The Indonesian startup scene is definitely one to follow in the coming years. Besides taking a look into the various startups popping up here and there, we should also be looking into the ones who have made it to the top. To that end, I talked with one Adi Kusma (pictured above) about his story of building his company Biznet Networks. He also has plenty of advice startups should heed.
Biznet offers a huge range of services which include being an internet service provider (ISP), data center, and TV cable networks. It all started with just one product, which was its ISP service back in 2000. Realizing that there’s huge market potential in the then burgeoning ISP business in Indonesia, Adi gathered $5 million of family money as capital to build Biznet.
This is where he shares his first bit of advice to startups: “The value proposition of your product must be clear, whether it is better pricing or it is more convenient for people to use your product.” After seven months of development, Biznet was launched in October 2000. By that time, the company already had a few clients. Back then, Biznet was able to offer both more convenience and keener pricing to customers. Users could get the same service as from competitors but for half the price at Biznet, Adi says, as well as a faster installation process which would only take about three days. The other players at that time needed three months for first-time installation.
It is like selling fried rice, if you open your stall today, there will definitely be customers buying your food right away. If you have the right product, and the demand is there, then you will have buyers.
The second advice I got from Adi is this: you must be the chef of your product. Rewinding back to the days when Adi was working as a programmer in the US, he was taking extra courses from Microsoft as well as consulting with American ISP players to learn about industry know-how. Besides working as a full-time programmer, Adi was also tinkering with his own “ISP lab” in his house. Only after he was sure that he could emulate the technology back in Indonesia did he come back here and do another seven months of rigorous learning and development here. The same way a chef would work and rework his or her next new dish.
He recalls the days where he stayed up late to learn about DNS server. Again using an example and metaphor from cookery, he explained that his friend’s restaurant business went haywire because the chef quit. The business owners weren’t able to replicate the kind of dishes that the chef cooked. Yes you can hire other chefs, but it’s going to be very expensive, something that a startup can’t afford. Successful restaurant chains like Bakmi GM or KFC have chefs as owners.
Adi’s third slice of advice is about timing. You should not be too late or too early to grab the opportunity. He gave the example of the tablet-like Apple Newton in 1993. The product wasn’t ready because the internet infrastructure wasn’t there yet. As a mobile device, it couldn’t do too much at the time 1. Being too late to arrive to the market is also not good, how do you compete with the other players if they already have millions of users already? It’s going to be hard. Adi noted that there were only 13 buildings that used Biznet’s service in 2006. But after that time, the business was able to grow very fast. Now there are 560 buildings that are connected to Biznet’s service. The team also grew from less than 10 personnels in 2000 to 800 employees now.
When launching your startup, you definitely need to understand yourself and your competitors. Whether you have the capacity to compete with them, and how you plan to do that. Three things that a startup should have are integration of money, brain, and guts. Adi also mentioned that startups should have an understanding of finance management. He didn’t use up all of the $5 million capital he prepared, but he spent it across a few years time.
Biznet’s current startup project: AniMarsh
During the chat, Adi shared that their current project Animarsh can be defined as a startup. Animarsh is a seven-minute kids show which has been in the development stage for the past two years. Adi argues that while Japan has Doraemon and other countries have their own famous intellectual property and characters, Indonesia doesn’t yet have this kind of world-famous IP character. He wants to change that with Animarsh.
Sticking true to his words, Adi explained that the first year of Animarsh development was a failure. But that time was needed for them to learn the know-how behind 3D animation development, they were being their own chef in creating the product. He also admitted that they had to undergo that process because he wasn’t able to find a good Indonesian company to outsource the project to.
Animarsh will be launched later this year, and it will first be played on Biznet’s cable TV kids channel Max3 Kids. Adi hopes to sell the TV show to other countries, and make the characters famous. At the end of the show’s credits, Adi was proud to note that he put the phrase “proudly made in Indonesia” there.
You can check out Animarsh’s trailer below:
Adi noted that Apple hired the same marketing guy from the failed Apple Newton to join its iPad team. That person, Michael Tchao, is now the VP of iPad product marketing.