1. Startup

Blibli's Kusumo Martanto on E-commerce Industry: Innovation is the Key to Sustainability

Kusumo Martanto built Blibli from scratch using a customer-centric approach. Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the company has reached some major milestones.

This article is a part of DailySocial’s Mastermind Series, featuring innovators and leaders in Indonesia’s tech industry sharing their stories and point of view.

A company is not something you easily founded, a good company is built with a solid foundation and solid strategy. Kusumo Martanto built Blibli from scratch using a customer-centric approach. Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the company has reached some major milestones. Also, he plays a role as the COO of GDP Venture as a channel to create an investment vehicle to further develop Indonesia's digital industry

Before the tech industry era, Martanto has been trained to overcome challenges. From educational struggle, adapting to the new culture with limited vocabulary, and surviving the life of an overseas student with scholarship demands and a part-time job. However, all his constant effort pays off as he finally gets a chance to pursue a career in the tech industry.

As the Co-Founder and CEO of Blibli, one of the leading e-commerce companies in Indonesia, Martanto aims to create a sustainable company with positive value and impact on society. In the process of climbing the top ladder, challenges often appear and the company has to be ready. He also believes that the key to this dynamic industry is innovation, and collaboration is a way to make it sustainable.

DailySocial has an opportunity to have an exclusive interview with Martanto and further discuss his thoughts on the Indonesian e-commerce landscape and its future potential.

How were your early days before the tech industry happened in your life?

Looking back to my journey, I was trained to overcome challenges. Engineering has started to draw my attention in school, which cannot be separated from computers and I did not have one back then. Also, I was just a boy from Central Java with big dreams. It never occurred to me that I could study abroad with all the cost and paperwork, but I have this strong will. Then, with all the resources available at that time, I look for a way in the metropolitan area. Fortunately, my parents are very encouraging. With many considerations and through a long process, I managed to register and continue my study at Iowa State University.

The real struggle happened within the first two years of adapting to a new country and culture with limited vocabulary. And that was before the internet era. I had to record my lectures from time to time and listen to them multiple times before I really grasp the gist. The second year, I have applied for a scholarship and was doing part-time to cover my expenses, 8-hour sleep was off the table. It was tough, but I was tougher.

Kusumo Martanto / Dokumentasi GDP Venture

You've graduated from a top-ranked engineering program at Iowa State University and a continuing Master's program at Georgia Institute of Technology. Can you share a bit of your experience of how living and studying abroad can help you upskill and what kind of perspective you've gained outside this country?

Looking back to my era, it was very different in terms of teaching and learning. In Indonesia, respect means to obey. In class, we can ask questions but never questioning them. In the States, we are forced to participate, to speak up. Not only to have critical thinking but also to understand the context. It goes a long way and has shaped my mindset.

What made you decide to come home? Why not continue pursuing a career in the States?

Honestly, I thought of getting back home to work before continuing my master's degree. I applied for several jobs at home country, but also prepared for Plan B and submitted an application to continue studying. When I arrived in Indonesia, I already got an offer to work for a company. However, during my stay in my hometown, I received an acceptance letter from the States. After a lengthy discussion with my parents, I decided to pursue my master's degree in the US.

My next journey is actually the interesting and fun part. My first career attempt is in the aerospace industry since I dream of becoming a pilot. That time I got exposure to the tech industry. Furthermore, I moved into a software company; and it was pure technology. Then, I joined intel and up until now I have drifted deep into this area and enjoy where I'm going.

After that, I started to think of my parents in Indonesia as they're getting old. Besides, I already contribute enough to the country that adopted me, why not try to make something work in my home country. Indonesia alone has excellent potential with its growing internet penetration. It totally changed the whole thing from communication to a lot more specific industries. I, then, take my chance.

What was the idea behind the creation of Blibli, one of Djarum's first digital products? What kind of challenges you've encountered and how to overcome that?

Historically speaking, Indonesia has been a center of commerce for ages, and the concept has been deep-rooted in its people. This country holds great potential in terms of many factors. One of the most essential is the demographic bonus. We have many young people in the productive age, ready to pour energy into building this country's prosperity.  Moreover, most of these people have high curiosity, also willing to adapt and to adopt. Retails are rapidly growing and have become the great ammo to support the economy.

Back then in 2011, Indonesia's internet penetration was only 12,3% of the total population. Still, it is more significant than one country's population. In terms of geography, this is a vast country, it is an advantage as well as a challenge for distribution. The idea of e-commerce will be very much likely to appear given the previous facts stated.

We started Blibli with the aim to be the 1st leading e-commerce to deliver the best customer-centric experience for both buyers and sellers. In the process of climbing the top ladder, we encounter lots of challenges. Unlike the US and China with vast land, Indonesia has a wide ocean in terms of distribution. This is one of the biggest challenges to provide cost-efficient logistics. Furthermore, the payment becomes another rocky road in this industry. It was not as efficient as today's banking.

All these challenges only forced us to be more creative and innovative in developing our platform. I also believe that to make the ecosystem work, we need to work as a unity. That is why we also collaborated with our very trusted partners to serve the community better. Innovation is the key to the dynamic industry and collaboration is what makes it sustainable.

What kind of innovations Blibli has or will develop in the near future?

We have launched lots of innovations since the very beginning of our operations. In fact, Blibli is often the first one to offer new innovation. For example, the free delivery and 0% installment while others still charge additional costs for credit card payment. Also, we guarantee the originality of the products offered on our platform. To ensure this, we only collaborated with trusted partners. Another highlight is when we introduce the pre-order feature, in collaboration with Telkomsel.

Moreover, we believe that online will never 100% replace the offline ecosystem, only to complement each other. Therefore, last year we launched our omnichannel initiative to win the offline market. There are several features including Blibli in-store, Click & Collect, and BlibliMart for grocery to strengthen this strategy.

In this time of the pandemic, we also realize that many people are struggling with stable income. Therefore, we also launched the PayLater service to cover basic needs for users. Aside from that, MSME becomes one of the most affected sectors due to this pandemic. We discover one of their pain points is the place to keep their products. We tried to solve this problem by introducing fulfillment by Blibli.

The latest one, a cross-industry collaboration between BCA Digital and us, has made Blibli the first e-commerce platform fully integrated with digital banks in Indonesia. I believe that the development of a digital ecosystem in Indonesia can reach its full potential through collaboration. Therefore, we will continue to innovate and adapt to the changing market by responding to the challenges and experiences.

The launching of Blibli's warehouse Cakung

Do you think "unicorn" status is important? What kind of essential value the company should have in order to reach sustainability?

It is only reasonable for a startup company to want to achieve a certain status or major milestone. Although we have not openly announced any kind of status, our business size has exceeded billions of dollars. Can I say that we have reached unicorn status? Yes. However, as a digital company, what we really want is to create a sustainable company with positive value and impact on society.

In terms of value, I think all the remarkable outcomes require hard work and perseverance. I tried to plant this kind of mindset in all of our members in Blibli. That we are not just a company, but also part of the society.  Therefore, always do your best to create a positive impact through technology and innovation. Also, when a business has grown large, it is hard not to be complacent, that is why we need to keep the agility strong. Always be prudent and expect the unexpected.

You're also the COO of GDP Venture. What kind of role you’ve played in this organization, do you also make personal investments?

During the Blibli creation, our shareholders also consider creating investment vehicles to further develop Indonesia's digital industry. Everything we have been discussing will only work when the whole country can prosper. Therefore, I helped Martin Hartono set up the investment company and proposed the idea of the name GDP Venture. I have also been investing as an angel, and above all, I contribute with my experience, including as an advisor.

GDP Venture's investment activity circa 2017

After a long time managing Blibli from scratch to this stage, have you ever thought of starting another company? Or exploring another industry?

The thing with creation is you can do it in various kinds of ways. One can be a founder, investor, or part of a team member. I have lots of ideas, which now channeled more to the investment or mentorship activities. I started in the e-commerce industry, and this is just the beginning, the potential is still very long ahead to the future.

In terms of interest, I prefer the old-fashioned industry such as health. In Indonesia, even the first-tier country is still facing difficulty to have access to sufficient health facilities. However, as I want to create something in a different industry, I want this to be part of Blibli and the group. While brainstorming for the plan, I was introduced to the startup founder who wants to start a similar business. Instead of competing, we decided to invest in the startup that we have currently known as Halodoc. I became the advisor to the company.

Another thing, I reckon the edtech industry is quite interesting. Above all, any kind of industry is good. I, personally attracted to fields that can directly impact society, such as healthcare and education. As long as there are people, these industries will strive.

As an experienced leader, what can you say for those tech enthusiasts out there wanting to build their own legacy?

Everyone has their talents and call to life. Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, I, myself, am still learning. To be entrepreneurs or anything, we cannot only rely on skill or knowledge. People need to have a solid character in order to build something sustainable. Also, there is no such thing as instant success, and success is earned.

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