Discover more from Cognity Labs: All things Southeast Asian Tech
The SEA Turtle: Hendro Riyadi, VP Product Bukalapak
Written by our Indonesia Venture Partner, Tiffany Sudarma
Hendro Riyadi is the VP of Bukalapak, one of the largest e-commerce businesses in Southeast Asia. He hails from Indonesia, but has spent most of his career working at American tech companies like Intuit and GoDaddy. I had the great honor of interviewing Hendro.
1. You’re now back in Indonesia after a long career in America. What are the pros and cons living in Indonesia vs. living in America?
I’m closer to my family, especially my parents who are aging. If they need someone to be around if anything happens, my brother and I can provide that care. Thank god they’re still in good health conditions.
I’m also able to provide a diverse culture for my young kids.
Lastly, since labor is cheap, I’m able to get help with my chores with our housekeepers.
Traffic isn’t great, but on the other hand, I’m able to stay productive on the road with the help of our drivers
Weather is not as great as in the U.S. -- it’s hot, humid and air quality is bad. I can’t enjoy the outside to go camping or do morning hikes like we used to in the U.S.
2. You got your MBA at UC Berkeley - how did that experience help in your career? Do you recommend people from SEA to go this route?
Self-reflection is what I learned the most. I was exposed to so many different professional fields in the industry, from army to non-profit to FBI agent. That allowed me to hone my soft skills, talk to any background business to field agents and helped me better communicate. I learned hard skills as well but most of that is easy to pick up on the job. Even years after leaving the program, I'm still in touch with my MBA friends.
Getting an MBA helps you get connections with good people. Do I recommend it? Yes, as long as it’s clear for the person applying what you want to get out of it. Right now, the online experience is challenging and harder to get to know people, to connect and do things outside of the class sessions.
3. Since you're a SEA turtle (someone who has left, then returned to, their home nation in SEA), how has your experience been at Bukalapak vs. your career in America - what are the major cultural differences in the workplace?
The industry in Indonesia is relatively new - less than a decade old. As a result, you don’t get people with experience in that industry. I have to get my hands dirty and adjust my approach from more hands off to hands on.
Second, when talking about employee quality, it isn’t just years of experience but also critical thinking. Asian culture is used to getting direction, then executing directions right away. Silicon Valley culture is more ambiguous - you have to figure things out yourself, and people speak up vs. always just accepting what exists Even if I say they need to speak up, people still don’t speak up. People who come from a consulting background are more outspoken. We hire a lot of consultants in the company.
Some positives - we are more relationship-driven and that has been helping during covid. We maintain relationships to be able to do well at work. In the US it is more results-driven - you build relationships around what your results are. If people like working with each other, they will likely be friends longer. We take time to do things outside of work such as karaoke night or talent shows, when we can.
4. Do you see a lot of competition from small startups or newcomers in the online marketplace space in the next few years? Or do the major players like Bukalapak & Tokopedia have too much of an advantage over new entrants? Is disruption something you think about as you build Bukalapak’s product strategy?
Absolutely - and we have an advantage over the new entrants. We have brand recognition, scale, operation & funding - those give us an advantage over new entrants. But we care about our competition as well. We’re innovative and we try different things. Sometimes we build things ourselves, try out new partnerships, and we always make sure we think beyond whatever our “bread and butter” is currently. In the company there are at least 5 unique initiatives that are all different, and thinking through each one helps us anticipate what the opportunity could be for other players.
5. What was the decision-making process for deciding to move back to Indonesia and lead a company there?
2 reasons. First was family - being closer to parents is important, and I want my young kids to have different opportunities.
Second is what has been happening in SEA. A lot of exciting things are happening, with the unicorns and many conversations around startups going public. A lot of great startups are beginning to emerge.
6. Favorite product to use (besides bukalapak):
The one that I use a lot for productivity is a to-do list. It helps me track my work. I’m also interested in exploring more: Headspace for meditation, Netflix, Audible - I’ve heard good things about all of these. I use some social media products but I’m not super into it - I try to limit time on my phone.
Mr. Riyadi was very gracious with his time, and I really appreciate him being willing to share his experiences in this interview. Clearly, he’s very excited about the startup world in Southeast Asia just like we are!