Liris Maduningtyas: CEO of JALA

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi, my name is Liris Maduningtyas and I’m the CEO of JALA. JALA is a data services company that provides services for aquaculture, specifically for shrimp farms. We enable shrimp farmers to increase their yields through technology and smart data. We’ve been in this sector for about two and half years now. I started out with my co-founder, who is actually a shrimp farmer himself. He’s been in the shrimp farming industry for 17 years already, and he started to look at the problem at this shrimp industry and start to gather a team. At the time I was working as a field engineer in an oil and gas services company. I’d been working a lot with data logging and data collection. When I eventually left my company and met with the farmers face-to-face, I started to realize that there is still no such technology breakthrough in this kind of business to improve and optimize the work they do.

Surprisingly, there is actually no available data at all to help farmers make decisions. Farmers must rely on their instincts. For instance, to estimate water parameters, farmers will typically use their fingers by putting them in water. It’s completely insane. In this part of the world, where technology is already booming, we should be able to create a technology solution for these farmers. At JALA, we want to actually help the farmers to gather, all of the data necessary that for them to actually make predictions, to actually make decisions based on the actual data, starting with sensors. So that’s how we started JALA, and how I actually personally jumped into aquaculture.

How does it feel to be one of the leading woman, and furthermore, a C-level woman leader in the aquaculture industry?

It’s quite challenging. If we talk about the shrimp industry and the aquaculture industry in general, there are not a lot of women working in the sector. Most women working in the aquaculture sector usually work with the feed company in managerial roles or research and sales – and not sales in the field, but in the office. I rarely meet female farmers, actually. I’ve only ever met three. But it’s not just about the lack of women in the aquaculture industry, but also the shortage of young people in aquaculture as well.

It can be quite challenging, being a female C-level leader in this sector, especially because of the very small female representation we have here. I always have to prove myself in front of the farmers, who are often quite old and knowledgeable. But I am coming to the table with something; I also have knowledge in this business, and I actually can help them. Being a female leader can be beneficial as well, because I’m different. And people typically love something that is different.

What societal expectations do you face as a young woman? What’s your family’s and friend’s opinion about you joining the aquaculture industry?

You may have already guessed that the environment didn’t start out super supportive. I mean we’re living in Indonesia and it’s part of the culture that women are supposed to be at home, not at the office. It’s changing, sure — you can go to the office, but you know, maybe as a secretary. My parents actually encouraged me to become sort of a certified lecturer, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Once again, I had to prove to my parents that I could actually do it. The process took hard work and patience, but it paid off. I actually won a pitching competition on behalf of JALA and then started gaining revenue from the farmers. Now my family is starting to realize that I can actually do it. They’re really supportive. One hundred percent. But they needed some sort of proof first.

How is the startup ecosystem in Yogyakarta? Are there many women entrepreneurs?

In general, there many women entrepreneurs in Yogyakarta, but those specifically working in the startup ecosystem are quite rare. I do find a lot of female entrepreneurs in Jakarta and maybe outside of Indonesia, but in Yogyakarta, you can probably only find a small handful of C-level women in this business.

The majority are in offline, then?

Yes, yes, exactly. The majority of women entrepreneurs are in offline businesses, like coffee shops or restaurants, you know, desserts and the like. But I do really want to encourage women to consider aquaculture and agriculture as career paths. Aquaculture and agriculture are things that you don’t really have to be afraid of.

So in your opinion, why there is there such a limited number of startups?

I think it’s because of people’s perceptions of startups. I’ll tell you a story from my university days. Only two startup founders came from my major, which is electrical engineering. That was in 2010. But then in 2011 with the younger generation, that number started to grow. Although it still wasn’t a lot, I still hope that the trend will continue. There are a lot of women trying to actually become entrepreneurs in the startup scene. Especially in technology.

Who are your role models?

I have a lot of role models, but I’ll just tell you about someone who is currently inspiring me – Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook because I think she’s funny and energetic and patient. She really faced a lot of challenges as a woman entrepreneur at the beginning of her career. And I feel like part of her story also resonates with my own story. So the way that she overcame all of those challenges is something that I draw motivation to also overcome my own.

Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?

I really want to own more than two companies. One company is this one. For the second one, I do really want to own a farm — a high-tech aquaculture farm. I really want people to know that working as a farmer is not a low profile job. I just want to open people’s minds, to tell them that farming is actually a good business. And when it comes to farming, technology, and young people, it could be something that is seen as desirable and lucrative.

What is your advice for young people out there, especially for women who want to start their careers as an entrepreneur in the startup ecosystem?

Girls, don’t be afraid. You have equal rights and equal potential as a person, and you’re equal in every potential skill that you’d need to actually become an entrepreneur in the startup ecosystem. And I hope for you to not be afraid. Don’t just wait to have a secure job. Be out there. Find the problem, find the solutions, and start to build something that is really cool — and make money out of it!

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