Iwan Kurniawan is no stranger to the start-up world ever since he co-founded peer-to-peer lending platform Modalku with his partners in early 2016. Prior to his first gig with Modalku, he was the top consultant in consulting firm Oliver Wyman, an accolade that can only be reached through hard work and a strong desire to succeed. We found the time to sit down with him and ask him to give us some advice for all business starters as well as the leadership tips that he uses to motivate his employees.
What do you think business owners should focus on in their first year of business?
Focus on really understanding your target customers’ pain points and why they have not been able to solve those pains to date, because that will tell you what the ideal product and solution could look like. This, combined with unavoidable trial and error, allows you to develop a product that truly meets the needs of customers. At the end of the day, if your users or customers win, you win.
What would be your advice for people who find it difficult to get initial funding?
Initial funding is meant to launch your business. This is likely to be your personal savings, or funds from friends, family, and your close network. One typical mistake I see among entrepreneurs is that they try to raise too much funding when their product is not yet proven in the market, as such facing resistance from prudent investors.
When facing difficulty in getting initial funding, reassess to see if it would be possible to survive with less, by keeping your operation lean at the beginning, and avoiding unnecessary costs. Once you are able to prove your product traction, your network will trust you more with their money.
What do you think is the biggest cause of failure for businesses?
I believe that the biggest cause is the lack of humility to receive and act on feedback from your customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Building a business is not easy—it takes a lot of ingredients to succeed. What you know at the beginning will quickly become obsolete or less important, and as such it is important to keep learning based on customer feedback and new industry trends. In addition, your employees are your eyes on the ground, and their feedback is equally important as feedback from your customers.
What advice would you give business owners who are just starting out?
As succeeding in business is difficult, your hunger for success and/or passion in helping the society will determine whether you last the race. As such do not be daunted by myriad challenges. Take all challenges in your stride and keep improving!
Where is the best source of good people for you? What characteristics are important for them to possess?
We have this view that the right people for us are those who are inspired by our vision and purpose to help SMEs and are motivated to make a big impact on our society. We are grateful that many wonderful talents from all types of industry—technology, finance, business, and so on—have chosen to apply to us and work with us, and we hope to keep it that way.
How do you motivate your employees?
At Modalku, our mission is to help SMEs grow faster with our financing and to help lenders make an impact investing by investing in SME loans. We also focus on building an inspiring and self-sustaining company culture—one which allows our employees to realise their true potential at work while making an impact in society. Our mission and values are both meaningful and resonate with our team, as such motivating them to fight for the cause.
What kind of environment do you think is the most productive for your employees to do their best?
The ideal environment for the millennial generation is one that promotes a balance of purpose, result-orientation, learning, as well as enjoyment. This generation of people, more than any other generation, needs to be feel inspired about what they do, where they work, and who they work with. While this balancing act is not easy, it has so far been delivering early results for us.
How would you like your employees to feel about you?
I think it’s less important how my employees feel about me but is more importantly how they feel about themselves. They need to feel confident, challenged, and excited about their work. And if I am able to help facilitate that, I would be over the moon.
Which do you think is most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?
The right team! The right team can work together to build the right product for the right market.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Results-driven, nurturing, and facilitative.
What can you design under US$1 that solves a major problem in the world?
Awesome question! Have you ever heard the saying that ideas cost nothing if they can’t be executed? So I’m going to say: I will design an idea since it costs under US$1, but make it executable and try to solve a major problem.
If you can describe yourself as a fruit, what kind of a fruit will you be?
Passion fruit. It’s grown in Indonesia, and it’s full of passion to help others!