One of our Gen. T Tribe members, Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, was an early Internet believer who kept her head up despite many life challenges and shortcomings. Her skills and passion in technology have made her one of the most revered women in the industry. Over a hot cup of tea, we caught up with Shinta and she shared some of the wisdom gained from her experience in the digital arena.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I actually studied architecture in the US, and then, for my master’s, I took international business. Then I fell in love with the Internet in 1995. Before anyone else got the hype, I started to teach myself how to create a website on the Internet. From then onwards, I realised how powerful the Internet could be, and I became a believer in it. I ended up becoming a serial entrepreneur and created tons of Internet companies, but not all of them succeeded. But I didn’t stop there: I just kept on creating.
What can you tell us about your digital agency, Bubu?
Bubu was my first-ever company that I created in 1996. I started bubu as a web design company. It was not easy at that time because nobody used websites, but I was a firm believer in the Internet and it is my passion, which made me move forward with it. Later on, in early 2000, I created lots of Internet companies such as koridor.com (political news) and nasgor.com (entertainment portal), and I even created a few email portals for university students. However, because I was too early in starting these companies, it didn’t work out. There were no angel investors and venture capitalists back then to help me, either. But I still learned a lot from creating all those companies. Then, in early 2008, I started one of the earliest marketplaces in Indonesia called plasa.com, which became belanja.com today.
How did plasa.com begin?
At that time, Telkom asked me to become the CEO of plasa.com and they gave me a challenge on what to do with it. We agreed to make it an e-commerce platform and that’s how it began. I recruited seven people during my tenure, built the portal, and in the end, e-bay came in and bought it.
After I got out from plasa.com, I created one of the earliest venture capital firms in Indonesia in 2010. At that time, people were not familiar with the word “start-ups”, but I saw it as the next big thing. Actually, I see myself as always being too early. In business, you have to be on time or else you can’t make money. But at the end of the day, I do not regret my ventures because I gained a lot of experience. Now, I mostly help start-ups because I am familiar with most of the business models in the industry. So, I consider myself an angel investor now, where I use my own money to help potential start-ups.
What makes Bubu different from all the other digital agencies?
We have things that other digital agencies don’t have. For instance, we have our bi-annual event called Bubu Award and also IDBYTE, which is a technology conference we hold every two years. IDBYTE is where we invite different and prominent figures in the global technology industry to speak. We’ve already had representatives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, and we also invited the director of Instagram last year to speak. We also succeeded in getting Sheryl Sandberg to make a special video to address women empowerment in the technology industry. When it comes to Bubu Award, last year was our 10th year. When I begin Bubu Award, it was supposed to be a Web award, but now it has evolved to include a start-up award that is acknowledged in the technology industry.
What are your future hopes for IDBYTE and Bubu Award?
For IDBYTE, I am hoping that it is going to be way bigger and include more international players. We have also been thinking of doing the conference in another country. For Bubu Award, we would like to reach out to more start-ups in other cities, not just Jakarta. Last year, we went to Medan and perhaps next we will go to Makassar soon.
So, what are the challenges when it comes to IDBYTE and Bubu Award?
When we do events, I guess the biggest challenge is in getting sponsors. But now it is easier because most people are familiar with these events and they know the quality I bring to them. Another kind of challenge is that I would also like to see more players from different industries to become more familiar with these events, not just people from the technology industry because it is actually important to embrace more people from different sectors. However, I must say that I do see increasing interest from people to learn about the digital industry [smiles].
Since you have worked with a lot of young start-up founders, do they share a common problem in your opinion?
I think the problem with start-ups these days is that the founders have this perception that the creation of a start-up is to find investors. But that is not the reason for you to create a start-up. You create a start-up because you want to solve a problem and you are passionate about it. I don’t want them to build a start-up in order to find investors or venture capital. Venture capital can come later when you have created a company that wants to play in the regional arena. I want young start-up founders to create a company because they believe they are solving a certain set of problems, and also one they believe is a good business model that will help them make money too, in order to support their staff.