Are Indonesian startup entrepreneurs less original?

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I’m not so much into responding to posts of other bloggers but in this case I would like to make an exception. Last week I read an post written by Funcrowds’ founder Andre Siregar titled “Startup Indonesia: kurang orisinal?“. He wrote this article based on the fact that 9 startup entrepreneurs pitched their business to several VC and all the startups were basically localized clones. What I didn’t like about Andre’s post is that it’s tendentious because he only asks the question without giving his own opinion and just quotes Ryo Umezawa, director of venture capitalists J-Seed Ventures. So I think Andre has raised an interesting question but failed to shed some light on that question or simply didn’t want to burn his fingers on answering that question.

So allow me to share my opinion on this topic, does the Indonesian startup scene lack originality?

Before making any comparison with other countries the first that comes to mind is that Indonesia is still an emerging market where there are many opportunities and spaces which are already filled in more developed markets. So simply from a business point of view as an entrepreneur I would ask myself, what will I do? Localize a proven business model or choose a more risky strategy of doing something completely new? Well, obviously I would go for the first option considering I’ve started Tokobagus, a local classifieds site. Even though it has it’s downsides because everybody can clone so competition will be more fierce and one will definitely have to excel in all aspects like marketing, usability, support and really understand the local market.

Now when comparing Indonesia with the US or European market one has to be honost and admit that in those markets there’s more knowledge and experience available, more lessons have already been learned. So starting with a clone makes things a little bit more easy allowing Indonesian entrepreneurs to learn how to cope with all aspects of an Internet startup, aspects like infrastructure, promotion, usability etc. One of the things we’ve learned is that businesses tend to evolve over time, ideas lead to new ideas. Friendster led to Facebook which on his turn led to Twitter, so how original are Facebook and Twitter? My point is that I’m pretty sure the same will happen in Indonesia, ideas will evolve into new ideas, business models will evolve into new businesses, something we can already see happening.

So, my conclusion is that Indonesian startup entrepreneurs definitely don’t lack originality but are actually smart by going for proven business models for which there’s a huge growth market in Indonesia. It’s easy for VC or foreign entrepreneurs to judge that in a condescending way but the goal of a business is to make money, not to win originality prices, something that the guys from J-Seed Ventures also seem to understand considering their portfolio.

And maybe someone can tell me what groundbreaking successful business ideas lately have come from outside Silicon Valley?

  • http://andresiregar.com/ Andre Siregar

    I totally appreciate you spending the time to read and respond to my blog post. And yeah, I was too lazy that day to write an opinion on my own about the subject :).

    First, running a business is hard. Even if the idea is not original, making a business successful/profitable is extremely tough. For some entrepreneurs, making money is enough to keep going. For other entrepreneurs, money is not the primary objective. These are the inventors — people who get satisfaction from coming up with new things. Without these people we won’t have the Dyson vacuum cleaner and you’re still typing on your smartphone with a stylus. So while there’s a lot of smart and successful business owners in Indonesia, it would be nice to see more inventors.

    Second, the VC judged Indonesian entrepreneurs in a “condescending way” as you put it, probably because VCs are always looking for the next billion dollar idea. The next “Facebook” idea will make a billion dollar, but the next Facebook-clone will not. The clone may be profitable, and may make a successful exit (see Disdus), but it will not be a world-changing startup.