Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Metha from Sayurbox which is an e-commerce platform distributing fresh, local produce and dry goods from local farmers and producers. Amanda [Susanti] and I have been doing Sayurbox since July 2016. I currently manage the operations of Sayurbox, which entails sourcing from the farmers and establishing relationships between them, managing the warehouse and logistics, and distribution of the produce.
How did you come into this partnership together?
Amanda is actually very passionate about farming. She had a farm initially, and worked together with the local farmers in the area. At the time, I had just finished my Masters degree, came back to Jakarta and met Amanda. She told me about this project she wanted to build, which sounded really exciting. So I got on board.
For a lot of urban people, living in cities means having access to all kinds of produce at the supermarket and not really having to think about where it comes from. Do you think there’s is a trend towards a renewed focus on local and seasonal produce?
We try to communicate those values to our customers. For example, we have farmer profiles on our website so the customer knows exactly where their food has come from. The response has been really good, people are really excited whenever we post on social media. This is what really excites us, to be able to reach more farmers to join our network, so we can serve more customers. People are really embracing this concept of farm-to-table fresh produce.
Having worked closely with these farmers, what are the sorts of challenges they are facing in this massive food value chain?
Logistics is one of the major challenges they are facing right now, because not many farmers have the access to it. That’s where we come in. We provide assistance with access to markets and help them manage logistics in order to distribute crops to the customers in the areas that we cover. In many farming communities, there are long supply chains which means farmers depend on parties like village traders. They have to sell their crops to the first traders to get the initial capital to grow their produce, then when harvest time comes around, they sell their produce to the first trader at the price that they’ve set. As a result, they are not able to set up a decent market for their families. We provide them with an option so that they don’t always have to sell to their first trader, instead they can sell to us for a fair price, and we can help distribute to the consumers and the market.
Have you experienced any major challenges in setting up Sayurbox?
Again, in terms of logistics, we have had to build the operational system by ourselves. Initially it was about approaching the farmers and building a relationship and gaining their trust. They were just used to selling their crops to village traders, so it was intimidating for them at first to see strangers coming into their village. Lots of the challenges that we face from the start is mostly the operational challenges, identifying how we can help these farmers and efficiently distribute their crops. It keeps us going though, knowing that there are a lot of opportunities to tackle these issues, and get as many farmers on board as possible.
And being two women founders, have face you faced any gender biases in your career?
Luckily not really. Everyone that we have met on our journey with Sayurbox have been really helpful. They don’t focus on the fact that we are two women, but there is definitely still that stigma of ‘Can you actually do this?’ Because as a woman in Indonesia, and in society more generally, there’s that idea that you need to have a family and do all these things by a certain age. I personally don’t have those kinds of issues. But they are still very much prevalent within society. At Sayurbox we really try to encourage women, in fact 80% of our team are women. We try to build a culture for women where we are supportive of each other. For example, if one of our women employees needs to take care of their children at home, they have the option of working from home. That way they can achieve that balance between work and family life.
What do you love most about the work you do?
For me, it’s the people I have met. Getting to meet the farmers has always been my favourite thing. Whenever we go for sourcing, I get to travel, learn how they grow their produce, talk with them about their life on the farm and the challenges that they are facing. It’s incredible to see their passion for growing food. The feeling you get when you talk to them – you can see their genuinity, and the love they put into growing their fruits and vegetables. They work very hard. We also employ mothers in our warehouse, who work for us during their free time to earn extra cash for their families. They pack, pick and check the quality of the produce. It’s a very satisfying feeling getting to work closely with different people.
What’s one piece of advice you would say to young women entrepreneurs?
Just do it. Don’t be afraid or be limited by the stigmas within society. Just have the courage to explore. I personally don’t have a background in farming or agriculture, but having met Amanda and seeing how passionate she is makes me want to learn more. There are always going to be challenges – just believe in yourself, try your best and you will go a long way.