Tag Archives: Google in Asia

From Uganda to Korea—teaching English, one chat at a time

As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow, we sat down with Tella founder and CEO, Yuha Jin. Tella provides one-on-one English-language tutoring through mobile chats for Korean students. Now in its third year, the startup teaches more than 2,000 Korean students while providing an avenue of employment for talented Ugandan college graduates, all while leveraging machine learning to get the job done. 

I am a Tella tutor
Founder and CEO Yuha Jin, third from the right, with members of her Tella team in Uganda

What led you to start Tella?
I’ve always wanted to make an impact, and I really like to do work no one has really done yet. In college, I studied social enterprise and became interested in startups. Six years ago, I spent three  weeks in East Africa, helping a friend’s missionary group. While there, I learned there are many college graduates who are fluent in English and other languages, but they’re unemployed.  

It’s always exciting to see how a problem can be solved if it’s viewed as a business opportunity. That’s how I thought of linking online English language education needs in Korea to unemployed graduates in Uganda. 

We now have a growing team of English language tutors in Uganda. The average monthly wage for employees with tertiary education and higher in Uganda is UGX 335,000, or $92. Tella provides double this, a minimum of $200 per month in salary to each one of our tutors. Supporting our tutors is at the heart of our business.  In the next three to five years, we want to expand our pool of tutors to employ around 500 people in Uganda.

How did you decide to establish Tella as a mobile phone-based startup?
When I traveled to East Africa for the first time I noticed everybody had a mobile phone, and that many people used it to do business using “mobile money.” This inspired the idea of  starting an online English education business on mobile, in particular, via online chat. 

Students and their tutors chat in English on the app, and we use machine learning and Google Cloud’s natural language processing API to analyze their lessons and provide a “before” look at their original English sentences and an “after” look with their tutor’s feedback. We provide data analysis for each lesson, too—the number of words used and the average length of sentences, which helps to diagnose their proficiency. Students love this. They believe this analysis of the chat information really helps them study. We have 2,000 students now! 

What helped to really transform your business and make it more successful? 
Being located at the Outbox Hub, a Google for Entrepreneurs tech hub partner, means our teachers are part of a vibrant community of Ugandan entrepreneurs and creative thinkers—this is really inspiring for us. 

Also, we were lucky to be selected to participate in Google’s Customer Success Lab in Seoul. By working closely with the Google team, we learned how to improve our online advertising strategy. As a result, our quarterly business revenues grew by 15%. The results are paying off. Over half of our students repurchase their subscriptions for more tutoring. 


Tella team
Tutors at Tella’s offices in the Outbox Hub in Kampala, Uganda (clockwise from top left): Simon Aguma, Sydney Mugerwa, Esther Namukasa, Shiphrah Mirembe,and Evelyn Mwasa.

What sets your business apart from others in Korea and the region?
We’re really diverse. We have both Ugandan and Filipino tutors. We have nine tutors and one manager in Uganda. I lead a team of six others in Seoul. In the beginning, we were worried about hiring tutors from a country that’s unfamiliar to most students. However, once students experience a trial lesson, they have no doubt about the talents of our Ugandan tutors. I believe getting to know young, professional Africans naturally raises Uganda’s national brand in Korea and eventually in all over the world. I’m really motivated to provide our learners with the opportunity to get to know Uganda and more of Africa by interacting with their gifted tutors.

What’s next for your business?
By 2018, the plan is to expand to Japan and China—both countries have great opportunities for digital learning and education. Tella's next step is to provide customized learning content catered to providing even more detailed analysis of each learner’s proficiency, such as vocabulary, fluency, and accuracy in expression and grammar. We have already started this with recommending new words for our students to study and use, thanks to the analysis we run with machine learning. Our business grows as our students grow, and we’re excited to hire more tutors from Uganda. 

Empowering Indonesian entrepreneurs to take action

Editor’s note: This post comes from Yansen Kamto, Chief Executive and Founder of KIBAR, which mentors and nurtures startups through tech incubator programs, and by building innovation hubs. Today, they’re officially joining the Google for Entrepreneurs partner network.

Indonesia is home to 17,504 islands, 1,128 ethnic groups and 746 local languages. Half of our country is under 30 years old. These numbers are impressive, and they capture how we're a nation with big potential. There’s an Indonesian saying that comes to mind, though: Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya. Metaphorically speaking, all talk and no action won’t get us very far.

That’s why I’m so inspired by entrepreneurs like Leonika Sari and Ray Rezky Ananda, who are taking action and making a real difference each day. Leonika is the founder and CEO of Reblood, an app that is saving lives daily by making blood donations in Indonesia easier than ever. Bantuternak founder Ray set up a peer-to-peer lending platform to help local farmers raise cows and increase the quality of cattle. Bantuternak empowers local economic growth by connecting potential investors to farmers and providing training on livestock farming.

I’m especially proud of these inspiring entrepreneurs because they’re graduates of KIBAR’s incubation programs. They show us how technology, business and an entrepreneurial spirit can come together to lift up our society at home, and help support and encourage innovation in other communities around the world.

I started KIBAR in 2011 to help make Indonesia the region’s tech leader, and ultimately, a place where we build meaningful technological solutions for the world. At KIBAR, our goal is to build an end-to-end ecosystem for young Indonesian entrepreneurs, equipping them with the best resources. That’s why I’m so excited we’re joining the global Google for Entrepreneurs partner network today.

KIBAR is the first member from Indonesia joining a worldwide community of more than 50 partners. Through this Google for Entrepreneurs partnership, KIBAR members can now participate in GFE Exchanges, a series of week-long, industry-specific global immersion programs aimed at helping startups gain access to new markets and insights. We’ll also have the opportunity to represent Indonesia at Google Demo Day, an event that brings together a diverse group of startups from around the world to showcase their technology and meet top investors and mentors in Silicon Valley.

We’re thrilled to have Google’s resources and shared expertise for our community. Thanks to this partnership, KIBAR members will have access to resources and workspace from more than 30 spaces worldwide—from Denver to Dubai to Dublin and other cities across North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. They can network more than ever, meeting new people and building their businesses from any one or all of Google’s six Campuses, too. This means we’re one step closer to helping Indonesia’s entrepreneurs quickly scale and succeed at home and in larger international markets.

Yes, we’re a country rich in talent and natural resources, but we’re not yet leading global conversations about some of the most important issues affecting each one of us. These matters include health, agriculture, education, infrastructure and tourism. Indonesia’s entrepreneurs are critical to addressing these issues.

As Reblood, Bantuternak and other amazing startups show us, this is the most amazing time for  Indonesians to be entrepreneurs. I welcome everyone to become a part of Indonesia’s tech revolution. Come join us and Google in this global network. Together we’re going to work to provide innovative and meaningful solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Empowering Indonesian entrepreneurs to take action

Editor’s note: This post comes from Yansen Kamto, Chief Executive and Founder of KIBAR, which mentors and nurtures startups through tech incubator programs, and by building innovation hubs. Today, they’re officially joining the Google for Entrepreneurs partner network.

Indonesia is home to 17,504 islands, 1,128 ethnic groups and 746 local languages. Half of our country is under 30 years old. These numbers are impressive, and they capture how we're a nation with big potential. There’s an Indonesian saying that comes to mind, though: Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya. Metaphorically speaking, all talk and no action won’t get us very far.

That’s why I’m so inspired by entrepreneurs like Leonika Sari and Ray Rezky Ananda, who are taking action and making a real difference each day. Leonika is the founder and CEO of Reblood, an app that is saving lives daily by making blood donations in Indonesia easier than ever. Bantuternak founder Ray set up a peer-to-peer lending platform to help local farmers raise cows and increase the quality of cattle. Bantuternak empowers local economic growth by connecting potential investors to farmers and providing training on livestock farming.

I’m especially proud of these inspiring entrepreneurs because they’re graduates of KIBAR’s incubation programs. They show us how technology, business and an entrepreneurial spirit can come together to lift up our society at home, and help support and encourage innovation in other communities around the world.

I started KIBAR in 2011 to help make Indonesia the region’s tech leader, and ultimately, a place where we build meaningful technological solutions for the world. At KIBAR, our goal is to build an end-to-end ecosystem for young Indonesian entrepreneurs, equipping them with the best resources. That’s why I’m so excited we’re joining the global Google for Entrepreneurs partner network today.

KIBAR is the first member from Indonesia joining a worldwide community of more than 50 partners. Through this Google for Entrepreneurs partnership, KIBAR members can now participate in GFE Exchanges, a series of week-long, industry-specific global immersion programs aimed at helping startups gain access to new markets and insights. We’ll also have the opportunity to represent Indonesia at Google Demo Day, an event that brings together a diverse group of startups from around the world to showcase their technology and meet top investors and mentors in Silicon Valley.

We’re thrilled to have Google’s resources and shared expertise for our community. Thanks to this partnership, KIBAR members will have access to resources and workspace from more than 30 spaces worldwide—from Denver to Dubai to Dublin and other cities across North America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. They can network more than ever, meeting new people and building their businesses from any one or all of Google’s six Campuses, too. This means we’re one step closer to helping Indonesia’s entrepreneurs quickly scale and succeed at home and in larger international markets.

Yes, we’re a country rich in talent and natural resources, but we’re not yet leading global conversations about some of the most important issues affecting each one of us. These matters include health, agriculture, education, infrastructure and tourism. Indonesia’s entrepreneurs are critical to addressing these issues.

As Reblood, Bantuternak and other amazing startups show us, this is the most amazing time for  Indonesians to be entrepreneurs. I welcome everyone to become a part of Indonesia’s tech revolution. Come join us and Google in this global network. Together we’re going to work to provide innovative and meaningful solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Ad X-Zyte’s story: All signs point to taking business online

As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow, we spoke with Norachai Lappiam, the founder, CEO, and owner of Ad X-Zyte, to find out how he operates a creative sign-making business with global customers — all without a physical storefront. 

Norachai Lappiam
Ad X-Zyte founder, CEO, and owner Norachai Lappiam

Tell us about your journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Eleven years ago, I was just making ends meet as a normal salaryman for a small local company producing newsletters and some signs. With a growing family to take care of, poverty was a real and terrifying prospect for me. That’s what motivated me to start my own company.

I started a sign-making company because I recognized that every business needs a sign for their storefront location if they want to attract customers. Now, I can support my family and give them a better life. We are fortunate to have enough money to send my son and daughter to university for higher education.


What sets your business apart from other sign makers in Thailand and in the region?
We’re completely online! Most sign makers in Thailand only have a walk-in shop. That means their business is limited to the town or city they are located in. As an online-only business, customers anywhere in the world can find us easily, using a search engine like Google Search. They can reach us by phone, tablet, or the laptop at their fingertips. I think convenience is the most important thing for attracting customers.

What difference has the Internet made for your business?
The Internet changed business for the better by growing our sales, connecting us to more customers, and keeping us ahead of our competitors. Before mastering AdWords, I was struggling to promote my products and to reach customers. We didn’t have enough social media, either. The change came when I started learning about AdWords. I’ve been working with the Google AdWords team for 4 years now. It’s been amazing.  Whenever I have a question, they immediately reply and even call me to ask if it’s been answered. I saw a big difference to the business as early as 2014, when we hit TBH 50 million ($1.4 million) in revenue.


Ad X-Zyte signs.png
Ad X-Zyte makes signs for all kinds of businesses, including the Ayutthaya Park Mall in Thailand, Honda cars, and the Mahidol Medical Center. His fifty-person team has also exported its signs, proudly lighting up the Hard Rock Cafe  in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

What’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Master your own trade. Be active in the core of your business, expand your personal and professional connections, and use as many online media channels as possible to promote your business! I also treat my employees’ families like they are my family too. I try to take good care of them as much as I can. It builds our relationship in the long-term. Finally, be adventurous, too. Being adventurous is a key characteristic of our company—we enjoy discovering what’s new, being open-minded, and ready to face new challenges.

Ad X-Zyte workshop.png
The Ad X-Zyte workshop floor

What’s next for your business?
We’re continuing to build our presence online and are experimenting with social media more. Recently, I’ve uploaded videos to YouTube to show our customers our sign-making process but we’ve been so busy I haven’t promoted it yet, so I haven’t gotten feedback yet.

I want to do my best in signage and continually improve our sign-making as much as I can. I also want to stay in the present moment and try not to worry much about the future. This doesn’t mean I’m not looking out for the future of my company! Let’s just say the older I get, the more I realize we should be less stressed. All I want is happiness, not money anymore since we’re fortunate to have enough and my family is happy.


Helping entrepreneurs in Singapore make a bigger global impact

Editor’s note: This post comes from Grace Sai, CEO and Co-founder of Impact Hub Singapore, Singapore’s largest community of entrepreneurs dedicated to prototyping the future of business, society, and technology.

Two and half years ago, Ematic Solutions joined the Impact Hub Singapore community as a two-person team with an idea about revolutionizing e-mail marketing. Today, they are a 130 person strong startup, with teams in seven countries across Asia, serving companies like Grab and Sephora as customers. The core of the team still calls Impact Hub Singapore home.

That’s just one of the more than 1,200 member stories we’re so proud to have been a part of in the last five years. But, we know there is so much more potential here. In Singapore, the number of startups has grown from 350 to more than 3,500 in half a decade. Singapore, dubbed the “Sand Hill Road” of Southeast Asia, has the largest amount of venture capital available for startups. In a short span of time, this island nation consistently ranks among the top 10 countries in the world for startups, and  ranks first in the world for startup talent.

That’s why we’re extremely excited to join the global Google for Entrepreneurs partner network today, as the first member from Southeast Asia joining a worldwide community of 50 partners.

As Singapore’s earliest and largest co-working community, our mission at Impact Hub has been to create intimate spaces and communities that support an entrepreneur’s journey from launching an early-stage startup to overseeing a mature venture. We have two spaces in Singapore — Hub@Cuppage and Hub@Prinsep. Recently we have also launched our own venture fund to invest in the pre-seed and seed stages of tech startups; and a corporate innovation practice to enable more collaboration between startups and corporates. To get a feel for our space, here are a few photos:

Since we opened our doors five years ago, we have supported more than 1,200 members—affectionately known as “Hubbers”. We’re proud to have been the home to some of the country’s most successful startups—from burgeoning high-growth ventures such as Nugit, Saleswhale, Grain all the way to ‘Unicorns’ such as Braintree and Twiliio. Entrepreneurs working out of our space have raised more than $180 million (S$250 million) to date.

This partnership provides us with a share of Google’s tremendous support in the form of financial resources and expertise for our community. Hubbers will have access to programs such as Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange, a series of weeklong, industry-specific global immersion programs aimed at helping startups gain access to new markets and insights as well as Google Demo Day, an event that brings together a diverse group of startups from around the world to showcase their technology and meet top investors and mentors in Silicon Valley. With access to these global programs we hope to smoothen the journey for Southeast Asia’s entrepreneurs into larger regional and international markets, and ensure they have the tools to quickly scale and be even more successful.

As a member of the Google for Entrepreneurs partner network, we’re now one step closer to this reality. Thanks to this partnership, our community will have access to work, tinker and dream from more than 20 spaces—from Sydney to Seoul to San Francisco and Sao Paulo. They now also have the benefit of meeting new folks and building their businesses from any one or all of Google’s six Campuses.

From our earliest days, Impact Hub Singapore’s community has been described as a tribe. We couldn’t be more excited to join forces with Google—a truly global tribe—to champion the growth and success of our entrepreneurs who are at the heart of everything we endeavor.


Making it easier for publishers to share fact check content

With the spread of misinformation online, it’s become increasingly important for news publishers to have a way of communicating to users what information is verified. In 2016, we launched the Fact Check label in Google News and Search to make it easier for people to find articles that fact check public information, ranging from claims to public statements to statistics. Today we’re making it even easier for publishers to help Google find and distribute accurate, fact-checked content across Google News and Search.

There are two ways publishers can signal their fact check content to Google. The first is by adding the Share the Facts widget, which is a plug-and-play way for publishers to indicate their fact checks. Today, we're expanding the Share the Facts widget to six new languages: German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese (it’s already available in English, French and Italian). Share the Facts was created by Jigsaw and the Duke University Reporters’ Lab led by Bill Adair. Currently, organizations such as The Washington Post, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, La Stampa, Gossip Cop, AGI, The Ferret and Climate Feedback are using the Share the Facts widget.

In addition to new Share the Facts widget languages, soon you’ll see fact-checked content from these new partners:

  • Aos Fatos, a Brazilian fact-checking organization launched in 2015

  • Wiener Zeitung, an Austrian news organization founded in the 1700s

  • El Confidencial, a Spanish news organization founded in 2001

We hope to expand the widget soon to publishers in Indonesia, Japan and India.

The second way that publishers can get involved with Fact Check is by adding Schema.org ClaimReview code directly to article pages. Applying the code to fact check content means Google News and Search may apply the “fact check”  label to your content.

Expanding the use of the Fact Check tag to more news organizations around the world is important to raising the visibility of quality journalism on Google. If you’d like to learn more about how to participate in the Fact Check tag, head over to our help center. You can get information on the Share the Facts widget on their website, or email the team at team@sharethefacts.org.

How Singapore’s QLIPP is taking tennis to the next level, globally

Editor’s note: This one's just in time for Wimbledon fans. As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow, we spoke with Dr. Donny Soh, co-founder and CEO of QLIPP, whose six-person startup developed a tennis sensor and mobile app to help players track and improve their performance in real time.

Dr Donny Soh

Tell us, what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always wanted to build my own products—products that people would find useful. That’s what drove my decision to leave my job as an engineer in another company. 

I come from a very traditional family with a humble financial background, so my relatives were surprised when I told them about my plans to start my own business. I’ll admit being an entrepreneur does have its financial ups and downs, and one can’t expect success to come easily. I believe the key is to always press on regardless of whatever difficulties one faces.

What does a tennis performance sensor actually do and how does it help your users?  
QLIPP fits on any racquet and measures every part of your stroke, analyzing the spin, speed and sweet spot accuracy of each shot. It syncs to your phone, so you can easily access the data to track your game and improve over time.

We currently have over 7,000 users, most of whom are in the Americas and Europe. While many tell us it’s the best tennis sensor they’ve ever used, we’ve also had negative feedback. We welcome all feedback and whenever we see negative comments, we use them as suggestions to improve. Over this past year, the feedback has helped us create a much better product.

What difference has the Internet made for your business?
We’re a small startup with limited resources, but we have big dreams to reach out to tennis players all over the world. Using Google Search ads and YouTube video ads, we’re able to bring our products to life and reach the right customers overseas—this has really magnified our potential customer base beyond those living in Singapore. 

For example, we worked with Google to target the top 10 tennis-playing states in the United States, resulting in a ten-fold increase in web traffic and a 30% increase in sales in just three months! Since we adopted digital tools, 90% of our company’s sales now come from overseas.

What are some of the biggest challenges for a startup in the Internet age?
“How can you get your message out?” That’s one of the big challenges. There’s so much information out there. This is where Google’s tools help us a lot. We conduct user surveys using Google Forms.

We also use another tool known as Firebase, which helps people build better mobile apps and run them as a business. That’s how we’re able to identify the features users love and understand how they interact with the QLIPP app. We also use Google AdWords to drive both traffic, downloads, and sales too.

What’s next for your business?
We’re aggressively moving into other sports. I would say in two years, we would have to have a strong brand presence on at least three sports. Ultimately, we aim to be the go-to company for all sports wearables.

Who’s your Asian Internet hero?
Jack Ma. He has a great quote: “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” What really inspires me is his persistence. But it doesn’t take much to find heroes all around us. 

One of my early inspirations was my neighbor. She lost the use of her legs and had to move around in a mobility vehicle. Yet everyday, she brought her three kids to school and went to the market. In the evenings she would sell newspapers. Whenever I think of her, I’m inspired. No matter what situation I am in, there will always be a way forward.

Four steps we’re taking today to fight terrorism online

Editor’s Note: This post appeared as an op-ed in the Financial Times earlier today.

Terrorism is an attack on open societies, and addressing the threat posed by violence and hate is a critical challenge for us all. Google and YouTube are committed to being part of the solution. We are working with government, law enforcement and civil society groups to tackle the problem of violent extremism online. There should be no place for terrorist content on our services.

While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now.

We have thousands of people around the world who review and counter abuse of our platforms. Our engineers have developed technology to prevent re-uploads of known terrorist content using image-matching technology. We have invested in systems that use content-based signals to help identify new videos for removal. And we have developed partnerships with expert groups, counter-extremism agencies, and the other technology companies to help inform and strengthen our efforts.

Today, we are pledging to take four additional steps.

First, we are increasing our use of technology to help identify extremist and terrorism-related videos. This can be challenging: a video of a terrorist attack may be informative news reporting if broadcast by the BBC, or glorification of violence if uploaded in a different context by a different user. We have used video analysis models to find and assess more than 50 per cent of the terrorism-related content we have removed over the past six months. We will now devote more engineering resources to apply our most advanced machine learning research to train new “content classifiers” to help us more quickly identify and remove extremist and terrorism-related content.

Second, because technology alone is not a silver bullet, we will greatly increase the number of independent experts in YouTube’s Trusted Flagger programme. Machines can help identify problematic videos, but human experts still play a role in nuanced decisions about the line between violent propaganda and religious or newsworthy speech. While many user flags can be inaccurate, Trusted Flagger reports are accurate over 90 per cent of the time and help us scale our efforts and identify emerging areas of concern. We will expand this programme by adding 50 expert NGOs to the 63 organisations who are already part of the programme, and we will support them with operational grants. This allows us to benefit from the expertise of specialised organisations working on issues like hate speech, self-harm, and terrorism. We will also expand our work with counter-extremist groups to help identify content that may be being used to radicalise and recruit extremists.

Third, we will be taking a tougher stance on videos that do not clearly violate our policies — for example, videos that contain inflammatory religious or supremacist content. In future these will appear behind an interstitial warning and they will not be monetised, recommended or eligible for comments or user endorsements. That means these videos will have less engagement and be harder to find. We think this strikes the right balance between free expression and access to information without promoting extremely offensive viewpoints.

Finally, YouTube will expand its role in counter-radicalisation efforts. Building on our successful Creators for Change programme promoting YouTube voices against hate and radicalisation, we are working with Jigsaw to implement the “Redirect Method” more broadly across Europe. This promising approach harnesses the power of targeted online advertising to reach potential Isis recruits, and redirects them towards anti-terrorist videos that can change their minds about joining. In previous deployments of this system, potential recruits have clicked through on the ads at an unusually high rate, and watched over half a million minutes of video content that debunks terrorist recruiting messages.

We have also recently committed to working with industry colleagues—including Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter—to establish an international forum to share and develop technology and support smaller companies and accelerate our joint efforts to tackle terrorism online.

Collectively, these changes will make a difference. And we’ll keep working on the problem until we get the balance right. Extremists and terrorists seek to attack and erode not just our security, but also our values; the very things that make our societies open and free. We must not let them. Together, we can build lasting solutions that address the threats to our security and our freedoms. It is a sweeping and complex challenge. We are committed to playing our part.

Making time for change: Indonesian watchmaker’s risk pays off

Editor’s note: As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow their business, we caught up with Lucky D. Aria, the founder of Matoa, to find out how he went from working in a cookie factory to starting his own watchmaking enterprise. Matoa now exports their watches made from reclaimed wood to Europe, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S.

Lucky D Aria

Founder and CEO Lucky D. Aria at the Matoa workshop in Bandung, Indonesia

Tell us about your journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Seven years ago, I was a high school graduate working at a small cookie company in Bandung. At the time I had a monthly salary of $75. I would get an extra commission during Hari Raya (Ramadan) and that was the only money I could save. It was tough to make ends meet, so I knew that something had to change. Starting my own company was a risky decision, and everyone advised against leaving a stable job. But I knew I had to take a risk and make a change.

How did you manage to successfully launch Matoa?
I reverse-engineered what others often do: I didn’t want to sell what I made, instead I wanted to make what people would buy. After a lot of research, I saw there was a niche for specialty watches. I started learning about consumer preferences and what they need and want before designing the end product. I had to borrow capital from family and friends because my family couldn’t secure a bank loan since we had nothing to offer as collateral. But that didn’t deter me. I was so happy when I sold my very first watch at a local exhibition in 2011, one year after leaving the cookie factory. And we grew from there.

How have the internet and Google’s tools helped transformed your business?
Last year, exports of Matoa watches made up a third of our sales, so about 3,500 units in total. The internet has changed our lives and how we do business. Now, I can sell my products in every corner of the world using the internet. I have many distributors outside of Indonesia, whom I have not had the chance to meet face-to-face, but we can develop our partnership because we’re online. I truly believe every company can use the Internet to grow their business.

Google AdWords increased my local sales in Indonesia by 160% year-on-year from 2015 to 2016. Prior to AdWords, I faced difficulty in expanding my business—even in Indonesia. Bringing our products to consumers would have required us to set up physical storefronts in every city in Indonesia and this would have been extremely expensive.

What inspires you to continue to grow as an entrepreneur and business owner?
My family’s economic conditions have improved a lot. I own my own house now. I have grown a lot personally. Now I focus on spreading this welfare to my 40 employees, many of whom rely on this company for their livelihood. I can’t afford to disappoint them, and I want to help them grow so one day they can start their own business doing something they are passionate about.

Matoa team
The Matoa team

What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs?
If you want to sustain your business, make sure you don’t create a product and push it to the market without first asking “why?”. Ask yourself, “why would consumers want to buy our products?” If you don’t have a good answer to that, you’re not likely to succeed.

What’s next for your business in 2017 and beyond?
In 2017, we launched accessories for smart watches to complement the traditional wooden products we provide, which reflect Indonesia’s cultural heritage. We aim to compete with global brands.

Beyond that, my big vision for Matoa is to continue to grow and develop the business so we can provide more job opportunities to people locally. So far, Matoa has also empowered the livelihoods of 35 families in Ciwidey, a small village in West Java. They help process raw wood materials and handcraft our wooden watches. I’m glad they have gained new skills and can generate a stable income by working with Matoa.

Making time for change: Indonesian watchmaker’s risk pays off

Editor’s note: As part of our series of interviews with entrepreneurs across Asia Pacific who use the internet to grow their business, we caught up with Lucky D. Aria, the founder of Matoa, to find out how he went from working in a cookie factory to starting his own watchmaking enterprise. Matoa now exports their watches made from reclaimed wood to Europe, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S.

Lucky D Aria

Founder and CEO Lucky D. Aria at the Matoa workshop in Bandung, Indonesia

Tell us about your journey to becoming an entrepreneur.
Seven years ago, I was a high school graduate working at a small cookie company in Bandung. At the time I had a monthly salary of $75. I would get an extra commission during Hari Raya (Ramadan) and that was the only money I could save. It was tough to make ends meet, so I knew that something had to change. Starting my own company was a risky decision, and everyone advised against leaving a stable job. But I knew I had to take a risk and make a change.

How did you manage to successfully launch Matoa?
I reverse-engineered what others often do: I didn’t want to sell what I made, instead I wanted to make what people would buy. After a lot of research, I saw there was a niche for specialty watches. I started learning about consumer preferences and what they need and want before designing the end product. I had to borrow capital from family and friends because my family couldn’t secure a bank loan since we had nothing to offer as collateral. But that didn’t deter me. I was so happy when I sold my very first watch at a local exhibition in 2011, one year after leaving the cookie factory. And we grew from there.

How have the internet and Google’s tools helped transformed your business?
Last year, exports of Matoa watches made up a third of our sales, so about 3,500 units in total. The internet has changed our lives and how we do business. Now, I can sell my products in every corner of the world using the internet. I have many distributors outside of Indonesia, whom I have not had the chance to meet face-to-face, but we can develop our partnership because we’re online. I truly believe every company can use the Internet to grow their business.

Google AdWords increased my local sales in Indonesia by 160% year-on-year from 2015 to 2016. Prior to AdWords, I faced difficulty in expanding my business—even in Indonesia. Bringing our products to consumers would have required us to set up physical storefronts in every city in Indonesia and this would have been extremely expensive.

What inspires you to continue to grow as an entrepreneur and business owner?
My family’s economic conditions have improved a lot. I own my own house now. I have grown a lot personally. Now I focus on spreading this welfare to my 40 employees, many of whom rely on this company for their livelihood. I can’t afford to disappoint them, and I want to help them grow so one day they can start their own business doing something they are passionate about.

Matoa team
The Matoa team

What’s your advice to other entrepreneurs?
If you want to sustain your business, make sure you don’t create a product and push it to the market without first asking “why?”. Ask yourself, “why would consumers want to buy our products?” If you don’t have a good answer to that, you’re not likely to succeed.

What’s next for your business in 2017 and beyond?
In 2017, we launched accessories for smart watches to complement the traditional wooden products we provide, which reflect Indonesia’s cultural heritage. We aim to compete with global brands.

Beyond that, my big vision for Matoa is to continue to grow and develop the business so we can provide more job opportunities to people locally. So far, Matoa has also empowered the livelihoods of 35 families in Ciwidey, a small village in West Java. They help process raw wood materials and handcraft our wooden watches. I’m glad they have gained new skills and can generate a stable income by working with Matoa.