GHA that she’s currently leading then started training, consultancy, and speaking at events of startups. “At the core of its education, it’s really a training company that does also incubate,” she defined. They don’t work like an agency but they also become parts of startups’ teams, in the mission of helping them take off.
GHA provides handy knowledge on how to do business effectively for young entrepreneurs and early startups. Sometimes Anna sees mentors give simple, practical and logical advice and tips that work to fix some problems that generally arise after embedding sophisticated yet too complicated features. One of the mentees was told to meet and talk with 20 people about how people want to have their wishlist written or saved for later days. Anna believes that entrepreneurs must go down to the field to really comprehend what consumers, clients or whoever/ whatever they want to target. Because we all know entrepreneurs may get caught up by their own assumption.
I drew a bold conclusion that her establishment focuses more on education of entrepreneurship rather than anything else. She agreed on this. She found the issue that in Indonesia everyone seems to look at the US market as their benchmark without really taking the differences into consideration. She’s certain that 3 months is not enough to provide what it takes to survive the competition. It’s something she sees missing in a lot of accelerators and incubators.
When asked about stages in GHA program, Anna described it as being dependant on every team of startup, market, viability of ideas, product potential and so on. Everything else can be fixed later on, she told me.
She found one common problem that Indonesia startups must deal with when building startups. That is having proper products. Every startup seems to focus heavily on user acquisition and forgets to build products that attract users. The reason, in Anna’s view, is because they apply business – instead of user – perspectives while building products.
Another common problem is making sense of data. Indonesian entrepreneurs need to learn more on how to do it right. Obtaining data is one thing, breaking them down and making decisions out of them is another. “Gathering the right data, structuring them the right way and making data-driven decisions are still missing a lot here,” she noted.
GHA will keep the participating startups updated initially every month and then every three month to see how they’re going.
“We chose local mentors because they understand better local markets,” Anna answered my question on the reason why she picked Indonesian mentors to guide incubated applicants. It also helps the local startups if they set target on local markets as well.
Once entrepreneurs finish GHA program, they’re expected to know what to do next after the early stage passes by. She also pointed out some basic skills as the focus before moving further. Some fundamental correction such as focusing first on making, activating and fixing products since usually startups focus first on user acquisition, which is to her quite wrong.
From Corporate to Education
GHA is something Anna had always been longed for in her career. She’s used to working with early-stage startups, taking care of their growth in Australia. She has roamed Singapore and Malaysia, too.
“They have a lot of really good ideas, different from other countries,” said she. Despite having good ideas, after these startups roll out a product, usually they won’t have any support anymore. So the problem is how to grow it in a sustainable way. Therefore, she reckons the significance of educating entrepreneurs first with training and consultancy.
Anna has been in contact with the startup world since six years ago. Before that, she worked as a corporate worker at an ad agency, market research, international marketing. “That was between my bachelor and my master,” she recounted her early days.
When I asked her whether experience as a corporate slave helps someone as s/he navigates through entrepreneurship ocean, she nodded. “I think it helps, to be honest, because you learn how to manage yourself,” she answered. We may learn, let’s say, how to work in teams, task delegation, processes and structures from big companies. These experiences are what one needs to start a young company. Without these experiences, one may take a longer time to start up successfully or make more mistakes.
Indonesia: Young and Risky
Having been familiar with Germany, Singapore and Australia’s startup ecosystem, Anna commented on Indonesian one,”It’s very young. It’s a lot more passionate. Actually, the most (passionate) in the region.”
GHA was founded in Bali, which is why Anna finds Indonesia home. And after that, they began holding events in Jakarta, Bali, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.
She has seen pools of young passionate entrepreneurs with lots of talents in Indonesia. “But I think the supporting structure is not developed enough yet,” she remarked on the flaw of Indonesian startup ecosystem.
To describe the point where Indonesian ecosystem is now at, she took Malaysia as an example. She considers Malaysia’s ecosystem is one of the best in the region. They have government agencies that provide grants. Startups need to fight to get the grants. They also have metrics to educate entrepreneurs, which is why GHA works closely with Malaysia for training, bootcamps and so on.
In Singapore, she added, they just throw money but hardly educate entrepreneurs. “It’s a little bit too easy.” Now they are switching towards equity models rather than staying in giving away funds. It’s a good way to give incentives to people to get into the scene, she opined.
While everyone is crazy about the potential of stellar valuation of ‘unicorn’ startups such as WhatsApp, Instagram or Snapchat, Anna firmly denounced the idea that GHA only operates to hunt such prospects. What matters more is equip entrepreneurs with “what they need to be able to make it” and they scan shape it whatever they want to (including if these entrepreneurs wish to build and eventually sell their startups), Anna made her point.
Anna claims that by the time of the interview I conducted with her in early September 2016 GHA has cooperated with about 4,000 entrepreneurs within 18 months across South East Asia.
Thus far, Anna has seen different motivations in different countries. Singapore, she confessed, is a bit difficult. The reason is no other than the fact that it’s relatively easy to get funding here. “Because there’re so many government grants for everything,” Anna said. The ease is good but in abundance it undermines the spirit of entrepreneurship itself because we all know entrepreneurship needs risks. Without risks, entrepreneurial ventures would merely end up being dull as it feels so easy to overcome all the challenges. Indonesia differs in the way that “if you don’t make it, you’re in a financial trouble.” It is the harsh ecosystem where entrepreneurs seriously have to fight. That’s what entrepreneurship really means.
The danger of being spoiled entrepreneurs is that startups may grow big locally but once they go international, they’re like no more than babies in need of protection. In a country where ecosystem is wild and turbulent, startups and entrepreneurs grow organically and thus gain strength by practice.
Anna said GHA prefers startups that don’t seek fundings without doing their “homework” first, meaning they have to build something first and ask for money later. “Why? Build something and get money for it.”
I wondered whether different countries may bring out different entrepreneurship stories. Anna said no. They’re pretty similar to each other, much to my surprise. The fact that they don’t know each other but they do exactly the same thing, even their business models are quite identical. My hunch is consuming similar media outlets makes it possible. These hopefuls have their minds brainwashed by mainstream entrepreneurship media that on daily basis feed them up with news that convey the more or less same message on what seems to be trending or declining now. With all these coincidences, Anna advised that these similar startups in the region talk with each other to learn from one another’s mistakes or journeys.
It’s always interesting for me to find another fresh perspective towards Indonesia when it comes to entrepreneurship, simply because we need to see ourselves through their glasses. And that’s just one of many ways to check if we’re on the right track or not. Anna’s advice is simple. There ought to be more trainings because Indonesia already have the people coming with the right motivation and mindset. “It’s just how to channel all that, like how to help them structure themselves because everyone seems all over the place.”
Being data-driven and process-driven is important. Without process and structure, there’s too much waste because startups tends to lose focus while at the same time they have limited access to funding. This is why it’s important to pick them (acquiring users, optimizing products, processes, necessary metrics, up at an early stage.
When a startup concentrates more on valuation and sets aside ways to generate income and profit, there’re more problems to get in their way. But Anna somewhat understands the underlying reason of this. She knows well at times entrepreneurs have to obey what these investors.
Anna has a caveat for those who are eager to secure fundings in early days of business, saying,”If you raise money really early, you have to give away a huge chunk your business. If you don’t have to, just don’t.” But because a lot of entrepreneurs keep doing it, raising money early has become a sort of norm though it’s actually not. Despite all this, Anna quite understands why most entrepreneurs want so much to get funding even though they don’t need it that much. Sense of security, she remarked. “It’s scary not to have money.”
Lacking money doesn’t always mean misery. Anna acknowledges that being ‘poor’ at times boosts creativity and success in the long run. It pushes entrepreneurs to think out of the box, she pointed out.
The Hype of Ecommerce
GHA had 17 participants from 11 startups in Indonesia in Jakarta during September 2016. The composition of participanting startups is quite heterogeneous. Marketplace, ecommerce, SaaS are the three areas of business these startups are operating.
“Ecommerce is dominant,” Anna noticed. She knows it’s so hyped though it’s not easy. Ecommerce is not only about setting up an online store and selling without doing anything. Setting up is so easy but the hard question after that is “how do we make people buy?”. And not many people know it can be very expensive to make ecommerce businesses really work and profitable. It takes a lot of efforts like branding and community building. Even those big names like Zalora and Lazada are struggling and buring out a lot of cash to win loyal buyers’ hearts.
Ecommerce indeed is considered the most promising type of business just because Indonesia has a lot of population seen as potential consumers. But it takes a long way to go before these people turn into buying ones.
Internet penetration in the country is going up. But even her friend in Malaysia has made a deadly mistake by building an online shopping app that eats up smartphone’s memory so much. If we want more people to buy we need to slim down our shopping app simply because only very few people want to uninstall Facebook or Twitter app on their phones only to free up more space for a cumbersome online shopping app that, for worse, may slow down phones as well.
I pointed out the media role in the sugarcoated bitter fact of ecommerce. And Anna agreed with me on this point, saying,”That’s because they read mostly the good stuff.
To be successful, entrepreneurs must be patient. “No one likes to hear it but that’s true.” But when asked about the time frame, she mentioned 1,5 to 2 years. The first six months are only spent for optimizing your products. Here the users are coming in and at the same time entrepreneurs have to collect feedbacks. Based on feedbacks, they still have to fix and optimize products relentlessly until real growth is apparent. When she sees reluctant entrepreneurs rejecting the advice of perfecting products first before focusing on growth, she growls,“(Because) you can’t grow with a bad product.”
The next milestone of GHA, Anna put it, is reach more parts of South East Asia. GHA consists of the academy which concentrates on training. They’re still doing early stage and want to move into a later stage as well. Another is consulting. “Next year we’re going to start investing also,” she elaborated. She understands that startups do need some pre-seed funding in the beginning to test or validate their business ideas. But she is very careful about it because she doesn’t want investors or investment to get in the way of product building process.