Edy Sulistyo: “Fixing Fundamental Issues in The Entertainment Industry is not an Overnight Process”
Recently appointed as the CEO of Gojek Entertainment Unit, Edy Sulistyo’s journey wasn’t just a walk in the park. He started multiple businesses and had some valuable exit before taking a big step with Indonesia’s decacorn.
Sulistyo started his entrepreneurial journey since he was still in high school. He began to get recognized by his online event management service called eEvent.
After exiting his previous business to the local company in the US, he traveled back to Indonesia to start Loket.com. He decided to go all-in for the entertainment industry. The business grew up well up to the point Gojek came offering a new future.
DailySocial decided to have a Q&A session to dig further on his journey up to this point. Hereby the transcript:
What is your first entrepreneurial experience?
It was far back then in Surabaya. I started a website (back then we didn’t call it startup) called Kamus Online. It was out of necessity, due to lack of a complete dictionary. I need to learn for the test and had no choice but to create the online version of the printed dictionary. Apparently, it turns out useful for most people, a lot of people are using it. What I did was actually crowdsource-ing the vocabulary, and if there’s something that is not in our database, people can start added new terms. The website becomes smarter every day and then. At that time, I didn’t realize I just built what we called machine learning today. Time flies, Kamus Online grows even bigger. It has become ‘the dictionary’ and lasted for 8 years from 1999 to 2007.
What happened afterward? Did you create eEvent right away?
Not really, I started many other websites, such as Files upload, it’s similar to dropbox today. I make it simply because it was difficult to transfer files in large size at that time. During the operation, I have to deal almost every day with security services due to many uploads of illegal contents, not mentioning the cease and desist letters. It’s super annoying, dealing with dozens of letters, which when you didn’t reply, it’ll become stronger and continue to shut down your company. It lasted for 6 to 8 months, with more than 300 thousand users before I started another project named circlemail.com. It was created fundamentally to answer the lack of storage in mail services. I build this with the concept of unlimited storage by referral and it comes with drive and photo gallery.
During the years of running a business and creating another, what have you learned?
A lot of technical skills, but mainly the tough life of being a founder myself. I have to handle end-to-end services while earning my degree at the university. It’s really a hard time to focus. In terms of Files upload, I learned how to dealing with the grey area. Something very complicated involving violation of rights. Even the biggest online cloud is facing the same issue, but today’s technology is getting better. Back then, we worked with what we have.
Fast forward to eEvent, how did you come up with the idea?
It’s quite simple. My co-founder was organizing one of the biggest Asian festivals in town. He asked for help, so we give a hand. Apparently, they’re using the conventional way in order to manage at least 350,000 people over the weekend. Then, we come up with the idea to build a technology to simplify the process, and there it goes, eEvent. We handled some more event around Columbus to validate our business before starting to fundraise.
eEvent is your first project with venture capital funding. Why did you think you need that? Tell me more about your first fundraising.
I would say, eEvent is my first startup that is not a single man show. I need to hire people which means I have more responsibility. Considering our business model as B2B2C, we need many resources in order to scale up. That’s when I think it’s time for fundraising. My first funding was lucky. It was an angel, a highly recommended plastic surgeon in the world from Indonesia. Having an irrelevant investor did not turn out well. We’ve learned that in order to scale up, we should be strategic in choosing our investors. Not long after that, we raise a seed round from the institutional investors. This one is better because they held some kind of incubator program which is more related. We also happened to have a strategic partnership with a local investor named Ideasource.
As a Computer Science student with no financial business background, how could you manage to survive?
It’s a process as an individual. As a computer science (CS) student, my nature is always introvert. I don’t like to talk to people, I like to stay behind the computer screen. It was something I thought not sufficient, but when we run a business, it’s different. The thing that interests me might not very relevant to the customers. My brain tried to optimize things but turns out no one really cares. The biggest lesson is, we made a lot of mistake in program design because we think we know what the customers want.
What makes you think you can bring eEvent to Indonesia?
It was around 2009 that the rise of the local startups. We never aim to expand to Indonesia. Somehow, due to the startup local exposure, Indonesia has become our second biggest user base after the US. Then, we started to go back and forth to expand this business. However, the different market runs a different culture. The workflow, mindset, all the process we designed for the US market aren’t working as well as we thought it would be in Indonesia. We tried a lot of modification, but the market wasn’t ready. We decided to go back and focus in the US.
What happened before the acquisition and why did you decide to sell it?
Basically, at that time, we were growing and becoming number 1 in the midwest area, especially in Ohio. However, B2B2C is very tough because the burn rate is high and monetization is hard. We gain revenue, but given the money we burnt, it’s far from positive. We need to fundraise more from many investors in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, met with a couple of high-profile mentors. At that time, the market was dominated by Eventbrite, and at some point, the discussion was getting very close to the possible acquisition by Eventbrite. Somehow, we get a surprise offer from a local company named Envision Point. It’s more attractive given the strategic value the company brings. It’s a pure exit.
Being a founder myself, there must be much consideration for you to sell this business. What was your vision?
We always had the vision to do something for Indonesia. Our company in the US has all Indonesian founders with local employees. Although we’re already making something to put Indonesia on the map, there’s something missing. We took this competition all the way in the US for what? Money is one thing, but we aim to make something more impactful to Indonesia. There are much bigger problems in Indonesia to solve with technology. It’s unfortunate to just let it slide. If we can make a successful business in the US, might as well do it in Indonesia.
The vision was to make event sell out faster. It’s hard to make a successful one due to lack of exposure and the conventional way of marketing. However, when we see further, the issue is much bigger than that. In terms of security, ticket corruption, and many more fundamental issues. Instead of only focused to sell faster, we feel encouraged to make disruption in the entertainment industry overall.
Why did you choose the event industry?
I never dreamed to be the king of events. The only thing we care is to fix the fundamental issue within the event itself. Then, we decided to go end-to-end in this industry, involving the TMS (Ticket Management Service), security system, making sure there’s no loophole in the event. We realize that the solution is not only to sell tickets but to improve the quality of the event. Because that is what makes a sustainable business and increase the overall industry.
There must be lots of experience you’ve got from the previous business, have you made any mistakes?
Don’t assume and validate. As someone with a very technical background, I should’ve talked more to customers. Realizing that mostly what we think is wrong is the eureka moment for me. When I created Loket, I can just copy from eEvent. However, I realize that it’s not going to work due to the different culture. Indonesian people prefer to be served than to do self-service. Instead of forcing our idea, we decided to take the wheel and make it happened for them.
What was it like your first day in Loket?
We started with 3 founders and some early employees. Actually, we’ve been selling out the product before it’s even developed. After quite a hard work, we realized that this is a problem people willing to pay for. It’s a painkiller, not a vitamin.
Part of being a founder, you have to constantly fundraise. Care to share some insights on the second time?
It’s internal fundraising. We have a B2B business model, it’s basically project-based and very lean. In terms of burning money, we better ensure the sustainability of the company. At the end of the day, we want to build a real business. Our dream is to solve and disrupt the industry in fundamental ways. That would require us to have a sustainable business, so we can go to fix the issue in Indonesia.
What is the darkest nightmare you’ve experienced in Loket?
It was very frustrating at the beginning, every time we run an event. Website down, miscommunication everywhere, double booking, and many more reasons for customers to make complaints. Especially when doing big stage events, it’s really earful and crushing our mind. Moreover, the security wasn’t without flaws, there are missing items, signal lost ruined everything, it was really a heartbreaking experience. All of them really makes us better, we learn so much in terms of business and technology. In terms of social factor, we learned how to handle people in the most human way.
What do you feel about a competitor?
For us, competitors are irrelevant. As long as we can focus to deliver the best experience to our customers, we’re fine.
Talking about personal life, how did you manage to work and take care of your family?
It’s super tough. Luckily, I’m working on the technology industry that allows you to work from anywhere. The good thing about doing something you really like and you fascinate about, there’s no difference between work and life. Also, it’s really important to have a spouse that supports you. With everything going on in financial or time management, as long as you’re doing it together, it’s bearable.
Do you have support system aside from your family?
My church friends. Being a startup founder is very stressful. There are many times I strive to scream and give up. Somehow, the biggest burden is not about me personally, but trying to understand other people’s problems. Thank God I have so many people praying for me.
What was the story behind Gojek’s acquisition?
At that time, Loket was ready to get into B2C, we’ve tried to build it ourselves and it’s hard because we have no expertise at all. Meanwhile, Gojek has a B2C platform called Gotix, it was also our reseller. At that time, we’re both in a really comfortable seat, just after East Ventures. After having a thorough conversation with the Founder and CEO of Gojek Indonesia, Nadiem Makarim, we happened to share the same vision. In order to make things faster, I decided to sell and join the Entertainment unit of Gojek Indonesia.
You might want to share the journey, what happened after the acquisition to the Gojek entertainment unit? Are you happy with the result?
It’s still a working progress, but personally, I’m happy. In terms of disrupting the entertainment industry, we started to realize missing pieces, not only from the event but also the filming industry. They already got a lot of support from the government. Still, it encourages us to do something about this. We decided to add the filming industry under the entertainment unit. It’s all learning process, nobody understands the industry and it’s very fragmented. Our work is not done, but we can see the growth. I also receive a lot of enthusiasm from the public and industry players.
What about Go-Play and how is it related to to your vision?
In terms of the film industry, we positioning Go-Play as a platform, where we provide content creator to have its own channel. The thing is we want to give them space to be creative. As a platform, we aim to improve Indonesia’s film industry. Lots of people might still consider Indonesian films not worthy. While in fact, some of them actually quite good to meet the international movie standard. It’s unfortunate to keep it hidden, we tried to be a platform that can also support the Indonesian film industry.
On a Gojek level you are now, is there any agenda you can share in the near future?
Gojek always focused on technology to make an impact. While we entering the entertainment industry, the mission derived. Go-Play is currently in beta version because we want to make sure the experiences are fit to customers. We really want to deliver the best value for customers, it’s a validation step for us.
What is your goal in the next few years?
I really want to be part of something that will make a really powerful impact instead of just money. We’re all at the point where we thought there’s something greater to achieve. Personally, for me, it’s self-gratifying. It’s like leaving a legacy, something that makes people around me proud and happy.
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