit!” moment came during a certain three-month period when she and her managers were unable to pay themselves. Although Tianwei did not detail any specific moments, he did share a separate thought. “Oh shit moments actually happen almost everyday.,” he said. Miscommunication, human errors, and changes in the market could have a big impact on your business. “We should just move on. Don’t panic. Calm down and start to figure out the problems and solutions.”
Dessert: Knowledge is better than cash
Tianwei gave a pretty straightforward answer: “Get a job. You’ll find money if you really wanted it.” He advised running the startup in your free time, at nights, and on the weekends while also holding down a full-time job.
Hanifa chimed in, saying that pitching your company to the media is one of the best ways to rev up client intake. Steven believes founders ought to seek out other opinions. Sometimes this means networking with your family and friends. See if your ideas can be validated by those around you, as chatting with potential early users is far more important than spending money on marketing.
Hanifa addressed the importance of being different from the competition, while Sudhakar emphasized finding the fundamentals and main problem. He advised young founders not to “chase,” but instead try to be chased as a result of your offering.
Another question came up from the audience: “How can we make investors believe in us?”
Addressing the question head-on, Tianwei and the others agreed that raising money should not be the main concern in the early stages. Instead, it often depends on the product you’re selling. The key is “to find suitable partners and how you stand out from the competitors as they are the people who make us better,” explained Sudhakar.
Other panelists echoed on the idea of that acquiring users while also on a budget of virtually nothing is the best way to validate your business in the eye of investors. That said, entrepreneurs should not go around pitching to VCs without at least some kind of track record to show. Instead, just bootstrap your company without thinking of investors. Then, when you get the traction and right formula, investors will come to you. Tianwei said that money will always come when you’re not looking for it.
Likewise, it will be unavailable when you are looking for it. Steven added, “In a startup, you’re not your own boss. You don’t get flexible working time, you don’t get better pay, and certainly you’ll be working harder than everybody. More investors means more bosses, and you have to match expectations. There’s simply no room for slacking off.”