As we continue with our female entrepreneurship series this month, we’re honoured to feature an entrepreneur from the Indonesia startup scene. She’s Aulia Halimatussadiah (pictured right), also known as Ollie, who has written 25 books on top of co-founding startups and driving various initiatives in the Indonesian startup community.
In the interview, Ollie tells us how the idea of entrepreneurship was not embraced coming from an Asian family, how she overcame obstacles while building startups, and how collaboration can help aid startups scale to greater heights. She also hopes to spread the spirit of female entrepreneurship around Indonesia, encouraging more women to enter the technology and startup scene.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
AH: Aside from startup work, I have written both fiction and nonfiction books, which range from novels and poetry to how-to and business motivational books. Due to this passion in writing, I have also co-founded NulisBuku.com.
What does NulisBuku do, and what is your role?
AH: At NulisBuku, we pride ourselves as the first online self-publishing platform in Indonesia, helping aspiring writers to self-publish and print their books on demand. We will also be available in e-book format soon.
As for my role, I am currently serving as the chief technology officer, where I help to build, maintain, and chart out the technological progress of the company.
How and why did you get started in this industry?
AH: I have a penchant for technology, and have always wanted to create the best websites since my high school days. Hence, I took the path of studying IT in college, and upon graduation I worked as a web developer.
After gaining some experience, my passion for reading drove me and a couple of my partners to build my first startup, Kutukutubuku, an online bookstore back in 2006. Back then, the idea of a shopping cart was not introduced in most Indonesian online bookstores. As an avid reader who would buy many books within a week, it became a hassle to keep having to fill out forms in each online store. We eventually fixed that pain point with our shopping cart system in Kutukutubuku.
As mentioned, I am also a writer. Nulisbuku came about when I wanted to publish a research book for writers called Inspirasi.net. Despite having a couple of bestselling books under my name, my publisher rejected and deemed it as uninteresting. The other option was to self-publish it in the traditional way, but there is a minimum printing requirement of 3,000 copies.
Hence, my partners Angeline Anthony, Brilliant Yotenega, Oka Pratama, and I decided to come together to build NulisBuku.com (team pictured right). We solved the problem by allowing writers to self-publish for free, print on demand, and also have the opportunity to obtain royalties from their book sales on our website.
Did you face any challenges in particular?
AH: For NulisBuku, the challenge was to introduce the concept of self-publishing, which is very new in Indonesia. We have to introduce the term to people, make them familiar with it, and get them to use it at the same time.
In order to do so, we have created a community of our own, called the Nulis Buku Club (NBC), and it currently has presences in multiple cities within Indonesia. We also create writing projects on Twitter and hold monthly meetups to share tips and tricks to writing, on top of strengthening the bond among writers.
How do you seek out relevant mentors and people for help?
AH: I attend a lot of networking events to get to know people on top of introducing my startups. I also seek help from friends to point me to the right person to talk to. I have to admit, Twitter and LinkedIn have been really helpful in connecting me with the right people who would be able to help me with my business.
What were the sacrifices you’ve made in the pursuit of entrepreneurship?
AH: I left my stable full-time career in the pursuit of entrepreneurship in order to build my startup back in 2007. As a single girl coming from an Asian society, I had to seek permission from my father prior to my resignation. It was difficult because my father did not come from an entrepreneurial background, and it was difficult for him to comprehend how I was going to survive by selling books online and bootstrapping. Naturally, he refused my decision at first.
But it didn’t stop there. To gain his trust and confidence in my choice, I introduced him to my partners and brought in my mentor’s name in our discussion talks as well. To date, I am appreciative of his trust, and I don’t think I am disappointing him at all.
Do you think your gender has played a role in helping you gain an advantage over your male counterparts? Or any disadvantages?
AH: Being a woman helps, especially in the technology and startup scene where it is pretty much male dominated. It is relatively easy to stand out from the crowd and gain media attention. In fact, earlier this year, another female co-founder Angel and I were featured by a couple of media and it has definitely helped in gaining more user traction.
Perhaps the ability to multitask has also put me in an advantageous position in running multiple startups. As far as I recall, I have yet to face any obstacles being a female co-founder – only advantages. Or, I’m just being too positive!
In your opinion, what are the necessary skill-sets and attitudes required to succeed in the technology and startup industry?
AH: Regardless of gender, everybody can work in the technology and startup industry. What is essential is the openness to collaboration and the willingness to innovate – those are the keys to be successful in the startup industry. With collaboration, one can unlock limitless possibilities that will aid in startup growth. It is important for leaders to nurture innovative mindsets within the company to bring their startups to the next level.
Do you have any female role models that you look up to?
AH: I have a few in fact! One, is Ibu Mari Elka Pangestu, minister for tourism and creative economy of Indonesia. She is a very inspiring lady who has contributed tremendously and played a great role in supporting Indonesia’s creative industry.
The second one comes from the writing industry, Alberthiene Endah, who is a very famous Indonesian biographer, novelist, and journalist. Her works are of high quality, on top of being inspirational and productive.
Do you have any advice for fellow female entrepreneurs?
AH: I believe fellow female entrepreneurs know best when it comes to what works and what does not for them. But there’s one thing: I hope that more female entrepreneurs within Indonesia would connect and spread the spirit of entrepreneurship to more women in Indonesia.
Anything else to add?
My partners – namely Natali Ardianto and Nuniek Tirta – and I are the organizers of StartupLokal, which is one of the biggest digital startup communities in Indonesia. It is a series of monthly seminar meetups to connect startup founders, investors, and media with topics revolving around startup and technology.
I am also a strong advocate of women in entrepreneurship. So back in 2011, Anantya Van Bronckhorst, Ria Ariyanie, and I started a Girls in Tech Indonesia chapter (pictured right), organizing meetups to encourage more women to adopt technology in their work.
This is part of Tech in Asia’s series on female entrepreneurship.