Arum K. Putri: Investment Analyst at Openspace Ventures

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Arum. I’m an investment analyst at Openspace Ventures, covering our Indonesian operations through deal sourcing and execution, as well as managing our existing portfolio companies such as HaloDoc and Sale Stock. Openspace Ventures is a Singapore-based venture capital fund investing in Southeast Asian tech-enabled startups, focused on Series A and Series B. We’re industry agnostic and focus on the product, traction, and founders.

I’ve been back in Indonesia for around 3 years now after attending school in Canada. I came back right at the peak of when companies like GO-JEK, Tokopedia, and Traveloka came into the spotlight, and quickly saw the immediate effect technology had on the Indonesian population. Jobs were created, livelihood security was improved, and new access to services were formed. There was no room for that sort of impact in North America, which was why I made the decision to come back and pursue a career in early-stage tech investing.

What is the kind of impact that VCs are making in the entrepreneurship space?

There are definitely many ways that VCs can make impact. For Openspace Ventures, given the early-stage investments that we do, we make sure to add unique, operational value to our portfolio companies and work very closely on the ground with our entrepreneurs to reach their next milestone. We help with all aspects of the business from corporate finance, capital raising, technology strategy, marketing, hiring, and international expansion. For example, recently I helped my portfolio company build their Series B pitch deck and full financial and operational model from scratch, my team helped several of our portfolio with their marketing initiatives, as well hiring engineers for their tech team.

We have a full in-house operational team in technology, HR, legal, and marketing to support our portfolio companies. We also leverage our network across Southeast Asia to help connect our entrepreneurs with other industry leaders, potential customers, partners, or even investors.  Openspace is also very involved in supporting tech founders and investor community in the countries that we operate in. After all, we do focus on building and backing the next wave of technology leaders. I think that’s the sort of impact that we try to make, particularly given the stage that we focus in where most of the founders are operating at a critical juncture.

Has there ever been like a moment where you’ve thought to yourself, this was just so worth it — this moment has made it so worth it for me to have moved back here?

Yeah, definitely. Growing up in Indonesia I’ve always been aware of the large lower income segment of the population that for the most part were largely ignored – those that did not have access to basic financial services or retail experiences in larger cities, and don’t have the same financial power. Several of our portfolio companies are actually changing that, and seeing the type of impact it has is definitely one of my ‘worth it’ moments.

For example, Sale Stock is a women’s fast fashion e-commerce company that enables women in very remote areas of Indonesia – such as Papua or the northernmost point of Sulawesi – who may not have been able to shop at e-commerce sites beforehand, to purchase quality and fashionable clothing at an approachable and affordable price. It’s very empowering. GO-JEK is arguably already transforming the livelihoods of millions through dramatically reducing poverty. I think that sort of impact, definitely had made it worthwhile for me to come back to Indonesia. I think growing up in this part of the world has allowed me to become aware and conscious of the pain points that more developed countries in the West are not aware of. Things like lack of financial inclusion, little access to education and resources, and income disparity were among the problems that I faced. And now seeing that there are technology advances that are alleviating these pain points but also having substantial social impact made my move back to Indonesia so much more worthwhile.

On the other hand, have you ever felt that being back in Indonesia is so challenging that it has made you think, “Why did ever come back here?”

Definitely. Gender inclusivity is an issue here and  challenge in itself. In North America , people have a lot more regard for women in the workplace. Whereas  here, I think the fight for gender equality is still in its early stages. I am fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that are  mostly women who are all very successful in their fields. But I have had experiences where I was looked down upon because of my age and my gender. A lot of times in Indonesia, the stigma is still like, “Women should stay at home, women should cook, women should do this and that.” Grouping women into what they “should” do is what makes me really upset, because I think women have the right to freely choose what they want to do. If a woman chooses to raise a family at home full-time or choose to become a founder of a tech company, then that’s their choice and that’s OK, I think that the idea of women having a choice in Indonesia is still something that’s stigmatized, and something that I wish is different.

Has there been like a specific instance where you’ve felt that gender discrimination or you know, that that kind of stigma against you?

At one point in my life, a colleague asked me why I wanted to pursue a professional career, why I was thinking of venture capital, and why I was deciding whether or not to pursue a graduate degree. He thought I should stay at home instead. He said to my face, “Oh, why do you want to work in finance? Why do you want to do an MBA? You’re a girl…taking care of your home and husband is important you know?” It was so shocking. I didn’t even know how to answer or how to react. I was so flabbergasted and so angry.

Female employees in Indonesia are often still seen as people meant for back office or administrative functions as opposed to having leadership roles. It’s very unfortunate and it makes me really upset that women need to put so much more effort just to be recognized.

What inspires you in this field? Are there any examples of women taking leadership and taking charge?

Something that inspires me is how Openspace Ventures approach female founders and investors. As of right now, we are almost at a 50-50 gender distribution; the partners actually make a conscious effort to have equal representation of women as part of our team, and in our portfolio we also have women-led companies and women founders, which is something that’s rare in Southeast Asia. One of our portfolio companies, Love, Bonito, is co-founded by two very strong women who are leaders in their field but are some of the most hardworking women I know who have come a long way. I definitely think venture capital is a more welcoming space for women to be a part of, whether you’re going on the founder or investor route. We have lots of room for improvement, but it’s going in the right direction.

How does gender play a role in your investments?

We make investment decisions based on the founder and the product, not the gender. However, I think there is definitely a discrepancy between the number of male founders versus female founders I have met. I think female founders only represent less than 10 percent of the startups I meet and that’s quite unfortunate. I think we need more female founders to come to the table.

So how do we get more female founders to come to the table?

Putting the conversation out there, educating and growing the female founder and tech investor community is one way to do it. I think now, more and more initiatives  exist to get more women in male-dominated fields together. There are initiatives like Generation Girl launched by female developers at GO-JEK that teaches coding and data analytics to young and aspiring  developers. There’s SheVC that is a solid community of women investors. Initiatives like those are good for the women community. In Indonesia particularly, access to network and resources are not as widespread  and the gap definitely exist for women who are looking for the right team, founders, investors, and business partners but don’t know where to start. I think from an investor point of view, given our platform we should create more  of these type of initiatives that not only give them the right access to resources, but also give them a space to have a voice and network with other women leaders.

On the other hand, how do we get more women in leadership roles in the VC community?

I think we are barely scratching the surface in terms of women having leadership roles not only in the VC community, but everywhere. It’s still very much male-dominated while gender is obviously not a measure of productivity in the field.  I’m quite thankful that in the VC community I haven’t had any instances with regards to gender biases, and so I’m very fortunate. But in traditional businesses or more male-dominated fields like engineering perhaps, it may not be the case. I think with any business in general they can benefit from gender diversity – I don’t think there is a reason not to. We can start with educating the workplace to having equal opportunities for women to take on leadership roles or even out the distribution in certain functions. Having a general open mindedness and conscious effort to have more women in these roles is a good start. Then slowly more concrete steps can be taken, like a distribution ratio, women-led panels etc.

How is female representation in the private equity industry? How is the dynamic like?

There is definitely less female representation in private equity than venture capital, especially because venture capital involves younger communities like the startups and tech advocates, whereas private equity deals more with more mature and traditional businesses. It’s tough but like with most businesses, more and more women are beginning to pursue leadership roles in male-dominated fields and that is a step in the right direction.

Do you think Indonesia is ready for an all-female fund with a total gender-lens approach?

I think it’s still early, but we’re moving in the right direction. More and more startups are starting to have women founders, but we still need more. Maybe the market is not big enough to address an all-female fund for women-led only investments now, but I hope it will be in the near future.

What is your advice on combating gender stereotypes and gender stigmas, whether it be in the workplace or from family?

Women need to have a voice and to start speaking up for what they stand for . They should  feel free to speak up and advocate for their opinions.I think now more and more women are starting to find their voice in whatever industry or situation that they’re in despite fear. I have been in cases where because I’m a girl, my decision to pursue a professional career is stigmatized because of the Indonesian tradition, but I’ve seen that change because I was able to be more vocal on my decisions, and people and my path are beginning to understand. It’s a process, but it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation

How was it like to be in like an almost all female family?

I think it’s a very rare thing in Indonesia. I come from an almost all-female family of 20 people of which I think 15 are women, down to my nieces. Those who are my age or from the first generation, are for the most part entrepreneurs or professionals. I am so lucky because I grew up with so many women that started from zero, made way through their adversities, and are now successful in their respective fields, which makes it difficult for me to comprehend when people stigmatize what I can or cannot do. I don’t know how I could have lived a different life, for example if I was to be born in a family that was not supportive of my career.

I grew up not knowing that there was adversity surrounding gender until I started working. I saw people in my family that were the only women in male-dominated fields and I thought that was normal. I realized soon enough that that was actually fought for, and that they worked hard in their careers to prove themselves and get to where they are. With most businesses still very much traditional in Indonesia, I think they had to work twice as hard. It’s definitely inspiring to be surrounded by very opinionated and powerful women, but it can also be very intense. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Who are the biggest role models in your life?

Definitely my grandmother. My grandma is 92 and she’s still working. She started her business in the garage, building the family business from scratch. She was very strong-minded, yet humble and so inclusive of her team and I think that’s what got her so far. She is a huge advocate for gender inclusivity and women in the workplace and she has taught me the importance of this from as far I could remember.

She started her career in the 1950s where gender inclusivity is nonexistent. She grew up during the Dutch colony, where women did not have access to schools and weren’t allowed to work. But she was fortunate enough to marry my grandfather who was always very open minded and actually helped her grow her business from very early on in their marriage, so in a way that was equally as important people closest to her. I definitely saw that was extremely inspiring, having a husband that was supportive to her pursuits, being rejected my hundreds of stakeholders from banks to investors but continuing to move forward, and having an open mind to continue learning and growing even at 92. She is very inspiring.  

Where do you want to be in 10 years? What’s your vision for yourself?

Maybe in the next 10 years I have founded a company in a field that I am passionate about. My hope is to bring gender diversity and inclusivity in anything that I do, so I hope to instill that as part of my vision.

Do you have any message for girls who want to start their own startups too and maybe encourage them to how they start their own startup or vc or in this industry.

I think my only advice is to just do it. The best pursuits often take a (giant) leap of faith and you never know what you’re up against unless you start, because that’s one of the most difficult parts.

Putri Athira: Founder of Her Dreams

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Putri Athira and I’m the founder of HerDreams. It started from my dreams to contribute to the education sector for girls, specifically for unfortunate girls. Back then, I was confused about my job and what to do in life. I’ve always dreamt of building a school for unfortunate children in Indonesia, but then to build a school would require more money and resources than I had. Still, doing something for girls and contributing to their educations doesn’t necessarily have to be done through building schools. I realized that I could share my own experiences and dreams with other girls and motivate them to reach their dreams also.

At that event, we share about how important it is to have a dream, and we teach them how to make a dream map – a visualization of your goals and future. We believe that if you write out your dreams and see them everyday, you can motivate yourself towards your goals. We also emphasize the importance of having dreams. Next, we teach them confidence and public speaking. Thirdly, we emphasize independence. We summarize all the materials that we have taught them during the program and contextualize it to being brave and independent. We share the value of independence, how to lead, and how to communicate with people.

Why is educating girls in ambition, confidence, and independence so necessary? Especially in Indonesia?

Before I started HerDreams, I visited some schools. I met many different girls, and they all really lacked motivation. They have dreams, but they were scared to pursue them because their surroundings were unsupportive and so they thought they could not achieve those dreams. So what I saw was that they needed some external motivation in order to believe in themselves. From there, I realized that the main foundation to be brave enough to pursue one’s dreams is confidence. That way, at the end of day, they can be independent.

What are some success stories from the program?

During one session, we told one of the girls to present their dream map and explain it to the audience. But there was one girl who cried due to a lack of confidence. She was afraid that her friends would laugh at her. After that incident, our team discussed internally and realized that girls not only need to have a dream, but they also need to be confident. Because of that situation, we added another session because we believed that changes don’t happen overnight, you know? After the end of the third session, we saw that the girl who had cried before became more active. She became more of a believer in herself, especially after other girls told her how cool her dream map was. She really wanted to be a designer.

What do you think is the biggest hurdle that Indonesian girls and women face nowadays?

I think the biggest hurdle is finding support because, as you know, many Indonesians tend to see women differently. People question what a woman will do with a higher education because at the end of the day, you’re going to be a housewife and you don’t need to have like a higher education to do that. But I think that’s wrong. Even to be a good housewife, you need a good education as well. And that’s the problem. We see in every session, every girl that we meet, their families are not really being supportive of them. That’s what is holding them back from pursuing their dreams.

Do you yourself face any challenges in the workplace or in finding support for pursuing your own dreams?

At first, yes. My family is very supportive with regards to education. But in choosing a career, it was different. I always had dreams to become a diplomat, to go abroad. But then, my family reminded me that I still need to think about my future regarding the way I take care of my future family. So when I was in the stage to choose the priorities I have in life, including my job choice, I came to the conclusion to hold myself back from that job and find another way to fulfill my passion.

How did you personally deal with not being able to pursue your dreams in diplomacy?

The main reason I wanted to become a diplomat was because I really want to represent my country. I really want to engage with other people and help others in many sectors.. But by the time, I realized that it is not the only way to fulfill my passion, I could still help others and share what I have in a different way. So rather than doing it through diplomacy, I’m doing it through HerDreams instead.

What’s your goal for HerDreams in the next few years?

I really want to reach more schools and more girls, not only in Jakarta area but all across Indonesia. I hope that in the next few years we can also go abroad and contribute to girls education with other communities or organizations. And I really hope that there will be more volunteers involved. Currently, we have almost 200 volunteers in our community, with almost 80 school girls in our program and an international organization that has partnered with us to help motivate the girls – including refugees that live in Indonesia.

What issues do female refugees face specifically?

They struggle to find the spirit to live out their dreams again; here in Indonesia, they don’t have opportunities to pursue their dreams because they cannot work and go to school here. So we have to motivate them; they have to believe in themselves and believe that something good will happen to them after this stage of their life in Indonesia.

How do you balance between a day job and running HerDreams?  

It’s all about time management. I always conduct program sessions on weekends, so I still can manage the needs of HerDreams and my day job. And also the matter of communication with my partners, the arrangement of the meeting time and the preparation.

What are the biggest challenges you face in running HerDreams?

So far, perhaps is the financial support. It is because nowadays, in Indonesia there are not many companies that willing to help. We still depend on personal donors, so yes, I think that’s the biggest challenges right now. However, in the matter of man support, we are not worried. Currently, we have almost 200 volunteers that have been registered in HerDreams. And seeing that enthusiasm, we still believe that there are still a lot of young people out there, both men and women who really want to help and contribute together with HerDreams.

Do you have any advice for other girls who want to become leaders or start their own organizations?

What matters most are to know what you are capable of, the problems you want to solve in the community, and to be focused. Because to build this kind of movement, you need to be focused on what problems you want to solve and how you will help. You must be focused and consistent in what you do, so your help will give a significant change in the community.

Reky Martha: Co-Founder & President of Hoshizora Foundation

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Reky Martha and I am co-founder and current president of Hoshizora Foundation. I started Hoshizora in 2006 when I was a student in Japan at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). Basically while doing part-time jobs, my co-founders and I used our money to help out kids that were dropping out of school in Indonesia. My friends and I started a community to support about 14 street children to get back to school. We set aside our lunch money for one month to pay for the school fees of elementary school students. With more and more traction coming in, it just grew from there. We officially registered as a foundation in Indonesia in 2010. We’re also registered in the United States. Now we’re supporting 2214 students from elementary school to university. We have 25 full time staff, fully paid with benefits – a team in Yogyakarta and a partnership team in Jakarta. And we’re looking to grow more.

Did you always know you were going to be in the education space?

I have always been inspired to be an educator; I feel that Indonesia faces many challenges in education. For instance, public schools are supposed to be free but they’re not. Even today, almost 1 million students drop out of elementary school and never enter middle school. In Flores, for example, I saw so many little kids, with their tiny feet, walking for two hours to go to school. In the heat, you know, with no access to fresh water. How do you expect these kids to learn how to read?

As a person who was lucky enough to get scholarships to study in Japan and Canada and land a job in the United States, I feel that the only small way I can contribute back is by providing better education for Indonesian children. And right now we’re trying to reach the children who don’t even have access to school. We’re here to support whatever the government is doing and work with the private sector.

What exactly does Hoshizora do?

We are an organization that provides access to education through our scholarship program, from elementary school to university. We have about one thousand individual donors right now; 100 percent of these one-to-one donations go to the children (80% in the form of a fund, 20% for capacity-building programs). Apart from this scholarship, we truly believe that character-building is the main ingredient to a more successful education system in this country. We do this through our forum, and through meeting our children and providing mentorship every six months. Our area coordinators are closely monitoring our children monthly as well. We work to be sustainable by having various sources of revenue streams to maintain our operation and management professionally.

So Hoshizora pretty much provides scholarships, but not your usual scholarship. We do a lot of capacity building to help the children grow. We have our own Hoshizora curriculum book, filled mainly with soft skills, for children in every grade. It starts from knowing yourself and understanding your emotions, all the way to critical thinking and problem-solving. And it’s fascinating because we’ve been working with the same kids for 12 years now; one of my youngest kids back in 2006 is now in university and I can totally see the changes. They are not only growing as smart and curious people, but they also become empathetic leaders who now are able to create job opportunities for others. Seeing these longitudinal changes firsthand and through our data really validates our model.

What have been some of the biggest insights or takeaways that you’ve had running Hoshizora over the past 12 years?

I think first of all, education is a very important sector but the urgency is often forgotten because it’s not very sexy. When we started this, we did it as a volunteer activity community, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere like that. The reason why communities and nonprofits are dying so often is because we’re not viewing them as valuable as companies or enterprises. So after four years we realized that we cannot lean on volunteerism. We are still open for volunteers at specific events and giving a chance for young people to experience the work we do, but we do it full time now. And the people who are working full time with us understand that working in the education sector is important, and that they are as valuable as the people working at companies. So it’s competitive enough for young people to move from Jakarta to our headquarters to Yogyakarta, to be part of our team because we value them.

Second of all, sustainability is always a problem. In the beginning, we did lean on grants and donations. The reason why we have two revenue streams now is because we want to make sure that individual donors are able to see 100% of their donations go to the children. We built our own social enterprises that is contributing to our operations, and we also do brand activation for corporates and companies. And to ensure sustainability, we build three-to-four year partnerships with companies, rather than just one year.

Hoshizora is also learning that the impact we’re having on these children is deep impact. In twelve years, we’ve had 2,200 kids in our program.  We have a formula where our program strives for deep impact that is replicable in different rural areas in Indonesia so we can also scale up our impact.

How does Hoshizora Foundation balance public sector and private sector? Where do you fit in?

We’re looking at an ecosystem here, and I think if we break them apart we’re not going to get anywhere. There’s a lot of ego involved in it for sure. So we’re looking at how we can bring everybody together in the ecosystem. The ecological framework that we use is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System, which stems from child development theories. We need to stay true to our purpose, which is educating children, and we’re using a lot of positive psychology and social emotional learning frameworks in our work.

To bring people together, we build partnerships. Our closest partners right now are from the private sector looking to create shared values. Obviously we’re here to support the government, even though we do not have any direct collaboration with the them. They have their own system. We’re moving forward at a different pace. We tend to work with the private sector because they can move faster, with less bureaucracy. The impact can be fulfilled within months and we can measure it. A clear measurement is very important for us to know what’s working, what’s not working out, and to keep improving on that.

When we’re working with the kids, we get some social enterprises working with us; we give scholarships to children of mothers who are working for a specific social enterprise, for example. So we’re opening that collaboration where other social enterprises can work with the parents and make sure that these parents are actually delivering good quality of work so that their children can get our scholarship. At the same time, we’re opening a space for corporates to work with schools and teachers, mainly on capacity building. It’s building a whole community together with the hope that in few years we can exit when the quality of life is better for that community.

Is Hoshizora the only thing on your plate? What else are you involved in?

I am still trying to find out the best way to give access to education. I was involved in Humanitree, where I want to see if there is a faster way using technology to provide access to education. Perhaps not necessarily formal education; you know, education is not about getting a certificate but really getting skills that people need, such as critical thinking. So how can we give access to education to children out in Papua or Kalimantan, in a way that they can exercise their critical thinking and problem solving? Hoshizora is one way of tackling that challenge, in a deeper way. But it has to be paired up with something that can provide faster access to education. In a way, it’s just finding ways to tackling different issues within the education space while heading in the same direction.

As entrepreneurs, we cannot stop learning and exploring ideas. We need to stay focused on what we’re doing, but not closing the door to exploring other ways to tackle challenges. I find it very valuable to be in the startup ecosystem in Jakarta, where startups rise and fall every second. To survive and to find the best way to provide solutions to challenges, it’s quite challenging.

As one of the earlier female entrepreneurs entering the ecosystem back in 2006, how has it been being a female entrepreneur? How have things changed from 2006 until now?

Sometimes people are surprised that I’m doing this full-time and dedicating my life to provide access to education. When we incorporated Hoshizora as a foundation, that meant dealing with legal, tax, and building good organizational processes and structure. It’s a lot of work and I’m proud that I have two other strong female co-founders to go through these tough times. Oftentimes when people see this position being held by a female, they have doubts. Somehow they think that when a female gets married or has kids, obviously they’ll only work part-time. Sometimes when I walk into a meeting, I am assumed to be the secretary or PR person. So when I tell them, yes, I’m leading this organization 100 percent, full-time, it surprises people.

Half of my team members are male, so I think gender equality in leadership doesn’t necessarily mean having an all-female team. We need males supporting female roles. I find that in the past two years, there have been more support given to female entrepreneurs. A lot of attention is given. But I also encourage males to understand what females are doing and going through. Because if males don’t understand, it’s still going to be imbalanced. Men should still be encouraged to work with women. There should be equal opportunity within the whole ecosystem for men and women to work together.

What are some strengths to being a female entrepreneur?

Over time I learned that some of the strongest points of leadership are vulnerability, flexibility,  and adaptability – qualities that female leaders often possess. I can give you an example. So, being sustainable is a challenge for every non-commercial organization. We don’t receive a lot of grants for our operations and management. Two years ago, for example, I was worried about being able to pay my team. Rather than framing it negatively, I communicated it as,  “Hey, I’m trying to be sustainable. Give me ideas on how I can be more sustainable.” I think female leaders are quite good at articulating and sharing that in a more positive framework, and it results in leadership that is more agile, and partnerships that are more open. Saying, “This is our condition, give me ideas,” instead of saying, “We’re good to go, we’re okay,” or pretending that we’re okay because of pride, is far healthier.

And definitely over the past two years as a female leader overseeing 25 full time staff, I’m also growing as a person and I couldn’t do it without my team. Vulnerability, flexibility, adaptability, staying focused, and being persistent are all things I am learning everyday. Self awareness and self management – those are key to the recipes for creating a harmonious working environment. I think female leaders have the advantage of being able to be aware of what’s going on, nurturing that empathy within team members as well.

What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur?

Honestly speaking, it’s hard to balance a personal life and surviving in the startup ecosystem in Jakarta. Being on top of what you’re supposed to do and being in the community, it takes a lot of hours. My team is in Yogyakarta while I’m in Jakarta, so going back and forth takes a lot of time. It becomes challenging to keep up a healthy lifestyle. Being able to exercise every morning, cooking my own food, or even keeping up with other parts of life. I’m still learning how to do that.

Jakarta is a bubble in a way. When I go to Sumatra, Kalimantan, Flores, or other remote areas, the working style is very different. Leadership has to change all the time. When I’m back with my team in Yogyakarta, I have to switch back to what’s best for them. So that adaptability, while holding and stimulating the team to grow is quite challenging.

Have you faced any specific challenges as a female in this field?

Society – especially Indonesian society – has a lot of expectations for females. It can be challenging sometimes when people ask me if I have time to take care of a partner or whatever. I think debunking society’s expectations for females is quite challenging. Funny thing, before I moved to Indonesia I used to shave my head completely, just to debunk the notion that females need long hair to be pretty. I haven’t really found a way in Indonesia to challenge those mindsets, of what society expects from females.

What else do we need to do to support female leaders in Indonesia?

Engaging the men to talk about how to balance roles in society is important. Because if it’s just the females going strong, I don’t think it’s going to work out as nicely. The males have to understand what the females are doing and engage in active discussion. If a woman is exploring higher career options, what kind of actions can the male can do at home, for instance, to support that? It cannot go just one way.

And the feminist movement, it’s not just about females supporting females. It’s also about males supporting females and having open discussions on that. I don’t think we have a lot of those conversations in Indonesia — especially challenging male Indonesians to have an open discussion. What does it mean for them to support a female leader? More discussion is needed, and an action plan can come out of that, a movement of some kind. But changing mindset, especially in a culture where it’s quite patriarchal, it’s going to take some time. I think within the startup ecosystem, which is quite vibrant and increasingly run by millennials, if we start opening the discussion there’s going to be positive momentum to disrupt what exists. That can be a start.

How do you personally try to keep balance in your life and practice mindfulness?

Yeah, so I like climbing trees. It’s my meditation, but it’s not always accessible. So every morning for meditation and yoga, stretching is a must for me. My morning glory is my morning glory, and I do it at least an hour before I touch my phone. So that’s one thing that I can do anywhere I go.

The second thing is a component of social-emotional learning: practicing self awareness, self management, social awareness, social responsibility, and responsible decision-making. This can be through a practice where we check our intention every second. For instance, why am I doing this interview? What’s my intention? Will it be useful? Questioning everything has become a habit for me to help choose and prioritize. And it helps me make more responsible decisions.

Another thing is emotional literacy. I think in a country where most people are still in survival mode where the basics – how do I eat, how do I earn money – aren’t fulfilled yet, emotions are often the last thing people think about. We’re not told or taught to recognize our emotions and verbalize them. Sometimes we’re actually sad and lonely, but it comes across as being angry just because we don’t know how to label that emotion. What I’d like to do with my team is to encourage them to express and recognize their emotions, by checking in and saying, “Hey, I’m trying to understand what are your feelings, to help you in understanding and verbalizing them.”

So in a nutshell, we need to practice mindfulness all the time.. And I’d like to find more spots to climb trees in Jakarta.

What’s your long term vision for yourself?

The ultimate goal is to be an awesome grandmother, with a big house, so I can invite everybody to take a break from their lives and have meaningful conversations over a big meal in beautiful nature. That’s the long term goal (laughs). But, I think in the next five to 10 years I’m very keen on finding a better solution to reduce dropout rates. I’m super passionate about finding better ways to reach out to more children. It could be through Hoshizora, or through the digitalization of ways to provide access to education like creating learning tools for critical thinking and problem solving.

Do you have any advice for the younger generation – kids who want to be future leaders?

I think taking time to understand who you are is very important, especially in our world where technology, social media, ads dominate. Everything is changing so fast that it’s easy to think that something is our desire while it’s actually other people’s desire. For example, being a founder of something – a lot of the younger ones want to be a founder of something, but honestly it’s not the question of being a founder or not being a founder. It’s what problem you want to solve. You need to question yourself: why was I born in this world, what purpose am I fulfilling? Because everybody is an important piece of a larger puzzle. No matter how small they are, if you take out the other pieces, the puzzle won’t be complete. Every person is that important, but to know what function your puzzle piece serves is a different question, right?

And I think we are all running too fast, getting all this information without pausing and thinking, okay, is this what I want? Constantly check your intentions and ask, “Why do I want to do this? What is the greater benefit of this? How am I going to be sustainable?” Questioning yourself will activate the neurons in your brain and help you stay on top of your passions – especially if you are passionate in solving challenges through entrepreneurship. Being a reflective person is important.

Indah Mariani: COO & Co-Founder of Infradigital Nusantara

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Indah Maryani and I am the COO and co-founder of Infradigital Nusantara. We built this company in December 2017. I’ve been partners with my co-founder for seven years now and it has been an interesting journey.

I have been in the payment industry for the last 15 years. I was a part of the first wave of digital wallets, and have carried out the installation and implementation of digital wallets in many countries throughout Africa, Europe and America. Seven years back when I met my co-founder, we were both working in a startup called Fusion Payment. As you know, the digital wallet market is very competitive, with big players such as GO-PAY and Tokopedia. We saw that the competition was very stiff, and we realized that in payment systems what you want is recurring transactions. Basically what we did was create a platform called Beruang, which allowed you to buy all the digital goods like pulsa, electricity, and water – goods that you pay recurrently every month – as products on our platform. However, we realized that everyone was playing the same game. Everyone was developing their own versions of digital goods products.

Back then, my co-founder and I were trying to onboard traditional merchants to do online payments through our product. It was very difficult because we were such small players; when we offered Beruang as a platform, they were asking questions about us and who we were, but they were excited about the fact that our product enabled them to digitize their billing and pay through any method they wanted. After that experience, my friends and I decided to quit our jobs at the time to create Infradigital.

 

What exactly does Infradigital do?

Infradigital allows non tech-savvy businesses to digitize their bills. For instance, schools, apartments and SMEs. There are many schools in Indonesia, and a lot of them had not tapped into the possibilities of technology yet. They did everything manually. Let’s say if you wanted to collect payment from the parents, you would hand over a paper to the student, who then passes it on to their parents. Basically, it was a very manual job. We helped these institutions digitize their bills and connected them to all the payment methods available now in the digital ecosystem. So, it’s not only using a bank account. Not only using banks, but wallets and retail markets too (ie. Indomaret). It applies to any kinds of channels that the consumer wants. From there, since the bills are already digitized, the bills could also be leveraged for other things, like student loans for instance.

 

What challenges have you faced so far as a one-year-old startup?

In a startup, time and money are very important. Naturally, you have limited time and limited resources. You have to move fast and prove that your product has a lot of traction, which requires a certain amount of focus. We launched our product in March and the first traction was only around 150 million Rupiah of transactions per month but now we are able to process transactions as large as 2.2 billion Rupiah per month. We are actually seeing a lot of traction, but it’s just that it’s always a busy day. Because you always have to find the right product with the right market fit, you always have to listen to your customers, but you also have to do things like fundraising simultaneously. So, juggling all these things at the same time is challenging.

 

You’ve been running your startup for less than a year and you’ve already grown to over 2 billion Rupiah worth of transactions! How did you gain traction so fast?

It’s funny because we actually sell our product door-to-door. First we visited around 100 schools per month and administered surveys to over 2000 parents. These schools weren’t even in Jakarta – they were in Depok and other pre-rural areas. We asked them whether they were ready to migrate to digital payment. Out of the 2000 parents that we asked, 80% of them were ready to do so. The schools and other partners were keen as well. We saw that there was a lot of interest amongst the parties and we knew that in the near future, offline payments would be obsolete. But capturing the market was not as easy as we thought, because the people we were targeting were traditional people.

So, we came to them selling door-to-door. Back then, the system wasn’t even built yet; we were just marketing a prototype. But still, people showed interest in our product. In the first month, we got 20-40 schools signed up, but none of them had started using the product yet. In our sales funnel, there are two processes involved: acquisition and activation. Because we saw a lot of interest, we provided the platform for free as long as they were willing to migrate to our system. Migrating was taking a lot of time because literally everything was done manually, so in order to create a database of students, our team had to take pictures of them one by one and upload them in an excel sheet. This migration process was pretty complicated, but after we were done we noticed that the parents were starting to migrate to online forms of payment, too. This was because everyone was really eager – especially the schools because their manual processes were a source of corruption. If someone took away some funds they would simply claim that the pages were lost or the payment wasn’t traceable, or the incoming money was being used for activities that the principal wasn’t aware of. This corruption ended up forcing the school to migrate their system digitally.

Nowadays, we are not doing it door-to-door anymore. We actually have monthly acquisitions now, and we have 6-10 schools every month. Some of them are referrals. You will know when you build your product and it delivers value to your customer, it just keeps rolling with more requests and referrals. We also believe that if we build trust in the market, we will actually get a return.

 

How do digitalization and a cashless future affect women?

I imagine that digitalization will open up opportunities for women and will enable women to make some moves. Moms decide everything for the family; they are the ones who make all the purchases, so financial inclusion will actually help women to manage their expenses more easily. Over time, I really believe that women will understand things like savings, returns and interest. I think it will impact women as they will be the first ones to respond to this kind of change, especially if they are the ones in charge of the family.

 

Why exactly did you decide to jump into financial inclusion?

Financial inclusion is actually a big market and it hasn’t been tapped into yet. If you go to the World Bank Indonesia SME Banking Study 2017 and look at their database, you will see that out of many small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs), only 3% of them are using internet banking and 97% of them are still untapped. Meanwhile, everyone is at war on the consumer side because everyone wants to become the next Alipay. When I went to the schools and saw the reality…it’s pretty sad, you know. 60% of parents don’t pay their tuition fees on time; 40% pay late, and 20% don’t pay at all. Imagine how much of a hassle that would be if you ran a school. On top of this, there is a regulation from the government that prevents you from notifying the student directly if their tuition has not been paid, so as not to discourage students from attending all the classes, you know? In Indonesia when you are talking about education, everyone is trying to make things better for the greater public and for the kids, and yet the reality in the market is that the schools themselves are unable to make enough money to pay for their facilities. So how can they even start thinking about their quality of education?

Meanwhile in the digital world, everyone is so fancy already. Everyone is talking about all these next-level innovations, but very few of these actually touch and are applicable in the current market situation. So that’s why we really want to focus on education. We want to help not only the parents, to allow them to have access to funding, charities and loans for educations, but also these institutions to help them grow and focus on building up their quality of education.

 

Are there any specific challenges you face as a female founder in Indonesia?

Sometimes, women’s voices are not heard. I have been in the payment industry for quite some time. Even now, I sometimes feel like when we voice something, your audience doesn’t take you seriously because your tone and your voice is different from that of the average man’s. I just find that a woman’s voice is not really heard, especially in a big forum. Men are perceived as more trustworthy in a forum than women.

 

Do you see that shifting at all? What can we do to change that assumption?

There’s a lot of things that we can do. I don’t like arguing, and I prefer not to be in the spotlight, I’m not sure if other women feel the same or if it’s just me, but I really do think that if women speak up more, it can change something. The thing is, in Indonesia because we have an Eastern culture, we feel as if we should be more reliant on men. That’s one of the factors that have been built into our culture. Over time, this will change because a lot of women now are very outspoken and smart. They tend to not take the spotlight, but this can be changed for sure.

 

On the other hand, are there any instances where you have felt more empowered as a female entrepreneur?

Yes – in my own company. Women are generally better able to multitask, so they can oversee many different problems and different situations. This is something women are very good at and men not so much. So, when you’re making important decisions – or any decision in fact – you have to look over a range of factors. I think in my current position, I need to be sensitive to many things and consider a lot of aspects as well in decision-making. I think most of the decisions are being made based on those considerations, and I think that’s where I am playing a bigger role.

 

Did you feel empowered to become an entrepreneur? Was there a lot of support and did you face a lot of doubt?

I think in whatever situation you are, regardless of your job title, the utilization of your knowledge and your wisdom can be empowering in many ways. I received a lot of support, especially from friends and family because they were not gender biased. I have friends who developed their businesses from the early age of 18; they were already entrepreneurs and they were always ready to help and gave us non-entrepreneurs the courage to start thinking of building a business. It’s actually a contagious act 🙂 When my friends (who are non entrepreneur) were talking about their jobs and how stressed out they were getting from their tasks, I asked them why they didn’t just become entrepreneurs – it’s something very challenging yet enjoyable. It’s full of ups and downs, but the thing is this feeling is something that I really appreciate, and I think most of the entrepreneurs who have been doing this business since an early age understand that and encourage other people to do the same.

 

What is it like to toggle being both an entrepreneur and being a mother – both 24-hour, full-time jobs?

It’s tough. It’s so, so tough. I always feel guilty if I don’t see my son for at least three hours a day, but the thing is that I love both my work and being a mother. Sometimes when I’m stressed and I don’t know what to do at work, I go home and feel so safe because I see my son and suddenly whatever happened in the office doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s a big challenge, but women should not give up their careers to become mothers. Because in order to be a good mom, you need to be a good role model, too. Full time moms are great, don’t get me wrong. But you don’t have to be a full-time mom to be a perfect mom. You can be both: you can be a successful woman as well as a mom at home. It does get really tough because if something at office is stressing you out, you tend to bring it with you to home and vice versa. So, you need to find a balance. I have to give myself some credit sometimes and tell myself I need to do this in order to be a good role model for my son.

 

Speaking of role models, do you have any role models that you personally look up to?

Yes, my mom. She’s a very tough mom. My childhood was not wonderful because my dad left and my mom was a single mother who raised three children. So, she has been my role model forever.

My mom was a victim of abuse from my dad; the abuse got to the point where she was in a coma for three months. After that, my dad disappeared and then no one was taking care of us. When my mom regained consciousness, the doctor told her that she would probably never walk again. She had never worked before, but she thought that if she didn’t get a job then how could she feed her kids and send them to school? She fought a lot and started walking again, which the doctors found miraculous. She juggled three jobs a day just to raise us and feed us and to give us proper shelter and education. That’s a lot to handle.

 

If you were to give a girl advice on becoming an entrepreneur, what would you tell her?

Just jump in, and you’ll find a way. If there’s a will there’s a way. Believe in yourself.

 

Mila Alfitri – Co-Founder of Generation Girl & Engineer at GO-JEK

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Mila Alfitri and I am an engineer at GO-JEK. It’s a bit of a long story, but I originally wanted to go the fine arts route; I’ve always been passionate about art and I’ve actually studied a bit of oil painting back in my college years. But after taking those classes, I realized that I didn’t really like it to the point that I could make it into a career. So then I ventured into information systems which I studied for my bachelor’s. Afterwards, I learned a bit about web development which is basically computer science but for programming websites. I noticed that I liked the graphics of websites and how some websites are so beautiful and animated that I really wanted to learn how to create them. That’s how I actually mixed my artistic passion with technology: by learning web development. I did this on my own and on the side. I never really had formal training for it. It’s great to be here at GO-JEK where people actually want to teach me things and I can basically do what I’m passionate about.

I’m curious – how did you actually go about self-teaching yourself? What resources were available to you?

There was this one day when I was actually at the bookstore and I saw a really beautiful book about HTML and CSS. And I opened it and it was beautifully written. The graphics were really nice to follow through. I bought it and just learned through it step by step. So that’s how I learned. Learning online was relatively easy as well. I don’t think you necessarily have to be a computer science major to actually be in this field. Lots of internet courses are out there. I didn’t really have mentors; maybe some people mentored me on tips and tricks. But the fire was lit up from within. You know, from your own passion and from your own willingness to learn as well.

You’re also at GO-JEK, one of the biggest tech companies in Indonesia. An issue that we do notice around the world is that there are not so many women in large tech companies. Can you comment on how female representation is in your eyes?

One of the biggest challenges is to get girls to be interested in the field of technology – at least in this part of the world. But at GO-JEK we try to diversify our employees and engineers. We have a lot of these courses.

Personally, I am working on a project called Generation Girl with my colleagues Nadine and Crystal, as well as other folks from outside GO-JEK such as Janice, Josephine, and Fadri. This is one of the ways we can actually empower girls to pursue  technology. Because most of the time girls don’t know what exactly a software engineer does. And you know, just getting them to the right confidence level by telling them they can do this besides becoming doctors, business people, accountants, etc.

This project is basically a community for introducing technology to young girls from ages 12 to 16. We do this by creating tech bootcamps, teaching them how to do mobile development, web development and other STEM projects that we have in mind. Our Winter Club is one week long (December 17-21), and our Summer Club is an 8-week long program. It will be taught by high school and university students who have prior computer science experience.

Why is this kind of project needed? What’s the reason behind starting it?

You know whenever I go to meetups, or at my previous company, I don’t see a lot of girls. It’s kind of bothersome. It’s not that the company doesn’t want to hire girls, either. It’s simply because we can’t get girls interested in this field. One compelling reason why we want to get girls interested is because they don’t realize that this is actually one of those fields that allows you to balance between being a mother at home and having a career. If you have a family, you have obligations later on. By gaining web development skills, you don’t have to drop your career just because you have to take care of your family at home. You can work remotely. And I noticed that a lot of software companies allow this. It’s basically a win-win for everyone. I’ve seen a lot of women that had to drop their career because they did not have this privilege. And I think that’s unfortunate because you can do both. Girls can do both.

Do you see any other trends in the technology industry trying to empower girls as well?

Yeah, definitely. If you’re talking globally, in the States I was part of a Women who Code chapter for my city, Portland, Oregon. That was really good – I’m actually trying to form a chapter here in Indonesia as well. But that’s still in progress. There are other communities as well. But I don’t know if they’re doing boot camps as well so we’re probably the first  girl empowered organization that organizes bootcamps just for girls.

What intrinsically motivates you to take action on this issue?

I think what really moved me were very relatable life encounters with my family. There were a lot of times when we had family gatherings where someone asked, “So how’s your job?” and then someone would reply, “Oh, I resigned because I just had another baby.” So I’d be like,”What? You shouldn’t!” I mean, you can take maternity leave, but then they’ll have these excuses. I feel like a lot of these excuses are because there is a hindrance. I know there’s some sort of hindrance. Something, I don’t know what.

I read a lot of books on women’s empowerment as well. A lot of the time, girls just don’t have sufficient education or good mentors. In some parts of the world, it’s not even discussed that girls have to go to school. There are a lot of inspirational people as well, like Malala. I read her book, I cried. She’s really inspirational and I think she’s probably one of my role models.

Have you ever felt any challenges in work or in life because you’re a woman?

Thankfully, no. I think so far I’m blessed enough to not have to encounter that kind of situation. Actually, it’s on the contrary, you know. Most of the time when I’m around guys in a predominantly-male work environment, they tend to be more supportive. They’re like, “You should be in this project,” or like,”You should be in this role.” It’s never like, “You’re a girl, you’re not meant to do this.” I’ve never encountered that, thankfully. Hopefully not ever. I think so far people have been really open-minded, especially in this startup scene.

How about challenges in the startup scene?

Since I’ve worked in both corporations and startups, I think one big difference is that startups are just so fast-paced. You don’t really have a breather in terms of developing yourself. But I think if you really want to grow in your 20s, it’s also good to be in a startup. If you compare three years at a corporation versus one year at a startup, you learn so much faster at the startup. I also noticed that in startups, instead of taking on one role, you’re expected to take on multiple roles. Sometimes it works for some people and sometimes it doesn’t.

How do you intrinsically motivate yourself when you’re feeling challenged or stressed? When people doubt you?

I just brush it off. The only person that can say that you can’t do something is someone who knows your capability, and that person is yourself. I think there is one encounter that I’ve had in my life in which some people didn’t believe in me. It’s not worth your time to actually think about that. I think it’s more worth your time to actually prove them wrong. By developing yourself and reaching out to people to learn more, and taking that extra weekend off just to work a little bit more. It doesn’t have to be office-related. It can be personal projects. Like Generation Girl for me. It’s outside of work, but it’s definitely giving me a lot of experiences and technical skills.

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Just be yourself. Do whatever you need to do to actually improve yourself day-by-day. I think I would just tell myself that it’s OK to do things that I want to do. It doesn’t matter where the journey starts off. What matters is the process of getting there.

You mentioned before that you had a background in fine arts. Do you find yourself drawing from that same passion and creativity in your everyday work? If so, how?

I’m actually going to paint after work tonight. After being in technology, it’s not like I grew disinterested from my true hobby, which is painting and drawing. I try to do it every now and then, even after work to de-stress. I think developing websites is kind of like making art as well, because you do deal with graphics and with sizes and how to make it work on different operating systems. So it’s related as well.

What is one piece of advice you would give to girls all over the world?

Just be your true self. If you don’t like things the way they are now, make an effort to change it. And just know that if you do things in a way you’re passionate about, it will go great, it will go bigger. Things won’t go big if you’re half-hearted on something. So if you’re half-hearted on something right now, just switch and do what you love.

Dheta Aisyah: Chief of Business Development & Co-Founder at Binar Academy

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Dheta Aisyah. I am the Chief of Business Development at Binar Academy. To be honest with you, I never planned to do this. Before I started Binar, I worked at GO-JEK and I met my co-founder Alamanda there. After GO-JEK I joined a consulting company called Palladium; I was there for three months and then Alamanda called me and she shared to me this idea that she had. At that time I found that I didn’t fit with consulting life. I didn’t really enjoy it too much and I thought that I could use my potential better at Binar.

Long story short, I spent five years in the U.S. studying and working for a year. When I came back from the US, I hated it. I was quite depressed and I didn’t like what I was doing. In the US, I worked in politics and loved it but because of immigration issues I had to go back. I wasn’t really accepting the fact that I had to return and was having a really hard time adjusting with the new culture. It’s quite ironic because it’s not really new culture; it’s like my home culture, but then it became something that is so distant to me. And so I really hated it and it took me a while to really like Indonesia again. While I was working at GO-JEK, I was looking for other opportunities to come back to the U.S.

But after a year of being depressed and really tired of hating my country, one day I just came up and kind of like switch my point of view you know like instead of me trying to go back to the U.S. because it was comfortable, so why don’t I just switch my perspective and try to change Indonesia to be as comfortable as the US? And not long after that, Alamanda came to me with this idea of digitizing Indonesia, of giving out opportunities to students and second-tier cities of Indonesia more I.T. education. I shared the same vision with her. I thought it aligned to my calling at the time, so I just took the opportunity.

Why is Binar Academy so needed in Indonesia?

One main problem that we are trying to solve is that digitalization is very centred in Jakarta but in order for us to move forward and compete in the global scene, Indonesia as a whole has to be digitalized and I’m not seeing that right now. We are trying to really cultivate the hidden talents – the underdogs if you will – in second-tier cities so that they have more opportunities.

The second thing is that we’re seeing a huge talent war in Jakarta. Good programmers are very scarce and big startups with limitless capital are trying to double down their offers, to the point that it hikes up the market price of software engineers. Companies need to be brave enough to look at Indonesia as more than just Jakarta. There are a lot of opportunities and talents that they can leverage to build their products outside of the capital.

And three, I see that there’s a lot of ideas that are not able to be executed because they don’t have the talents to build the product. At Binar we’re opening up a host of talents in Yogyakarta, and with the abundance of potential hires, we’ll be able to help early stage startups build their product and realize what was once a dream turn into a real product.

Can you comment on the gender makeup of your program? Of the programming world in general?

We have been running for about a year now and have graduated about 300 people over 6 batches. I would say it is very sad that only about 10% of the student demographic are women. I think the stigma is that women are more emotional. That they’re not very systematic, that they’re not very technical. So tech seems to be an unfitting sector for them and so it marginalizes women in that way. But I don’t think that’s true. Tech, as it grows, needs more women in it. The emotional trait of women is very much needed in order to personalize a product, in order to make it widely used. It has to solve specific problems in people’s days, and that’s where women can really make a significant contribution.

How can we encourage more girls to, say, start applying to Binar? Or to similar programs to become engineers and developers?

it requires cooperation from a lot of stakeholders. If it was just Binar, I don’t think we are big enough to be the catalyst of that change. But, for example, in the past we’ve worked with Adidas and Citibank. They have supported us in giving out more scholarships for women to study in our academy. And that is necessary. Corporations should really be aware that the tech sector is something that cannot be dominated by men anymore. So that’s one. And then the second is that parents should be more supportive of the tech sector as a viable sector to pursue as a career. Because, as you know being an engineer or being in the tech industry is not easy; it requires hard work and long hours. Unfortunately, we live in a country where traditional values are still being upheld. It’s like the dichotomy of women and men are still very strong, as if women has their own role which cannot be interfered into by men and vice versa. And I think that certain values might need to be dissolved. It’s not an era where women have to be stuck at home taking care of children. They need to have a career and remembering digitalization is going to be the future of work, the future of our era. Parents and families in general have to start planting their seed to women in their families to see tech sector as a viable sector to pursue as a career.

Can you speak more about your own personal experiences as both a woman in the tech sector and as a female co-founder?

I think I am very fortunate to not really care about what people think of me. Maybe judgement is out there, but it really doesn’t affect me. I can tell you that very often I am the only woman at the table. And sometimes it is quite degrading where guys would start to flirt with me just because I’m the only woman on the table. And given my age, I think it’s very tempting for them to do it especially in my role as BD. I negotiate deals a lot and sometimes being a woman kind of puts me in that kind of position.

How do you deal with that stigma or that temptation from guys kind of do that? Like how do you how do you deal with that?

Like I said, just show them who’s boss. You know, if they are being flirty with you, maintain your composure and just stay professional. It’s their problem, not yours, so you’re not the one to solve it. You just keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re negotiating, just keep negotiating. If wearing a knee-length skirt or dress is what’s comfortable for you, don’t change it just because you’re afraid that someone some guys on the table will flirt with you. Just do you and be honest. A lot of people are thrown off and discouraged by this environment that they’re in, and it’s very unfortunate because I’ve seen a lot of women do that. Just be confident. Stick with it.

Are there any digital trends in Indonesia you are excited about?

What I’m really excited right now to see is that the move towards the digitalization in the manufacturing industry I think like if we see the global trend. A lot of them are going to 3D printing. And I’m really excited. If the industry in Indonesia will start adopting that technology. Because I think it’s going to make our goods a lot cheaper which is good for consumers. It will force us Indonesians who are used to working in factories but want to be in a better position to use their brain and potential into something that is more worth it. You know I think it was very Victorian era to work in a specialized field doing the same thing all over again. And now we have this technology that can free us to really explore our  societal needs. So I’m really excited to see that.

Do you have any advice for those who want to become an entrepreneur in the tech sector?

I would say start to think about your first $100,000 as soon as possible. Now if I interview people, one thing that I always ask is, “How did you make your first $100,000?” If the answer is like, “My first $100,000 is from my first job out of college,” then I don’t think you have the entrepreneurial mindset within you. So start thinking about it. Start relying on yourself to sustain the kind of life that you want.

And don’t wait to start until the end of college. If you are still in elementary school and have a good idea, for example. Start by buying something on the market and then selling it. Jack up the price and sell it to your peers. It’s that easy to make money. Like me for example, a little bit of an intermezzo but when I was in 4th grade, I was very fortunate to have been given permission to subscribe to magazines. A lot of my peers didn’t have that luxury. So what I did was I cut up sections from different magazines – I created my own magazine of sorts – and then I sold it to my friends.  And it was really for no cost; literally, my parents paid for the magazines but then I got to make money out of it.

So yeah, think about how to make money and don’t wait until other people give you that opportunity. Make that opportunity for yourself to start having a dream. Start thinking about where you want to be 10 or 20 years from now. Because that vision in your head is something that will really help you move forward. If you have that vision, often enough you’re going to create an itch in yourself like, “I really want it. I don’t just want it to be in my head. I want to actualize it.” And that’s going to be the base of your motivation theory.

Start looking for a role model. I think that’s very important. Sometimes I think people in Jakarta are very globalized and they’re open to information. But what is important is that Jakarta is the minority. Jakarta is not representative of Indonesia. And the sad thing is that a lot of women and the rest of Indonesia lack that information of what they can achieve. As you explore a lot of role models, try to define what success means to you. Because as you grow up, you’re going to be so tempted to really follow what your role model is doing — but don’t forget to be authentic as well.

Who is your role model?

I like a lot of people, but I would say my role model is Tim Ferriss. He is very balanced, very ambitious in his work and worldly pursuits. But at the same time, he’s very spiritual. And I think having that balance is very, very important. He’s very sharp. He’s very disciplined. What I like the most about him is that he always experiments on himself and tried to create new habits that made him even more productive in everything he does. That’s really something that I look up to because even though he’s now very successful, he always sees that there’s room for improvement. And I think that is very admirable.

Denica Flesch: Founder of SukkhaCitta

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Denica, and I’m the founder of SukkhaCitta. We’re a social enterprise based in Jakarta that connects artisans in villages across Indonesia with the modern global market.

With a background in Economics, I worked for the World Bank when I first returned to Indonesia. There, I got quite frustrated as I didn’t feel like what I was doing made any direct impact. This led me to do my own research, I wanted to understand what poverty looks like so we can find what works.

When going from village to village, I found an interesting trend. That is, poverty tends to be clustered around economic activities, on what people do. I started to narrow down my focus, and it led me to the craft industry – the second largest employing industry in rural Indonesia, especially for women.

I found out that the current system, the craft industry itself, is kind of broken. The economics seem to be upside down. People earn more from simple jobs like working in Indomaret or as a waitress then being an artisan. Artisans are aging and none of the daughters want to continue. Why would they? And yet, without regeneration, how can the craft survive?

Now, this really intrigued me. I realized that the last thing the world needs is another fashion brand. We do not need more pretty things when the way it was made is ugly. Something needs to change. A bridge needs to be built – and that’s exactly why I started SukkhaCitta. To leverage craft as a viable mean of poverty alleviation – while at the same time sustaining our craft through our modern reinterpretation.

Besides the economic aspect, what drew you to crafts over everything else?

It was also a personal attraction. As an economist, you are trained to judge production based on scale and efficiency. Yet, there I was living with the women in these villages. They would tell me how their mothers, grandmothers, shared stories through the fabrics that they made by hand. Batik was their mean of saying a prayer to their families, of meditation.

There, I realized how much stories and values get transferred like this in our culture – and how much is lost today with the rise of mass-produced clothes. With the pursuit of fast, everything becomes homogeneous. In craft, you find the story of our culture, of our humanity. And I believe it has its place in today’s time, not only in museums. We just have to make it relevant again.

Fashion has the reputation of being environmentally destructive. How can fashion be ethical while also being sustainable at the same time?

You’re right. Through my research, I was shocked to see just how dirty the craft industry is – both on the people and on the environment. In fact, it’s the 2nd most polluting SME sector in Indonesia! I feel that part of the problem is that currently, there is simply no transparency whatsoever. There is no traceability, no way to see how a fabric was made for customers like you and me.

Now, we do things quite differently. Our impact model is based on our own transparency standard: #MadeRight. It is a promise that this fabric provided a living wage, is environmentally sustainable, and at the same time sustains culture. Working with Villages, not factories, means that we are even more careful when it comes to our environmental impact because otherwise, production causes a lot of negative externalities for the community.

The price of fabric is very unique because fabric uses a lot of water and dye. Villagers will use synthetic dyes because it’s very cheap, and then they will dump it in their waterways. The problem is the community lives with the water from the rivers. That’s why in our work we use a lot of natural dyes; we actually spent almost IDR 50 million just doing capacity building so that all of our villages understand how to do natural dyeing.

At the same time, the production of clothes itself produces waste. So even if your fabrics were made ethically and sustainably, the production of fabrics into clothes produces waste. That’s why we have a lot of upcycling and zero waste programs as well — we’re turning our waste scraps into paper now, so all our tags are made from our waste as well. Our aim is not to cause unnecessary damage.

Ultimately, we believe that the way forward is not only about production, but also about consumption. So in our marketing, we focus a lot on storytelling, because we believe if you have a connection with your clothes, you’re not just going to wear a piece for two weeks and throw it away but you’re actually going to take care of it. If it’s broken you’re going to repair it, so it’s a complete and holistic cycle. If you produce ethically sustainable clothes, but you promote fast consumption — it doesn’t work as well.

In the craft industry, do you see a greater movement towards that holistic sustainable model, or are you guys going against the current?

The current for fast fashion is definitely very strong. Really. What I see in Indonesia is that of course you have this positive trend of brands trying to bring light to this issue, but the problem lies in how they go about doing it. Because you have to make sure that your solution is 10 times better than conventional practice, so you can actually contribute to solving the issues.

One of the things I saw is definitely the hype towards natural dyes. For us, it’s a natural choice. Again, because we work with Villages, not factories, we need to be very mindful to ensure our production causes no externality to the community. From this, I learnt that there is actually a difference between natural dyeing with natural process – or natural dyeing with chemical process. Unfortunately, most brands that I see in Indonesia don’t really take this into account. We need to be careful that we do not actually add to the problem.

Why is it important to empower these rural women in the first place? Why do we need to care about this demographic?

Because there’s a lot of potential for impact. What I’ve found is that nobody has ever taken the time to believe in these women. In the beginning, when I started this journey, I noticed a very strong sense of inferiority that people living in rural areas feel compared to someone from the city. The women wouldn’t look me in the eye; the prevalent mindset is that they can’t. They’ve worked as artisans for 20 to 30 years and have always been exploited, so they don’t believe that they can actually change their lives. But now, every time I go to the village, they keep harassing me about what they’re going to do next. “What new products are we going to try?”, “What new techniques are we going to learn?” There’s this new sense of optimism and hope.

And I noticed that once you empower women you empower her community as well. Especially in villages, women typically spend 80 percent of their expenditure on their family. You start noticing things, like one woman would tell me about the healthy, nutritious food that she can now provide to her kids. She started asking me about how she can best provide an education to her kids, what kind of books she can buy — so there’s this new sense of empowerment that we didn’t expect.

And most importantly is this desire to pay it forward — we didn’t start off with that in mind, but the women in the villages, they started to come to me and ask to be involved in the capacity building of other villages. When I asked why, they said it’s because they’ve been helped and now they want to help. So you start seeing that when you do this kind of work, there is also a ripple effect in the community that you’re initiating in. So that’s why I find that it’s very important to be able to empower these women, and also for them to be role models in their communities. Before we started our initiatives, typically the artisans were typically above 40 years old. Now we’re actually really happy because there are these two women under 30 that came up to me asking if they could be trained as well. And I couldn’t imagine doing all this without doing it for the crafts sector. Because suddenly they feel so proud — they feel like they’re visible to the market again, they feel like there’s actually value in what they do, and the pride is just unbelievable.

In your work, you’ve gone into the villages, and you’ve interacted with these women. What would you say are the main challenges these rural women face in their everyday lives?

It’s the general mindset, this social conditioning that after getting married they should be moms and that’s it. It was actually very startling for me during the last field trip; we were sitting in a circle and I was asking them about why there were no women entrepreneurs in the village. They said, “What would we sell, who would buy anything? That’s what men do, right? They work and we just take care of the kids.” I asked them about whether they thought about something beyond just being a mother, because obviously being a mother is not enough for them, right? And they just look at me, puzzled, “No, we haven’t.” Because their mothers were like that, their grandmothers were like that, so they have never left the village. They don’t know a world beyond this.

I was doing a survey about living wage and I wanted to know what was the living wage for that village, so we broke down their expenditure and found that the bulk of it was from their kids’ snack money. Everyday, kids would take IDR 8,000 to 10,000 just to buy snacks. And I asked them what snacks they would buy and they said, “Oh you know, just chiki (a type of snack) that they buy from the warung (small local eateries).” So I asked them one question: “You farm a lot of moringa. Why don’t you just create snacks which are actually healthier than chiki? Make them cute, colorful. Your kids can just buy that instead.” And they look at me and it’s as if they think of it for the first time.

And that’s when I found out that the biggest problem in rural Java is this social norm. These women were not educated, and so they don’t have the courage to dream beyond things as is. But once you start introducing entrepreneurship into their minds, it’s really quite amazing. I just went back to the village last week, and they showed me samples of different snacks that they made and they asked me how to brand it and everything. They can clearly do business; it’s just about whether anybody would take the time to sit with them and guide them through this process. I feel like when you empower women to be entrepreneurs, the impact is a lot larger than men.

Speaking of women in entrepreneurship – you yourself are a woman entrepreneur, but the percentage of women entrepreneurs is quite small in comparison to how many male entrepreneurs there are in Indonesia and around the world. How is it being a women entrepreneur, but being a minority in that sector?

I actually try to use that as an advantage. Because there’s so few of us, it’s very easy for us to be noticed. I personally never noticed that there was any difference between women versus men. What I noticed is that men tend to be impressed to hear that you as a woman dare to go to these villages, stay with them for a few days and do this kind of work. I do feel that especially in our field it’s very advantageous because the community trusts women more. And I think as a man it would be a lot more difficult to do what I do. Because you work with women, and how comfortable would they be with some man living in their house and telling them different concepts of sustainability and design and everything? So you have a different kind of credibility, socially, as a woman. I think that’s a plus point.

Do notice any differences between the mindset of women entrepreneurs and male entrepreneurs?

Yes, in terms of the way that we think about scaling businesses. There’s definitely not much aggression in terms of scaling when you meet a lot of women founders, especially in the field of sustainable fashion. They seem to be very content with where they are. Let’s say they impacted five, ten people, and they seem to be very happy. But they don’t understand that it’s not enough just to do that, because the problem is so big that you need to think big as well. What the industry needs is not five women you’ve impacted, but a sector change. That’s why it’s very important that startups like ours need to grow, to show that it’s possible to grow in a way that does not exploit the environment or the people in it.

On the other hand, male entrepreneurs seem to really think about this. Maybe they typically go more into the tech sector which is easier to scale, so you find them constantly talking about acquisitions, about percentages, about growth — whereas women entrepreneurs, we’re playing nice. We don’t want to compete, we feel like we should form a community, and how do you balance these two? Because you find a lot of startups that remain small, but then how do you create sector change?

What direction do you see your impact model growing: breadth or depth?

Both. Our impact model is grounded in our Jawara Desa program (village champion). In the beginning when I first started, we worked directly with artisans. So literally, if I worked with 50 women, it would be 50 houses I directly had to visit and train. We changed our impact model because that was not scalable. In each of our village, we have a Jawara Desa who we select, train and provide access to microcredit to so they can start their social enterprise on the ground level. In a way, we transfer our DNA, our values to build mini SukkhaCittas on the village level.

In general, we see each of our Jawara Desa leading up to 20 artisans. In that sense, by scaling our breadth, we directly intensify the depth of our impact. We’re already seeing it happen; it’s really interesting when you introduce the concept of entrepreneurship into a village. They start being entrepreneurial in the ways they solve village issues as well. Last field trip I went to visit this village, and on their walls, I saw that they put up A4 papers. Apparently they were brainstorming how to improve the education of their village. It really gave me a sense of validation to continue with this impact model.

Do you have any advice for young girls who might also want to build their own social enterprise? To face all the things that might have to go with handling a social enterprise?

Be patient and persevere, because nobody will prepare you for the job. It is very hard. Not only do you have to take care of the whole business side — because if you just want to keep asking for donors you should be an NGO, you have to understand that you need to be as cutthroat as conventional enterprises — but at the same time, you must maintain your mission. It is seriously very difficult. You will experience higher highs than your typical job, but also very much lower lows. My biggest advice is really to stop giving your power away, because as women sometimes we’re scared to think big. We don’t think that we’re capable or that we don’t have the experience or we don’t have whatever is required to do it, but I find that if this is truly your mission then you’ll find a way. You’ll learn, you’ll find people, you’ll make alliances to achieve your mission.

Suri: CEO & Founder of Diffago

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Suri. My complete name is Ni Komang Ayu Suriani and I’m founder and CEO of Diffago.com, an online platform helping to organize corporate social responsibility (CSR) for impacting disability issues.

I started my career in disability issues five years ago as founding team and project coordinator of DNetwork.net – a pioneering jobs network connecting people with disabilities to employment in Indonesia. During my journey as project coordinator in Indonesia, I realized that there are so many factors impacting the disabled community’s chances of gaining employment. Some of those factors are education, mobility, accessibility – among others. That’s why since January 2018 I started Diffago.com, to address some of the issues that cannot be tackled by my previous organizations.

Diffago has four services. First, we are creating a platform – it is similar to a crowdfunding model, but we will approach companies and organization to give their CSR for disability issues. Second, we will provide trainings that prepare those in the disabled community to be work-ready. Third, we will connect them to companies to get employment. Fourth , we will provide a platform that will connect buyers with disabilities in the middle-up level who need mobility aids (prosthetic leg. Prosthetic hand, etc) to mobility aids provider. So it is helping people with disabilities on a very economically diverse level. Because one of the issues that people with disabilities face here in Indonesia is that not many of them know where to get appropriate mobility aids. Especially for people from middle-low also middle-upper economic class.

Why is disability an issue we should care about?

There is a huge population of people with disabilities in Indonesia. Based on the International Labour Organization data in 2012, there are approximately 24 million people with disabilities in Indonesia. Of that 24 million, 13 million are unemployed – over 50%. Unemployment affects other sectors as well; largely the root causes are lack of mobility, accessibility, and education. They cannot attain a good education because they cannot go out easily; there is no infrastructure to help them do so independently. Many of them are not as mobile as able-bodied people; they can’t just go anywhere at anytime. It’s very hard for them. That’s why it’s so hard for them to get employment, to get better education, to get better health. That’s really what made me go, “Wow, this is a very complex issue.” It’s much harder to address than it seems.

And besides, anybody can become a person with disability at any time. If you don’t care about these issues, if you don’t care about creating inclusive communities, then what will happen? If you become a person with disability from, say, a car accident, what will happen next? This is a societal issue. We have to care, we need to create more inclusive communities for people with disability – if not for others, then for ourselves and future generations.

What are some unique challenges that women might face in the disabled community?

The majority of women with disabilities find major difficulty in gaining employment and education. This is also the case for able-bodied women without disabilities. You could imagine how much harder it is for women have disabilities. It’s also related to the culture in Indonesia. Again, even for women without disabilities it’s a very difficult to get involved in the community, to gain meaningful employment, or achieve a high level in the workplace. Even in attaining education. Because some people in Indonesia believe that if women get married, they will end up in the kitchen. So why bother attaining higher education? Can you imagine if those women also had a disability? It’s an even worse case for them.

Are there specific ways we can help women with disability? In which areas can we help them?

We need to ask ourselves how we can build their confidence, how we can help them to feel that they also have value and a good future. And we must help them realize that value first. If they realize it, then we can help them to increase their confidence. If they have the confidence, we can help them to gain employment and education, to integrate and involve them in the community more. We need them to realize that, “Hey I’m a woman, I’m smart, I’m beautiful, I’m a human being just like you who deserves employment and a good livelihood” – instead of just staying at home and waiting for help form their family. At the present, they feel as if they can’t do anything, even though they’re adults. As if they have to wait for their families, or that they can’t make decisions for themselves. I think we can really help them realize otherwise through family approach to change their family mindset firstly that their daughter/ aunty/ whoever women with disability in their family; they also have a “holly” future that we can help to create together tobe a better one. Then we can involve them into trainings and workshops related to the problem they face..

What’s it like to be a (female) entrepreneur in Bali?

It’s like you’re entering the real jungle, you know? (laughs) It’s so hard, especially in Bali. The resources here aren’t like those available in Jakarta. It’s hard to access opportunities. Events, network, et cetera. Even my own team – none of them are based in Bail. All of them are in Jakarta or Bandung. I’m actually the only one here in Bali.

Being an entrepreneur is challenging for me. I have no background in business; I studied law and have experience in the nonprofit sector. But I’m the kind of person who loves to learn new things, and most of my team members have a business background so I learn from them. And I got motivation from my advisor, Faye Alund . She’s someone who had experience in the nonprofit world for 10 years but still found success in business. So I am sure I can learn; it may take time, but through my team’s and advisor’s help, I will learn how to build a social enterprise. Because social enterprise is not exactly the same as a commercial business right? So we have to think on two sides: how to be sustainable and generate revenue, and but also the social aspect as well. It’s very hard. Maybe harder than just running a 100% commercial business.

Have you faced any specific challenges being a female entrepreneur?

Yes. For instance, when we’re trying to approach investors or when we need to pitch, sometimes I don’t feel very confident. I feel intimidated because all of the founders are men and constantly think like, “Oh okay! Am I doing good?” So confidence. And how to approach investors — most of the investors are men. How do I approach them? Making deals with impact investors and investors in general is quite challenging. That’s the most difficult thing I think.

What are some other challenges you’ve faced in the startup space?

I find so many challenges. One of those challenges is how to build a solid and strong team. I am the only female in my team, by the way. My whole team is male. As a startup, we are quite small as well. We don’t have a huge amount of money to work with, so most of us work pro-bono.

Another thing is that it’s very hard to explain some of my decisions to the team because none of them has a background in disability issues. Disabilities in Indonesia, it’s a very complex thing. It’s not what you think. It’s not like, “Let’s just do a coding training” and that’s it. No. After that, then what? It’s not like that. If you think, “OK, we just train them in IT and then they can start their own business and work from home” — actually, you have to build up their confidence, their professional mindset, their mentality. So that if they work from home they will not only finish their job, but finish it well. It’s a complex thing. I have to explain this to my team. They’re from a purely business background, no social background. That’s one of the challenges.

Resources is a huge challenge. That is, access to networks, funding, angel investors. Disability isn’t a sexy issue, it’s not trendy. So how can we convince potential stakeholders that this is an urgent issue as well as a pressing social issue? That if they help us then they can create significant impact. It’s challenging to convince impact investors and angel investors of this.

What is the startup and social enterprise scene like in Bali?

I think there are not as many as in Jakarta. Maybe it’s due to the culture. the Balinese mostly prefer to have careers in hospitality, or civil servants, or in travel and tourism. Being a social enterprise or having a startup…maybe it’s still rare or not very familiar for us. This is what I heard. I heard Balinese don’t really like to take risks. And social enterprises and startups are full of risk, right?

So what got you to take those risks and start your own enterprise?

I have a vision. I really want to make a bigger impact for people with disability. I see this is as an opportunity. And if I’m not the founder, it’s hard to make an impact. If I work for others I need to wait for their instructions. If I’m the founder, I can set the agenda. I can make the policy. I can decide quickly. So I thought, well, this is the time to be 100% involved in entrepreneurship. And I think social enterprise is the best choice for me rather than starting a non-profit, because nonprofits are very hard to sustain.

Do you see Bali as becoming a startup hub?

Like I mentioned before, it isn’t popular with young Balinese to build a startup. We will mostly choose the safer way, the safer career. But I think Bali has a huge potential to become like Bandung or Jakarta. Maybe in 10 years. Through 1000 Startups Program…I think that’s the gate for young people in Bali to see more opportunities in entrepreneurship. Because maybe we’ve never seen success stories from Jakarta or Bandung, we don’t know so much about what’s out there. But if we are exposed to those success stories, if successful entrepreneurs come here and share their stories, then maybe slowly but surely our mindset will change.

Do you have any tips on overcoming that initial feeling of doubt and finding that confidence?

Just do it. Sometimes we have so much doubt in ourselves. We’re afraid to start, we forget that the first step is to just do it. How? First, set your goals. Like, why do you want to create this company or social enterprise? What is the impact you want to create? You have to make it clear. So that when you ask someone to join your team, they can also share your vision with you. So you will have one vision together.

After that, once you follow your heart or your passion…somehow, it can take a long time or a short time, but you will find a way. No matter how hard it is, as long as you believe in it and start it you will find a way. When it comes about, it depends on the network, the opportunities. That’s why I also mentioned the importance of location, like Bali versus Jakarta for instance. But nevertheless, just start it. Very often I feel I doubt myself, like, “Oh my God, disability is not a sexy issue.” But every time I feel that, I remember, “Wait, well, I created this for a reason and this is a good reason. I believe there will be a way.” Maybe it won’t happen right away. But I keep doing it. Because if I stop even for a bit, it will take longer to achieve my goals. So just do it, keep moving.

 

[RECAP] Women in Blockchain

Last Thursday, Asosiasi Blockchain Indonesia hosted an all-woman panel discussion on practical blockchain applications from industry experts with Meredith from ANGIN and Connector.ID as moderator. Speakers included Pandu Sastrowardoyo of Blockchain Zoo, Daphne Ng of Singapore Blockchain Association (ACCESS), and Merlina Li of Indonesia Blockchain Network shared their thoughts. If you couldn’t make it, don’t worry; here are the top four takeaways and main points of the discussion:

  1. Blockchain is for women! The panelists pointed out that blockchain technology and its accompanying community are well-suited towards women. Whereas other nascent technologies at the time (i.e. big data) involved big risk with intangible or uncertain reward, blockchain is something built upon years of existing technology with monetary value and actual application. Blockchain communities and fellow “blockchain bros” have also been more supportive of women than their counterparts in, say, the data science field, according to the panelists.
  2. Blockchain is not sexy: You should view Blockchain as a technology tool that will be part of your solution. Maybe 20-30% of your product will have blockchain aspects, but the rest will be other vital components such as user experience, marketing, business model, team, etc. Just because you have a blockchain startup does not mean you can ignore the other considerations of your company.
  3. Blockchain and social impact go hand in hand: The use cases for blockchain largely involve socially impactful causes. Examples include supply chain logistics to encourage fair labor conditions, creating tokens for supporting refugee relief projects, and renewable energy among others.
  4. Blockchain both creates and requires more efficient and transparent systems: Blockchain has the capability of creating a more transparent society; transactions cannot be erased or duplicated on the blockchain, making it ideal for use cases like medical records, digital identities, and crossborder transactions (among others). However, this also requires a world where adopters are willing to be transparent. For instance, a hospital adopting blockchain technology for medical records must be comfortable with the implications – transparency in treatments and patient medical history, risking patient realization of possible medical malpractice. While this should encourage more cautious medical practice, it is easier for hospitals to simply refuse to be transparent. Thus, while the technology may exist, the market may not be willing or ready for the adoption of the technology.
  5. The future of blockchain is bright in Indonesia: Indonesia’s large population and friendlier regulations make for a great market opportunity for blockchain startups. Whereas in Singapore blockchain solutions must compete with other existing and established solutions, there is no such thing in Indonesia. An example is a centralized medical record system – something Singapore already has, but something Indonesia lacks. Therefore, a blockchain solution may face more resistance being adopted in Singapore versus in Indonesia, where the market is craving that solution.

ANGIN and Connector.ID are happy to have played a part in this fruitful discussion on the future of blockchain technology, especially as it pertains to Indonesia. We hope to continue being a part of these events in the future and look forward to the next one!

 

Nina Moran: Co-Founder of GoGirl!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Nina Moran and I am the co-founder of Aprilis Co. Within Aprilis Co,, we have GOGIRL! Media, a retail company called Picnic, and a B2B garment manufacturing business as well.

How do I begin? Well, I started in 2004. About a year before, my sister was a design student. For one of her projects, she was supposed to create a magazine. Although it was just a school project, we kind of got over-excited about it and it became a full business plan. Everything was done – every page, every article. Her aim was just to get an A and we kind of forgot about the project until our dad found our proposal and said, “Well actually, this is really really good.”

At the time, the scene wasn’t anything like now. Now we have angel investors, VCs, crowdfunding – all these ways to find money. Investors now are actually much more visible than when we got started. There was no way that young girls like us – I was 25 and my sisters were 22 and 17 respectively – were going to create a media company. It was insane. Nobody was ever going to believe us or fund us. I said that to my dad – because of those reasons, there is no way to start this business. At the time we needed US $150,000. We didn’t come from a wealthy family. It didn’t make any sense.

So I went to banks. The banks told us we were simply too young. There was only one type of loan we could actually apply for, called multiguna. But the interest rate was very high – 18%. Our dad said, “You’re gonna lose money before you make money, but 18% is insane. So I have some money and just use it, but if you mess up then there’s no way your sisters are going to go to college. This is it, this is what I’ve been working for for 20 years.” And we were like “There’s no way our dad has that kind of money.” Like he lives outside the city and he lives in a kost. Every time it rained it would flood up to his waist, and whenever I’m there I would help him move his furniture and whatever. “You have $100k and you don’t rent a house? WHY?” And my dad turned to me and said because I can take it, and this is my savings for you guys.

So the next 6 months we studied the market and distribution channels, got to know people. A few months after that, we launched in January 2005. After that there was a whirlwind of all kinds of things. We got cheated on for US $60,000 and all kinds of things like that, you know? But the thing is we made it through.

In the publishing market, how many others are giving young girls a voice?

Not many, I’m afraid. There used to be a lot – over 14 players. A lot of them have closed already. Now, there are only two: me and one other. We don’t really like that, actually. Lots of people say that’s good, the cake will be yours, the advertisement budget will be yours. But when the industry isn’t sexy, it isn’t fun. We compete in certain things, but we also collaborate on others. And when we don’t have people to collaborate with, it’s not cost efficient in certain ways. So I don’t like it when my competitors are closing down.

What do you think is GOGIRL!’s recipe to success?

Stories are what makes GOGIRL! alive. It’s how we talk to our audience; we evolved and most people don’t. I really hate when people say media is dying. I don’t think so. I think it’s because [media] hasn’t evolved in a long time. If you don’t evolve or innovate, it’s natural that you become irrelevant. For us, print is still giving us a lot of income. But someday if print isn’t there anymore, the stories behind it will still be there. So the question is, how do we make these stories heard and go to the right audience?

We have different strategies for different platforms. Print is something for you to play with – to write on, to cut, to paste, to share. That’s why we call it a “playzine.” We shifted October 2016. Since we did, we started to see more growth. So that’s the strategy for the print. It’s like a hobbyist thing. For our website, we craft short stories, but in the feminist point of view. It’s deep but short. Those are the kinds of things that get lots of pageviews. And the content on our YouTube channel is super fun, super light. Like how to create the perfect winged eyeliner, what’s inside your bag. Every channel has its own strategy. That’s our growth strategy.

What’s the Indonesian market’s appetite for feminism? And what’s GOGIRL!’s own take?

I think that Indonesia is very diverse. And because we are very diverse, there’s a market for everyone. There’s a market for both liberal feminism and conservative feminism. That’s the way it is in Indonesia. You just have to market it right. You can’t be everything. You can’t be accepted by every group and you have to be okay with that.

For us, feminism is respecting every female’s choice, whatever that is. But we want you to make that choice a conscious choice, whatever it is. So you’ve thought about it, this is my decision, this is what I want to do. We believe that’s power. And we might disagree with you. For example, we don’t believe in getting married at such a young age. There are those who disagree with us on our site. And that’s okay, if that’s what you think. But that’s our point of view. Why are you thinking about marriage now? Shouldn’t you be thinking about what you want, what you dream of, what you aspire to be? It’ll come to you when it comes. But why do you have to think about it now? But if that’s your choice, if you’ve thought it through – then it’s power. It’s your choice. And we like that you have a choice. So that’s what we believe in and that’s how we write the angles on our publications.

How empowered are Indonesian women today in terms of pursuing their own businesses, their own goals, their own choices?

There are still lots of challenges for women all over the world. But I think Indonesia has a slight advantage. We have Kartini. And we have a proverb: “Heaven is underneath your mother’s feet.” Meaning that women are quite respected, quite looked up to in a way. Because we have female heroes as well, we are more progressive in ways versus places like the United States. But having said that, there are so many ways we can improve – for instance, the disparities between women in rural areas or even outside of Java versus those in Jakarta. These women still have lots of challenges compared to us here in Jakarta or in other big cities in Java. There are a lot of cultural barriers, as well as barriers to opportunity due to geographical access. We don’t really see many startups in Kalimantan for instance. Then again, the population there is also not as high as that of Java’s. But I think it’s more due to cultural and geographical access. How many venture capital firms are there actually in Sulawesi or Kalimantan? Technically, entrepreneurs could always access via call because it’s the internet era. But if you don’t live in Jakarta, it’s like going back and forth, back and forth for potential investors. It’s very costly.

Can you elaborate on the term, “cultural barriers?” What exactly does that mean for our non-Indonesian readers?

Well, it’s very similar across many cultures. The expectation that females still belong in the kitchen kind of thing, or that in some cultures, having a son is more desirable than having a daughter. Things like that. Oh, and the belief that if we [females] are too smart, too dominant, too ambitious – most women think that it’ll be much harder to find a spouse, things like that. There are even some subcultures in Indonesia where the father is very dominant and doesn’t allow their daughters to pursue higher education. In a way, it’s almost like we’re second-class citizens.

How can we start combatting those stereotypes and barriers to improve access to opportunities for women?

Fintech helps a lot. I really think so. I’m so happy that there are so many fintech companies that are running now. With fintech, you can help a lot of people in rural areas or people outside of Java. It’s super easy, people can simply apply online [to gain access to funds]. I think that’s super awesome.

I also see that women themselves are the biggest barriers to themselves. A lot of self doubt, over thinking. Lots of things. Yes, there are cultural barriers, religious barriers. But I see mostly it’s ourselves that are barricading ourselves to our futures. We forgot that we have to invest in our own self-growth. Go to seminars. Read books. Meet new people. Ask questions. Indonesian people hate asking questions. Those kinds of things, we have to unlearn from the past.

Have you faced any challenges unique to being a woman in an industry where you’re positioning yourself in a feminist light?

Although the media industry seems to be female-centric, the number of female owners is very small. In the entire media scene right now there are only two female founders. Femina Group and us. Everything else is founded by men. The owners, the founders are all men. We are still very much a minority in this industry. I think the female founders are minorities in most industries, actually.

I do have one memorable anecdote. When I was putting together Resonation (a women’s empowerment conference), I was trying to find sponsors. One prospective sponsor saw our proposal and invited us to their office to have a meeting. At the office, the CEO said to me, “Oh I know about this, this is that women’s empowerment dumb s***.” I was like, “Did I hear that out loud? Was that in my head?” And I was just looking left and right to my staff, and even the staff was horrified. It means that I didn’t actually hear that in my head. “I beg your pardon?” I said. He replied, “No, no, I mean why would I want to sponsor this?”

I was just opening my laptop and beginning my presentation. So I just closed it again and said, “Because of men like you, sir. That’s why I care about this women empowerment dumb s***,” and then I just walked out. Like, what just happened, this is 2016!

And how do you get past all that negativity? How do you brush that off despite the doubt, negativity, and resistance you face?

I guess I kind of recruited my support group in a way. Before I started creating Resonation, most of my network was male. I didn’t actually know a lot of female entrepreneurs or anyone like that. I was like, “Ugh, this is too much testosterone, I need females.” So I followed a lot of people on Instagram and invited them to go on a trip with me. And I mean we all knew each other by reputation but I had this idea of taking a trip together and we actually did. It was 14 of us, all alpha females. All of us had the exact same fear; we knew we are alpha so we were scared we’d all bite each others’ heads off. But because of the commonality and similar struggles we face, we actually got along really, really well. We actually became each others support system. We ask each other for advice, we would go to each other’s events. I think before I met these women, it was hard. All my male friends are awesome but they don’t understand the struggle of being female. I’m really grateful to have these 14 females that will just tell you if you’re doing a bad job or a project and they’ll tell you in your face. Like, “Hey I don’t think that’s gonna work,” and that’s so refreshing. You know there are people on your side.

What advice do you have for people with similar aspirations?

Do your due diligence, but stop overthinking. I think it’s a plague among the 20 year olds. Seriously. What is scaring you so much? Yes, there are risks, but be prepared and then jump. Don’t jump just to jump. Of course you’ll drown. But do your research. And then start. Because once you start, there will be so many lessons you will have to go through. And you’ll learn from that and you’ll get better from that. Stop overthinking already. Enough. It’s plaguing all the youth. Even if you are prepared, there will be so many things you’ll never anticipate. You’ll know what to do when you are in the situation. And if you don’t know what to do, then you’ll find out. Learn. Ask. Do whatever. Because once you’re there, you’ll have no choice but to get better or find solutions. That’s it.