Eileen Kamtawijoyo: COO & Co-Founder of Populix

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Eileen Kamtawijoyo. I am the co-founder and COO at Populix. I met with my co-founder, Timothy when we were studying at the University of Cambridge. I was doing my master’s and he was doing his PhD. When I went back for good, I worked at Djarum’s new business initiative, which is their fast moving consumer goods company. Since there were a lot of product concepts that needed to be tested, I found out how market research in Indonesia is very costly and inefficient. Not only does it take a very long time, but the data quality is lacking as well.

When Timothy came back to Indonesia for good, I had already been working with Djarum group for around two years. We were just sharing ideas and brainstorming together, and he was telling me about the advancements made in academic research abroad. Suddenly, we thought maybe there was something we could do to solve the problems here in Indonesia’s market research space.

Around three to six months after the initial conversations that we had, we jumped in and started the journey of building Populix together. Populix itself has been established since December 2017, but we just started running operationally in January 2018. During the 9 months of Populix’s existence, there have definitely been many ups and downs. However, everything has been very worthwhile; so many learnings took place that forced us to stretch beyond our comfort zones and beyond our capabilities imagined.

Populix is a technology-enabled research startup. We are building a consumer insights platform that bridges companies and survey participants. Participants can come onto our platform, register themselves, and fill out their data: their age, their income level, where they live, etc. They are then rewarded every time they participate in a study. Meanwhile, researchers also come onto our platform looking for participants of their target market. They can conduct the survey and have real-time data analysis in their dashboard. In the future, researchers can also buy off-the-shelf data sets from our library or subscribe to these reports on a periodic basis.

What did you find the most challenging as a first-time entrepreneur?

Back then, we were both effectively managing directors, because literally we were managing everything from the very little things to grander things like strategy of the company. You begin to remember the things that you took for granted when you were working in a big company, and you finally realize how much effort it takes to create your own thing. You won’t realize it until you experience it for yourself.

Another challenge was in terms of skill sets. I needed to learn a bit more about finance; back then, I really had no professional experience on finance. So I took some online courses and watched YouTube to teach myself. It’s important so that at least you can have some sort of a financial statement for you to present to the venture capitalists and stakeholders you’re sharing it with when you’re fundraising.

And then there was product development. Timothy and I are both not really tech people. We really have to try our hardest, even up until now, to learn how to communicate with developers, familiarizing ourselves with the different programming languages that we should use, and the reasons why.

We’re still learning as we go. It’s been difficult, no doubt.

What makes you want to continue being an entrepreneur, then?

Well, I’ve always wanted to become an entrepreneur. I feel like it’s so much more rewarding; when you see something that you created yourself — your own vision — coming to life, it gives you a deep sort of satisfaction within yourself. It’s truly rewarding.

And the deeper I go on this journey, I feel that same rewarding sense. It’s just a matter of setting up a strong mentality from the get-go. After all, it’s going to be tough. But you just need to persist. You just need to persevere.

What do you look for in a good co-founder?

I think what makes a good founder is that first you need to know what are the skill sets that you already have — what are your strengths? With the other co-founder, you want to have him or her fill in the gaps or weaknesses that you have, so that you can complement each other. For example, maybe I have more of a reserved personality, while Timothy is more confident. It balances well when we meet with investors or when we are presenting our startup.

What’s more, you both must really believe in this idea. At the end of the day, everyone is going to be against you — even your family and friends. This is vital since there will be times when you may be questioning yourself as to why you are doing this, and to have that someone who can keep rooting for the idea and to keep up the momentum will help you push on.

How is it like to be a female founder? Any advantages or challenges?

So far, it’s been good. I believe that in any organization it’s good to have a balance between males and females because diversity brings richer discussion and richer perspective.

I feel it’s actually advantageous to be a female founder in a way; whenever I was applying for our startup to pitch in competitions, for example, it always have women founders are strongly encouraged to apply, something like that.

I also know that there’s also a lot of organizations who actually are supporting startups with female founders. For example, in the US, you have Melinda Gates setting up an institution to fund women founders. So I think in a way it’s good. I don’t feel like any discrimination or whatsoever. I actually feel encouraged because women are being seen and supported now.

How was it like to be a female employee versus being a female startup founder ?

Perhaps, I just share a bit of my experience. After graduating from my Bachelor’s degree, I was working at Campbell’s Soup in the US, as R&D (research and development). Our CEO was female. It was really empowering for me to see how females can hold such important roles and leadership positions.

And then when I was doing my masters, I found a lot of female PhD candidates, working on amazing and groundbreaking theses.

So, I felt far more encouraged after these experiences than when I was younger. I grew up in a traditional Chinese family, where women are not necessarily encouraged into leadership positions. For instance, higher education and completing a PhD may not be recommended by my parents, since it may result in difficulty finding a spouse. Nevertheless, I feel my journey has been truly blessed, since I am constantly surrounded by many strong female personalities that all encourage me to follow my pursuits.

Do you have any role models?

I don’t have just one per se. I really like Jack Ma; he is really someone who went from zero to one hundred, making it super big. It makes me think that you can’t complain. Like this guy has been through worse. At least I have the advantage of education and having a supportive family. So what’s my excuse? I also really respect his grit and his tenacity of never giving up. He always shares stories of how he pitched countless times, got rejected, but kept on going. I really admire that of him.

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

I really want to make more of an impact, not just in terms of business but also social impact. Maybe I can assume a role in the government sector. Who knows? I want to be a part of shaping Indonesia for the better, for future generations to come.

Do you have any advice for other young women who are looking to start their own ventures or dive into entrepreneurship ?

My personal advice is to first find out what your passion is. It may sound cliché but there are going to be tough times ahead, so you need to really enjoy what you do. Then, really just dive into it since I believe that if you have the will, you will find a way.

And of course, putting in all the hard work, the long hours, and having the curiosity to keep learning is vital. Since there are so many things that we will never know, you need to constantly have that hunger to continuously learn. And meet a lot of people, because you will learn a lot from them. Ask for their advice – don’t be scared to ask questions. In a nutshell, be a lifetime learner, network a lot, and continually persist.  

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