Sangat Pedas

Can the Indonesian Startup Battle please begin?


Indonesian Startups have become more and more the focus of attention of VC because the Indonesian Internet market is booming! Well, at least that’s what the world is saying and in terms of Internet users and potential that’s fairly accurate. Consequently in rapid pace a pretty big startup scene has arose in Indonesia, mainly young people inspired by te successes of giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter. Full of passion and ambition one by one they’ve launched or preparing to launch their social media platform, e-commerce site, street directory, real estate directory, clothing shop or whatsoever.

Both foreign and local investors have taken their positions or will do so soon so you could say all ingredients are there for some huge successes. But apparently there’s something lacking, that’s not me saying but the consumer. So far the Internet is dominated by the usual foreign suspects except some big media companies, a forum, some portals, banks and a classified site. All of these so far successful local players are already long time operating and from that perspective can’t be classified as startup anymore. And when going further down in the Alexa ranking for Indonesia it’s pretty shocking to see the long time lack of any fast movers.

So what’s wrong? Some claim it’s because Indonesians are more past than future oriented which has to do with Indonesia being close to the equator. Myself I wonder sometimes where all the investments in local startups are spend on. Normally around 70-80% of an investment should go into marketing and product development. Unfortunately I fail to see startups engaging in aggressive marketing campaigns except recently Djarum owned I think this is part of the problem but not the whole problem.

Business is war

No people, the Indonesian startup scene lacks controversy, war, heated discussions and even some drama. Local startup entrepreneurs definitely look abroad to see what concepts would work in Indonesia but fail to see and/or apply something. Let me clarify that. Facebook is a social media site, we all know that and so is Google+. Now Google didn’t launch Google plus just because they thought it would be nice to have a social media site. No siree, Google and Facebook are at war, a war for success, money and world domination. War also involves egos willing to go as far as it takes to win. “Stealing” contact info followed by Google blocking Facebook. Bing being caught stealing search results from Google. Google acquiring Motorola mobile and along the way getting hold of 14,600 granted patents and 6,700 pending patent applications, worldwide.

Startup entrepreneurs saying that’s a different world because Google has money don’t get the point, things like can happen and are happening on every scale.

Now I’m definitely not preaching for stealing as good business practice, frankly I hate it. But the point here is the fact that successful companies understand business is war and that if they don’t TAKE what they want someone else WILL. Just for good order, even though war is business, I have an excellent relationship with the people behind most of our competitors. We have a drink, chat, have fun and then go back into our war rooms engaging each other with nukes.

Whether you like it or not, business is war and if you’re not prepared to go to battle then you should probably don’t bother at all. The “war mentality” leads to better products which leads to more users, success and money (please don’t say you’re not in it for the money as well). Facebook has friends lists, Google improved it with circles, but maybe Multiply had it first. The online ecosystem is one of “stealing” followed by improving and evolving in something new, better. Everyone can blame and point fingers and saying Google is copying Facebook but the fact is that in their short existence they’ve already passed the 10 million members mark. So who cares?

Another great example is the war between beer makers Heineken and Bavaria. Heineken was official sponsor of the World Championship Football and the Dutch team but in the end it was Bavaria that got the most publicity with their ingenius World Championship dress. Heineken and the FIFA of course far from amused, some drama, some fighting but in the end this blunt, aggressive and above all cheap approach won Bavaria the battle. This should also illustrate that you can reach goals even with a limited budget (not that Bavaria is limited by a small budget) as long as you’ve got the balls and creativity.


As my friends and colleges know, I love discussions even just for the sake of it. Discussions are great because they invite and motivate you to look at things from different perspective and coming to new opinions and ideas. Reading a lot of foreign blogs I probably spend most of the time reading the comments, which quite often offer some hefty, spicy and entertaining discussions.

Looking at the Indonesian version of Tech Crunch, Daily Social, you will see none of that. Everybody is being a good boy by complimenting the writer and or nicely retweeting the article. And I’m sure Daily Social, not meaning this negative, offers enough material for discussons. The same goes for Sangat Pedas for that matter but that could be the result of a low number of visitors.

Discussion panels at events should be called agreeing panels highly inspired by the old Dutch “polder model” which basically is the model where we all agree somewhere in the middle and surely avoid any straight forward attacks on the content. Making a nice impression and appearance seems to be more important than really exchanging opinions and engaging into discussions.

I’m a stubborn person but sometimes discussions can change my opinion. When that’s not the case I will be even more motivated to proof my “right” also fed by just a slightly too high level of testosteron. So no matter the outcome of a discussion it has a positive effect. In Tokobagus we embrace discussions and differences in opinion because it’s lifts every individu and the team as a whole too greater heights. In every job interview I conduct I always test the candidate if he or she has the will and balls to disagree with me, if not sorry but no job.

Indonesia is ready and eager for some good local startups who are prepared to go to battle and willing willing to go all the way. To fight for every user and to try on every occasion to outsmart any competitor. Just launching a website or mobile platform but avoiding any aggressive strategy will be punished by the blunt approach of seasoned foreign companies with much more “battle experience”.