Building a B2B SaaS startup in Indonesia with Irzan Raditya (Kata.ai)

In this episode, Irzan Raditya (Kata.ai) talks about:

  • How he took Kata.ai from the brink of death to having processed 1 billion customer conversations
  • Why channel-market fit is as important as product-market fit
  • Why being laser-focused in your vision is key for a startup founder
  • How he learned to let go of a profitable business in favour of a scalable business
  • The importance of building a strong customer relationship that survives product pivots and near deaths
  • Focusing on collaboration rather than competition in the SaaS market in Indonesia

Podcast information:

About the guest

Irzan Raditya is the CEO and Co-founder of Kata.ai, an Indonesian-based conversation AI startup that specialises in Bahasa Indonesia. Prior to Kata.ai, Irzan has worked across multiple startups such as Zalando and amplitweet in Germany. 

Find him here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/irzanraditya/

Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:

Irzan Raditya 0:00
We have this AI research came into fruition. But at the time we found that it’s so hard to scale a business, we try to be everything for everyone. It’s never be scalable with such premature technology. At the same time our cash is running low, we had 100 staffs combined in Indonesia and Philippines, we had to shut down our office. So leaving only 10 steps from the whole 100 steps. It was a devastating moment, the toughest three months of my life because I’ve never served a company before and I had to layoff 90% of my staff.

Ricky Willianto 0:33
Kata.ai is one of the biggest AI companies in Indonesia, having processed more than 1 billion conversations through its platform. The journey to this point has not been easy. The company went through multiple critical junctures before they struck a B2B SaaS approach that worked well in Indonesia, a market that is notoriously difficult to crack for SaaS companies listen to the CEO of Kata.ai, Irzan Raditya, as he recounts his journey in propelling the company to become a leading AI SaaS business in Indonesia.

My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry, and the host of the growth multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the show.

Irzan Raditya 1:28
Hi, Ricky, thank you for the invitation. My name is Irzan. I’m the co founder and CEO of Kata.ai. We are the pioneer and the largest conversational artificial intelligence platform in the nation. I think prior to co founding this startup, I used to be an engineer by training, I took my computer science degree in Berlin, Germany, back in 2019, to 2012. And then I finished my study, I work in a couple of companies as software engineer, my background was in mobile applications. So I was an Android developer Back then, I work in a couple of companies. One, I think two of them were solando, which is the, I think one of the companies coming from rocket internet back in Berlin, Germany. And then I moved my career from, from engineering to product management, because I really suck at coding. But I’d love to contribute to things which is quite, quite bigger, like looking at things from a bigger picture with from the product, the design and marketing. So I move my introduction to project management. My last career before I moved back to knitting, but if you’ve seen I spent two years as the head of mobile product@takeway.com it was one of the largest online food delivery platform in Europe. Then I moved back 2015 to Jakarta, Indonesia, I started my adventure before it was called Kata.ai. It was called YesBoss. So yes, was was a b2c concierge service. We preferred over SMS, customers could book a ride could order foods and then book a restaurant hotel even they got you know, spare, you know, the Robin stuff, personal stuff. And it’s got manual. So we have like, we had like 50 customer support agents back then. But right from the beginning, we understood that this kind of service business as lucrative as it was, it wouldn’t be scalable without having a proper capability of machine learning, and natural language processing or NLP on both. So that’s the thing the past before we finally moved to catotti, but happy to share our journey.

Ricky Willianto 3:27
So I’m interested to hear about this Yes, boss company that is a predecessor of Kata.AI. Can you tell us a little bit about how that idea came about? And why don’t you start that company?

Irzan Raditya 3:38
Share thing. So back when I was still in Berlin, Germany, I think I was still doing my I think I was being a professional, still working@flickr.com the head of our product, but this kind of entrepreneurial burning spirit has been there since I was a kid. So long story short, I have been selling stuff since I was a kid from rovings like bootleg CDs, like mixtapes before, we have Spotify and SoundCloud, YouTube like today. And then I started a couple of like small projects, from clothing company, and then we to download service for musicians and social fashion platform called stylee. And then something like Airbnb for Indonesian overseas called Roma diaspora. And then I came to the time where there’s a company from us called Magic. So magic. They provide an SMS based service that the users can order everything. So I thought, wow, this is like amazing. And they made a big bus all around the globe, especially after they made the news that somebody ordered the pikeur using a service and then looking where I’m coming from, which is my hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia. People here they live to be surf, you know, it’s quite common, like one household could have a driver, one or two mates right. So we can The nature that we used to live to be surf, or in our bodies, we call it neuro, so to speak, then looking at that opportunity, first thing about the people behaviour, culturally speaking. The second thing, the way we look at this from people love to define ease, you know, having one app or platform, they can do everything. We have the sad before there was a super app, even then. So we tried to combine this and people love to chat and know nothing to download. It’s super simple SMS and I’ve ordered everything. And read from the beginning, our mission, me and my co founders, we always thought that we just want to make your life easier through technology. So the mission is there. But we believe there are multiple ways to get there. So we stick to our principle that it’s all about making people’s lives easier. So where we took, I think, quite bold move, moving back to the nature. And then suddenly his venture especially like I moved back after we get the seed funding, back then back by 500. startups, then the I think that was a story, why we start the export at the first place.

Ricky Willianto 6:07
I love your entrepreneurial journey from when you were a kid selling clothes and like selling like bootleg CD, I used to collect trace comics and sell like whatever I trace to my friends when I was in primary school. That’s kind of how I started my entrepreneur journey. There was only my first that my first gig essentially love to hear that story. And also, I think it’s interesting to hear that you call it started this business as kind of a general like a generalised concierge service. Yes, boss, where, where you can like you know, basically take calls and requests from people and help them get things done into something that is so specific, right, which is this language NLP Qatada AI. Now, for a lot of entrepreneurs, it’s really challenging to help narrow down your focus, especially when you already have like a starting, you’ve already started a venture that works at the beginning, right, and having to narrow down and give up on a lot of the other opportunities to focus on just one thing. How did you come about, like, you know, doing that? And how did you actually make that trade off and decide to focus on just one thing to do?

Irzan Raditya 7:08
Yeah, I would say we were quite lucky. It was a life and death situation like that. So I think I’ll fix that a bit, you know, I’ll step back a bit. So when we serve, Yes, boss, what, thanks for having this technical understanding. I also had my CTO back then right from the beginning, we knew that in order to make this generalised conoscere service at scale, it couldn’t be done without having a proper machine learning NLP technology onboard. But as much as we talked about machine learning and AI, you couldn’t build an algorithm without having data sets. So data is the oil. So they said, it is true. So what kind of data we require to make this technology and service more effective and efficient, obviously, we talk about conversational data sets. But then again, who own these conversational data sets, obviously, the likes of you know, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, back then we have blackberry messenger as the King of messenger. And then they are like lions telegram, and nobody would like to share those data with us, right? We understand completely. So in machine learning term, we did what we call as quota restart. So we, we need to produce the data, manually collect them and build the model, train them rinse and repeat. So that’s what we did back then we came to a point that we have 50 customer support agents, the handle, you know, these various requests coming from our clients, so to speak, the end users handles 1000s of them every month, and it was a late 2016 we have processed over three to 4 million messages, and firstborn, our AI research has come into fruition that our research could be deployed and we have a simple natural language processing model on how Indonesian people tax you know, it’s so much complex, because you know, we talk about the informal language or formal and informal language. If we see from English perspective when it comes to the first person pronoun, regardless, it is formal or informal, you would only have I right. But if we take a look on Boxing language in Indonesian in Bahasa Indonesian, in the informal one, especially it reflects that you’re going to find that in terms of it for for first person pronoun, from saya SCA GUI, we will have a lot of variations. And that’s only a fraction of it there multiple stuff, a lot of slang and abbreviations coming, you know, every month, maybe it is kind of like Bahasa Gallo. And then the idea of the unstructured message the way you attack so I think the most problems that we try to keep track of. So again, coming back to where I started, so we have this AI research came into fruition. But at the time we found that it’s so hard to scale a business I think it was our mistakes. We try to be everything for everyone. It’s never be scalable with such premature death. nology and at the same time, our cash is quite running low. But at the time, we had 100 staffs combined in Jakarta, Indonesia, and in Manila and Philippines, we had to shut down our office. So leaving only 10 stops from the whole 100 steps. It was a quite devastating moment, the toughest three months of my life, because I’ve never sold a company before I had to layoff 90% of my staff. I felt so very bad about it. But at the same time, we’re quite lucky. Why? Because we we set up the future is all about automation AI, especially how AI could improve people’s productivity and in doing stuff, and we were approached by line Indonesian, so line a messenger company from Japan. So they have their app office in Malaysia, who were working together with Unilever, Indonesia. So you never drude an idea from their global counterparts. They’d like to launch a service, a female virtual best friend, that could engage their consumers targeting the female gender and millennials through chat apps. Through his engagement, they would like to send content promos and at the same time, try to understand their data and collect data about their user. So we did some, some BOC, they were quite impressed, like at a time, and then we were quite lucky, because the size of the contract was quite huge. It was like six figures contract, you know, something like seed funding, so to speak. And then there’s a turning point that okay, we saw that if Unilever as an fmcg company would need this. So with other companies, not only from fmcg, but other industry sectors, with retail, Telecom, ecommerce, banks, insurance, and others. And we believe that in order to make this business scalable and sustainable, is buying a bigger platform by enabling our companies to serve their customer better, building a better customer experience, so to speak. At the same time, while they’re striving for a new digital transformation initiative, it should improve your bottom line. Either we managed to reduce their costs, or creating a new revenue growth engine so to speak. So I think that’s the thing, the catalysts how it all happened.

Ricky Willianto 12:07
So so the trigger really was that one deal that can only help you narrow down what you want to do, and how the company will evolve and pivot. Right? At that point. Did you already have like any technology around you know, building this conversational AI?

Irzan Raditya 12:25
Yes, we did. So we have the score penalty, which is the no you natural understanding for both Indonesia. And I think that’s the the core technology, how it all started in any way. Although at the beginning, when we serve our first customer is we’re quite operating like an agency like a software house, because we have record the whole GE but for everything we have to customise right. And then, but quite lucky there. We were a bit ahead of time back then. And it was Unilever. Anyway, in terms of brand. They’re one of the biggest in Indonesia. And the second thing is that what we built to market is quite unique. Because this JM virtual friends, so to speak, is quite unique, but wavering and engaging conversations. So somebody even talked to her for four hours non stop. And it went viral in social media in your LinkedIn and stuff. What are they talking about four hours. A funny thing, because you know, the younger generation should talk to the to the board, they didn’t realise it was about but they still have their you know, romance stuff, you know, friendships, family, stuff, like your head, so to speak in Bahasa Indonesia. So I think that’s the the key part. Because once we show to the industry that we have this kind of technology, and under dress, it becomes like a network effect. Especially we talk about the brand network effect. That’s Unilever. And then we managed to onboard Telecom, sell the largest telco client, Indonesia, and then now Farmar, the largest retailers, and then bang, the ROI by Maria, one of our largest spend here. And yeah, that’s how it started. So I think we were quite lucky. In so

Ricky Willianto 14:04
let us let us kind of like, break down that initial conversation that you had with Lyon and Unilever, that kind of triggered all of this right. I do believe there is an element of luck. But I’m sure there are things that you do that helped you got to that point of, you know, having aligned reach out to you and talking to you about building this PLC. Right. So what what do you think looking back with some of the things that you did that was right, that was kind of helpful in positioning you to be successful in that engagement?

Irzan Raditya 14:34
Yeah, I think is having a clear outline of how the future looks like because I was quite lucky. Because when we started, yes, most there were tonnes of other companies who are doing similar stuff like us, in Indonesia and other part of rewards, but they just thought, Oh, it’s just a concierge service. But what do we have the first thing in mind this has to be scalable, so scalable is one thing. And the key trigger is a unique technology. We just need to take some risks and build the right balance that could help us to do this because it’s hard stuff. Very, very hard stuff, do it away, I would say back at a time. And the second is, it’s all about relationship. I don’t have to be. Because culturally speaking, like in emerging markets like Indonesia, we talk about partnerships. We talk about b2b sales, it’s all about who knows you and who you know. So, unlike b2c, so you build product and put some marketing effort engage, and people will come with some promo and cash back. b2b is so much about relationship and you know, networking. So we are lucky, like I build such network, I try to get to know somebody here and there. And even some professionals who use Yes, boss back then they further value what we what we did. So when we close down our, our business, they reach out to us Oh, we’re so sorry to hear this. And the funny thing when when we just set up capital A, we pitch to some companies, always, there’s always like one person in room with Oh, I noticed I know. Yes. Both you guys helped me to send, you know, flowers to my mother, oh, you guys help me to sell tech to my, to my to my to my girlfriend. So that kind of thing, like doing things that maybe unscalable but really meaningful and the value to your customers is the true principle that we hold from day one. So

Ricky Willianto 16:18
tell us a story from you know, that Unilever project, how do you kind of get to this point? Because you guys have grown like tremendously right? In the past like three, four years, you I’m just looking at your website, you’ve processed seven 750 million conversations, you have 18.6 monthly million monthly active users. Right. So it’s insane. Right. So how do you get to this point?

Irzan Raditya 16:39
Yeah, I think it’s very interesting, because just like how this book is called growth multiplier. And I think I’d like to emphasise on how we see that AI sort of data. And for our case, though, what kind of data we’re looking forward to make machine understand humans better, which is building the future is conversation data here. So again, what I told you earlier, so when we built Yes, boss, we managed to call like process around three to form conversations. But obviously, it’s so hard to scale a b2c business with quite limited resources, and try to be everything for everyone. And the second thing when we onboard with as Unilever project, building, Gemma, so to speak, in the first year, I think it grew quite tremendously from 3 million to 30 million. So it’s a 10x. So mean, meaning like more data collection, we know more having a more understanding about how people Indonesia attacks their sort of language and dialects, and then train Maclaurin yen to build a better accuracy language model. And then it doesn’t stop there. Because for us, we we believe that a great product and energy is key, but distribution is good. So how can we be see with this technology even way at faster and larger scale? So I think the second story now, it came to our deal with telkomsel. So back in Atlanta, come celebrate about this opportunity. Building an Indonesian speaking virtual assistant server players were invited. So nice of IBM, Google, and some local and regional players. And I think that also invited but we were the smaller one there. So whoever this smaller one. And funny thing, some of these companies and the likes of tech consultants, simply greater, they reach out to us, Hey, guys, we want to work together with you to build this virtual assistant for telecom and sell. And, of course, we were the smaller guys in the room. Yeah, happy to support them in any kind of way. But the problem back then what we did simply the core technology, we don’t know how to enable our companies to build a product, conversational AI agents or virtual assistant by using our technology, long story short, so one of the consulting firms they want to do. And then we have to think twice, how can we support them without exposing our IP and source code? So we build the first basic layer of a platform. So is the developer to enabling the angels coming this consulting firm, to use our platform to deliver the result for that concept? So we work our ass off for the next one half months, Rachel, the system called Veronica finally came to life up until today. And then result was amazing. And we analyse how it looks like. Okay, so in terms of conversations, it’s massive because of telkomsel. Anyway, the second thing about unit economics because I was quite, you know, a bit on trowa. Because what we did with the s was a profitability, something that we were putting our eyes on the gross margin by doing this minus 95%. And we don’t have to put our engineers to really customise and integrate to enterprise system because it’s very, very painful I have to say to you, and we will and then I will just at the same year, we were invited to Microsoft accelerator in Bangalore, it was very eye opening, because we were the one and only company from Indonesia, the rest coming from India and they build products globally. So we get all the best insights and knowledge about enterprise business because India is more mature when it comes to this enterprise software and SAS. Right. And we understood that it likes of Microsoft sales for Oracle, they have this playbook, something called channel partner. So we learn that Oh, by the way we did with this consulting firm is a channel partner to us. What if we replicate them. So attracting more submit the greater Singapore so they can build and serve to their own customer base. So we put our efforts and next until the end, not the end of the year, building our platform to be accessible by other consulting firm and sovereign houses, we did that.

It looks like magic, because the culture plays a big role here, in which, in emerging markets, like Indonesia, again, as I mentioned, the relationship plays a huge role. So it happens often, some banks some Telecom, they already have this assemblies relationship vendor, with some vendors, it vendors IT consulting for four years. For us as a new getting down, you know, instead of we try to disrupt those relationships, why don’t enable them, it’s a win win. So we worked together with some integrators with vision, we using our platform, we provide training and workshop. And then they could the custom do the customization integration, they can charge whatever they want to their customers, as customers as long as they are willing to pay. And we stick to build the platform, making it a competitive, you know, stable, serving the partners need. And it was like a charm, in which now 70% of our customers I brought by by partners. So that’s where the growth multiplier comes into play. So we’re building a platform as a service, enabling others to build their conversational agents. Imagine we are a Microsoft Word, where people could build anything on top of it could be like a novel, letter, legal acumen, and whatever. So that’s what we do. Now, I think we are glad to say we are we have been processing almost 1 billion conversations now.

Ricky Willianto 22:23
Oh, that’s amazing. So I think like even kind of changing your model, right? Like, you’re essentially changing a business model, right? Initially, you were b2c companies serving directly on the end consumers, who call you directly and basically tell you what they want, and you deliver them manually, right? To a b2b business that can like customise and provide your core technology with some layers on top of it to like, you know, your clients directly. And now you’re actually working with partners to enable them to deliver what you actually provide right to other people, right. But through all these different partners, how do you change your organisation to be able to adapt to these changes, right, because I think there are a lot of moving parts, when you can I have to change a lot, I think, like to a lot of people maybe? Oh, yeah, sounds like it’s just a simple thing, right? I just need to change one thing, which is now instead of selling to the end user, I’m just selling to, you know, these consulting firms, right, but I’m sure internally, there’s a lot of changes that need to happen to enable that. So what are some of the things that you kind of put in place to really help you capitalise on, you know, this new strategy?

Irzan Raditya 23:26
It’s all about finding the right people on board funding the people who knows what they’re doing. And thankfully, this kind of model, it’s not new, even, you know, globally, the same thing within the media. So we attract retailers who used to work for, you know, Microsoft, and other, you know, more mature software companies out there. Who knew the playbook who knew how to scale this model? So, yeah, I think that’s what we were quite thankful for having the right people on board with entrepreneurs spirit. And because me myself, I never sought enterprise to hold my life. So I’m a first time founder, so to speak. So we’re quite thankful, being supported by, you know, our team members to grow.

Ricky Willianto 24:05
And like, how do you how do you find these people? I’m struggling a little bit here, because I’m always on the lookout for like the best talent in the market, right? But it’s not easy, right? finding these people, especially the ones that understand your vision and collect gets what you’re trying to do.

Irzan Raditya 24:20
It is never easy, definitely. But I think whenever they just like any other startups, refferal works best. So you talk to some of your friends, you talk to your partners, your clients, some referals and then your VCs. I think that that works best so far. For us all, you know, I think it’s something resilient. Like up until today, I do like cold, cold messages to some candidates that I’d like to learn more. Even if I couldn’t hire them. I just want to pick up their brain and learn a thing or two. And I think that’s the demands of biggest as the founder, especially you’re the CEO, it’s all about finding the radical Omnibus, making sure that every role you have at the company is a star.

Ricky Willianto 25:01
And how big is Qatar? Right now? From a people perspective?

Irzan Raditya 25:05
Yeah, we’re around 100 people now.

Ricky Willianto 25:08
Oh, and how has that changed in the past five years?

Irzan Raditya 25:11
That’s a good question, Ricky. So I think, in 2019, we were around 40 ish people, and then we grew up with carbon, but we try to grow mindfully. I mean, we don’t believe the idea of growth at all costs. But I am trying to find the balance between building the right culture, building the right process, and then also scaling up effectively and efficiently.

Ricky Willianto 25:35
And in terms of, you know, 2020, because I think it is tough for a lot of startups. But I, I hear I hear that, you know, Colorado did pretty well, you know, across the 20. Tell us a little bit about, you know, how you’ve navigated that very difficult year for a lot of people.

Irzan Raditya 25:51
Yeah, it was not easy even even for for us, because I think, first thing first is all about making sure I got the time the people of the company, can can work, it can thrive during the tough situation, we were quite thankful from 2017, when we built Tata, we had this policy, that everyone can work from home two days in a week, take out this position, unless they have meetings, they have some appointments, they have to be there at the office or meetings out there. But we we made this happen across functions, that kind of culture that we have invested the last four years, it came to fruition, once the dynamic happened. I think I remember it was in February 2020. And then we had to roll out, everybody has to work remotely. And then from, you know, an optional basis, now it’s becoming mandatory, obviously, is not easy, because providing the right infrastructure for every of our team members is not that easy. Because sometimes connectivity is an issue, distraction with, you know, because they they leave not alone with parents with family, things like that. And the second thing is that the challenges before I talk about the good things, is that with our customers, mostly they are big corporation enterprises, they are not accustomed in working remotely. So since we are the enablers, so we have to follow them. Sometimes the papers discussion are put on hold. There’s a budget freeze negotiation that happens to us. But I think we’re quite lucky because these has been accelerator, they’re more and more companies are looking for new ways to engage digitally with their customers, and especially using messaging channels to the likes of WhatsApp is something they’re considering. And with all the budget freeze, and the social distancing, for companies who have this contact centre operations, it’s hard to put every test of people heard of people in one place. So that’s very risky, looking at the virus risk. The second thing is they could they could be more selfish. I mean, we think we could save somebody so to speak. So I think that’s what we do. We just try to thrive and survive, we are also quite thankful that our business is model. And just like any software service, everything is based on subscription with annual contract. So it helps us as well, in terms of our annual revenue. And what’s interesting is that because of a spanner make I think, yeah, well, my our top answer is people’s safety. I mean, this is one thing, but people safety is our top priority. So we tried to conduct every meetings online. And what we did is build more engagement. And the more and more customers are doing engagement through digital channels, the acceleration of number of conversation, we typically saw within 18 months, it happened x rated within six months on

Ricky Willianto 28:45
now with with your business as well as a b2b business, essentially, right now, I think one of the most challenging things about b2b business in in the time like this is that b2b as you’ve mentioned earlier, is very relationship based, right? How do you manage to continue having such good relationship with all of your clients and also don’t like close new deals with new clients, you know, in this situation?

Irzan Raditya 29:06
Yeah, it is. It’s not easy because if you meet in person, there’s more chemistry to it. And then you can have some you know, chit chats and stuff. And afterwards, you can you can grab a lunch together with your prospects or your customers through some events through webinars, some executive talks, that’s how we try to to build more conversations across the industry and the admission metres. But again, as much as I would say, it’s working but nothing beats I think offline conversation when it comes to b2b sales, it is matter.

Ricky Willianto 29:36
So right now, given the current restrictions with movement and you know, meeting in person, what are some of your biggest channels to like, find new leads, find new clients and like grow your business?

Irzan Raditya 29:48
I think nothing genius is just a relation to what we have been doing. So first, we do like inbound marketing, you know, through ads through combat. It’s been working very well. And the second we do also out on sales with our, you know, sales, FM rep the SDRs. And then we also do webinars, even co events with our partners. And then what we did as well, we do nothing personal reach out to to our contacts, I think there’s no magic or or shortcuts that we that we just need to be creative in finding ways to keep getting the business flowing.

Ricky Willianto 30:24
Yeah, so I think with b2b and SAS as well, industry, I think Indonesia is a relatively new category of products, right? I think there’s not a lot of companies has been very successful, others locally grown is able to kind of like, you know, dominate the market of b2b SaaS, Indonesia. So tell us a little bit about what, you know, you think some of the important things to have in place in when you’re building a b2b SaaS company in a markets like Indonesia?

Irzan Raditya 30:49
Yeah. Okay. I think first thing first, again, as I mentioned, on culturally speaking, its relationship matters. So you need to design your product, not only depending on that you can sell on your own as a company, but collaborate with others integration customization, it’s key, because that’s how it looks like. Unfortunately, the second thing is that we flexible on your business model to of course, not to be too flexible to have a will to produce your predictability. Well, I think having flexibility is easier because it’s relatively new in the market. And the third one, which I think was important, which I would stress out is the customers, they demand a complex product. So if you just build like one algorithm or one tool, sometimes it’s not enough for enterprises, they’d like to see, you know, the whole stack. So in our case, we might have the conversational AI engine, the tools that folks could build their own chat bots original system. But sometimes, again, the marketing team or they want to have a, you know, a tool where they can can change the content on demand without bugging the developers also a tool that can engage your customers for campaign. And then coming from supporting our this omni channel, for example. And because of this trust and relationship model, they would expect to come into one door, and they prefer everything. Sometimes you don’t have to do everything on your own. Because it’s not that easy. It’s time consuming human resources and money. But collaboration is key. So we are enriching our ecosystem partners, from the likes of CRM, have this dashboard, data platforms, also chat SDK, so things related that we found, it’s meaningful to solve our customers problem. But we will be we’re more happy to to collaborate. So I think that’s my three biggest learnings and building SaaS product company in emerging markets like Indonesia.

Ricky Willianto 32:43
So like, when I look at the biggest SAS companies in the world, right, I think a lot of them, oftentimes try to integrate either vertically, you know, the different activities and solutions in the value chain, or in the segment that they serve. Or they will integrate with a lot of you know, horizontal solutions, write just to collect, provide an all in one package to the clients to use their product and lock in like, you know, a lot of this users into the ecosystem of solutions. What’s your take on that?

Irzan Raditya 33:12
I think that makes total sense. Because you just have to come to one platform, and you can find everything. That’s why in a more mature SAS product, you will find like marketplaces, integrations, and I think it’s also quite the same Indonesia, it is just there. Sometimes you just need to find a way to sweetspot about making this product lap. But also at the same time, there’s a self sales lab approach that is quiet is needed for enterprise business.

Ricky Willianto 33:40
Sounds good. So now you also have like, you’ve also got a lot of experience working, you know, in different markets besides Indonesia, right? You’ve worked in Europe, and now you’re building a business in Indonesia? What are some of the differences that you’ve noticed in terms of, you know, technology companies and building like, technology businesses in these different regions?

Irzan Raditya 34:00
Yeah, I think when I was a in Europe, the talents are quite mature there. So when it comes to engaging talents, you can you can easily find, even when when I when I was in Germany, it doesn’t have to come from Germany, but people around the globe are coming to the company. And you can even hire people outside of Germany and they will come anyway. And it’s easy to find that on Stefan Utley. Because of istyles maturity, the way I look at it. And the second thing that I will differentiate is more about culture. You have to, you know, the European is just like individualistic, not in a negative way, but they’re just super efficient, effective in doing things. Well, Indonesia, I get this culture shock. Obviously, I never worked here. And I came back I became a founder, I need to lead a team, you know, a lot of the members not easy for me. And the line between professional and personal is quite blurry in here. So I think that’s there’s a sweet spot that you have to be smart in enabling playing out the way I look at it. But again, when it comes to SAS, and manageability is quite quite new. Because the the, you know, the biggest competitor from from SAS is not metal SAS company, it’s human labour. Whereas in Europe in the US, SAS is just so affordable, comparing two pays such wages. But we’re in a market like Indonesia that the labour wage is not that high, sass is still people started to look at it, but people might still consider like, well, should I hire a person to do this job? Or better software to this job?

Ricky Willianto 35:33
So how do you convince like, you know, all these other customers that you’re working with that, you know, your solution is, you know, better, faster, cheaper than you know, the alternative?

Irzan Raditya 35:44
Yeah, I think when it goes to we see, we see there’s an art way the RV is all about selling the vision on how the company is going to do transformation and how we can onboard them with through our latest form of technology, in conversation AI in NLP, we can help them. The second part is all about the the science because when on a day, like no matter like big business, they always have budget for innovation, or something training is this digital transformation. But it’s about delivering the results, delivering the results, something measurable, that is impacting their bottom line by another day. Of course, nothing comes overnight, but you have to deliver your promise, either it could, you know, cut the cost, or even creating a new avenue of growth through through Salesforce example. So that’s our mantra, it’s all about I look at is it to our relationship and results.

Unknown Speaker 36:39
So what what is

Ricky Willianto 36:40
what is your take on the future of you know, well, I think specifically conversational AI, right, in the, you know, in the in their role in changing the way, you know, people work and the way work is done right. Now, a lot of you know, the people that you know, you are enhancing their work, basically people who are likely going to be replaced by you know, this technology completely. Right. So how do you see that marrying with the future of work for a lot of these people? And

Irzan Raditya 37:09
is a great question, really. So there are two, two clubs, two segment of people, they look at innovation. Some people thought that AI is the lifesaver. They’re like the it’s like a magic wand that can solve every kind of your problems. The optimistic one, the yellow one is this near side, they believe that AI will take over humanity. Just like when you watch Terminator, it can take over jobs replace people doing stuff and whatnots. But in reality, the way we see this, the AI sits nicely in the middle, is a bannerjee is a tool that could help us in doing things more effectively and efficiently. It’s just a battle. He says this tool. And a tool has a limitation. With the current state of the art of technology today. AI can do a lot but only so much. It’s not something like when we watch Ironman or Avengers with Jarvis, our vision can do everything, even build a time machine. So this is something that we always try to educate the clients, the customers the market. So what I see here, the future is not that replacing their jobs. Because even from the state of today, there’s no such thing when when will you build an enterprise AI product, it will learn automatically, it still need human adding assistance and help out there. Like creating the data sets, labelling them training them. Fast rinse and repeat is still a manual process that we have to go anyway, in which it’s called a supervised learning in machine learning terms. So we are still 2030 years away when AI completely could replace us agents. So where we find is meaningful, especially as conversational AI, the AI part is not replacing their jobs or automating everything. I think 80% it will be effective, but the rest of the percent still need human assistance. So it sits nicely as an augmentation. So augmenting is automating. But if you ask me what’s the future looks like? I think this is just day one. We barely scratched the surface that that one is there but it’s still way from way far from being mature. The way I look the future of conversation here in the next five years, just like when you open up flicks, and you open Netflix I open up fix the homescreen is different is filled with our behaviour, our peace our preference. Same thing like when we open Spotify, YouTube or Instagram Explorer. Same thing with conversational AI. There’s so much data to Mt integrate that it could build a very personalised conversation as if you talk to your assistant, the language the set of language probably to the elderly one more formal and and to the endogenous more more informal with some means and Angie for example. And the way they explain their service or prompt service will be tailored one by one, but it’s then automatically because data integration and personalised service

Ricky Willianto 40:00
Sounds good. Sounds good. So let’s talk a little bit about yourself right now. Right? So you’ve kind of like, you know, grown from a CEO of like a relatively small company like Yes, Yes, boss, right, which you mentioned, has you scaled down to 10 people, you know, just before you pivoted to Calcutta, and now you’ve kind of like, you know, grown the company into 100 people, strong company, what are some of the things that you know, you invested, or you did for yourself to make sure that you invest in yourself and you continue to grow, as well as the as an individual?

Irzan Raditya 40:30
Oh, yeah, this is a good question. So I think my, my biggest thing I think, the most afraid Afraid of is that there will be a time that I will be outgrown by the company. So I have to invest in myself. So I love to read, so thankful, I love to read. So I have my Kindle. And then I at least spend, you know, everyday read 10% of a book progress. If you read the book on Kindle, you see the problem at 10% a day, that’s my mantra. The second thing is, you know, listening to podcasts, like yours, for example, and then others, because that’s the easiest way to learn from others quickly. And watching some YouTube channel. Also subscribe the master class, for example. And I think that’s the thing that I do plus get some answers. So I’m quite thankful being part of another entrepreneur. So they gave me access to lots of top notch mentors that I could learn from hands on, based on experience in leading, like, large companies. So I think it’s an ever ongoing process, because I believe the you know, the essential of life and the journey is so bad. Keep on finding yourself and be a better version of

Ricky Willianto 41:39
amazing that’s, that’s, that’s real pearls of wisdom that we need to know down. The other thing that I want to talk to you about is failure. Right? So I think as startup startup founders, I think it’s not always rosy. And there are days when you look at your decision, and you’re like, why the hell did I do that? Right? So tell us some of the stories, some of the kind of like, you know, moments in your leadership journey in your startup that kind of like, you know, that you learn from that you fail, and then that you learn a lot from?

Irzan Raditya 42:06
Yeah, I think the biggest one is the pivot story, Ricky. So we tried to be, you know, not being so mindful about the business and economics, we just try to be growing at all costs, trying to ride the momentum, but it’s about growth and gmv. Back then, and try to be everything for everyone. So I think it gives me a hard slap a very, very hard learning, but I still remember up until today, definitely, like you need to do focus, solving one problem at a time, and then be mindful about the sustainability of the business anyway. So expect that don’t expect I mean, don’t be dependent on on fundraising and extra funding, but making sure the business can confirm on its own, I think that’s the biggest learning they can share.

Ricky Willianto 42:54
How do you balance that though? I think like, it’s, it’s really challenging, especially if you really venture funded, right? Like, you know, there are, there are pressures now outside pressures for you to deliver certain top line, right, but internally, I understand like, you know, as a CEO, myself, I think there is a lot to say about wanting to have a company that’s actually profitable as well. Right? So how do you balance like that growth? And that, you know, bottom line as well.

Irzan Raditya 43:17
I think it’s Samsung building on it, so to speak. So I think we just get better on planning. So how to get better on planning hire people who are smarter than you. So we’ve got thankful like having my leadership team you know, more accessible than me by from consulting firms from you know, some some, some more larger corporations with some experience for for sure. So, I think this house because whenever they like, whatever business you’re, you’re running, it’s all about people’s business. And for us as a technology, AI and especially b2b company, is 80% of what people so so I think invest in your people and find the right people on board.

Ricky Willianto 43:56
Awesome. Okay, let’s move on to the quickfire round then. So I have five questions for you. And you just you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to your mind. Okay. All right. Okay, the first one is, what is the one metric that you care most about right now? What is your favourite software to help you or your company grow? Select What is your favourite growth strategy

Unknown Speaker 44:26
distribution partnership awesome.

Ricky Willianto 44:30
Next is and you can you can spend a bit more time on this one because I’m sure you have a lot to share, which is what are your favourite go to resources for growth can be a book newsletter website, etc.

Irzan Raditya 44:40
Alright, so yeah, I sometimes I just tried to find things on Google. I also like to follow blog posts from reforge for example, on growth. From product I lead many for example, and also strive to find some restaurant on substack for example, and then I follow some thumbs thought leaders when it comes to product growth and strategy. And then but also, I have some some mentors that I could reach out to, to, to to this matter. So I think it’s, you know, there’s no one silver bullet, but it’s combination of everything.

Ricky Willianto 45:14
And you also share a little bit about what the like maybe some books that you’re reading right now that you think highly recommended.

Irzan Raditya 45:21
Yeah, I’m considering working backwards, they’re sort of Amazon is quite insightful, like, how they operate. Finally, they publish it to the market. I’m still reading that one. And then but last year, the most phenomenal book that you know, blew my mind is Netflix, an almost rose. That’s amazing how they really put high syrup on their culture, how they manage people. So yeah, I think those those two books are quite, I think, quite impactful these days to me.

Ricky Willianto 45:52
Sounds good. Who are some of your growth role models in Asia?

Irzan Raditya 45:56
growth role models? That’s a very good question. I like project though, because they try to build a new category and like ditch all the playbook coming from the west, like build one thing, focus and be and scale it globally. But sometimes, you know, this, this model is like a magic Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia is not, you know, it is different from one cell to another. So just have to be really understand the culture, and then build new playbook to serve your customers and the ecosystem stakeholders. So I think I’m quite re inspired by them.

Ricky Willianto 46:29
Got it? And finally, what’s the best way to reach out to you and who are the kind of people that you want reaching out to you?

Irzan Raditya 46:36
I think feel free to reach out to me over LinkedIn, I think I’m quite busy these days. But if if my spread I’m more than happy to to talk to I’m open for you know, just sharing with your founders advice I could I could learn from from you guys as well. And the second thing when it comes to partnership, I love collaboration synergies. And I think those two should be fine by me, whenever you’re looking for a solution in conversational AI, whatever this is,

Ricky Willianto 47:00
especially if you’re a customer, right. Sounds good. Hey, thanks so much, Arizona for his time. I really appreciate your time. And I think I got a lot of nuggets of wisdom from this. So yeah, thanks for joining us today.

Irzan Raditya 47:12
But I just thought man, thank you so much, Ricky for the opportunity. Thank you

Ricky Willianto 47:16
so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there. You can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website www.theravenry.com/growthmultiplier. See you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.
www.theravenry.com

Other Growth Multiplier episodes

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In this episode, Irzan Raditya talks about how he’s built Kata.ai into a leading B2B SaaS Startup in Indonesia. He talks about the importance of being laser focused on your vision, why he favors collaboration over competition in a market that relies on personal relationship, and why he thinks distribution trumps product market fit.

Growing iVS by 500% in 1 year with Milan Reinartz

In this episode, Irzan Raditya talks about how he’s built Kata.ai into a leading B2B SaaS Startup in Indonesia. He talks about the importance of being laser focused on your vision, why he favors collaboration over competition in a market that relies on personal relationship, and why he thinks distribution trumps product market fit.