Kiki (K): Hi everyone, welcome back to the Kartini Teknologi podcast with Kiki and Galuh. We’re now at episode three, time flies so fast… and today, we have a special guest who is no less special than our previous guests. In our previous episodes we talked about technology from the perspective of education and then social. Now we’ll talk more about the business side. We’re now with Retno Ika Safitri, or usually called Ocha. She’s an entrepreneur and is the co-founder of Tanibox and Chloe and Matt. Ocha, would you like to introduce yourself, such as where you are based now and what are you passionate about?
Ocha (O): Hi everyone, I’m Retno, you can call me Retno but if you already know me by the name Ocha that’s fine too. I’ve been living in Bali since 2018. My passions are product management, entrepreneurship, education, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy. Now I’m focusing on sustainable agriculture, and at Tanibox my position is as Chief Product. So all products that are released by our company must get through me first.
K: Okay, so this is a bit out of topic but Ocha is my hangout friend back in Bali. I used to live in Bali for about a year and a half and we hung out a lot. I also learned a lot while hanging out with Ocha, she’s so passionate about agriculture.
O: But actually our history goes far back, not just in Bali.
Galuh (G): So how did you two meet?
K: Ocha was my senior back in university, and we were in one community that I talked about in our first episode. Ever since Ocha has become my role model so I’m so happy that we now can talk about what she’s focusing on now. Okay, so, before getting into business you were more focused in UI/UX, right? You were a UX designer in Bukalapak and Layang Layang Mobile. What do you think is the most interesting thing when working on UI/UX?
O: Hmm… the most interesting thing. Actually, UI and UX connect logical reasoning when designing a product with emotional attractions. The logical reasoning is UX and the emotional attraction is UI. Looking back, it all started when I was in college, so in college I learned to code, built websites, bought books in Gramedia, learned about making websites using PHP. And then I started working on website projects, working on both the frontend and backend side at the same time. Later… I was in the Doscom community helping out with the Tea Linux project, working on the interface side of things. It was so challenging because although Tea Linux wasn’t a huge project, when I was in college there was no other project that was as significant to handle. So I was excited to create the interfaces although I built it from existing skins, existing OS, but I had to think about how to make it attractive while keeping wiht the Tea Linux identity. Afterward, I was more interested in human behaviors. I’m a very curious person, so I wanted to learn more about humans’ habits, how humans interact, and humans’ preferences, they usually are different, such as my preferences might be different from yours. And then how we make decisions, what kind of reason supports us to make a certain decision and such. That’s UX—back then we didn’t call it UX, because UX is a relatively new term that became popular within the past five-eight years. Back then it was called human interaction design, creating a natural interaction between humans and tech products. But because the learning resources were limited, and in Indonesia there wasn’t any university that focuses on human interaction yet, I learned it on my own. It all started with my own curiosity. Observing anything, literally everything, not just humans but everything. Nature, everything around me. I believe that all elements in our lives are connected with each other, so if there’s a change in point A that will cause changes in others as well… it’s called the ripple effect. That’s how it’s like in UX, once you change a part, others will get affected, too.
K: When you were learning UX, did you learn psychology as well?
O: No… I did learn on my own but I didn’t really study psychology.
K: I thought all that would be very related to someone’s psychology. DId you learn anything related to that?
O: At that time no, because I didn’t think it would relate that much to psychology.
G: Based on your experiences in UI/UX, are there lessons that are relevant to your role now?
O: Oh yes sure, because from the product management side of things, there are three things you have to manage. So you have to understand the business side, technology, and user experience. In this context, it doesn’t always mean how customers interact with our product but also how customers interact can affect our business. So if you want to become a product manager you have to have an understanding of those three things. You have to know UX, but the UX is more focused to customer, and you also have to understand technology and the business that is operated in the company.
K: Let’s talk about your business. You’re now active in running Tanibox and Chloe and Matt. When did you start it?
O: Tanibox was my side hobby when I was at Bukalapak, so in early 2015 I started initiating the idea of Tanibox itself. But we registered the company at 2017.
K: How about Chloe and Matt?
O: Chloe and Matt started last year so it’s not even a year yet. Basically Chloe and Matt is a product development agency, it’s a different business line with Tanibox.
K: You said that you started Tanibox when you were in Bukalapak. What was the initial drive that eventually motivate you to build your own company and let go of your role as an employee? Being in Bukalapak might have already been comfortable for you, so why did you decide to start your own business?
O: It was great in Bukalapak although the team was small. I was the first UX designer, so the first time they hired someone for UX, that was me. But I’m originally the daughter of farmers—my parents are farmers, my grandparents are farmers, so farming is in my root. Even before I was married I already wished to have a house with a big backyard so I can have my own farm, my own vegetable supplies. At that time I hadn’t thought about turning it into a business. In 2015 my husband was into tinkering with IoT which was at the peak of its hype, so we incorporated that. We planted our own plants, about 2-3 planters with sensors. So that’s how it all started. Then we started looking for a market—is there anyone else with the same problem as ours? So here’s the problem—we both like traveling, but we do not have any household assistants. We live in a place that is very limited, we didn’t have the privilege to have a big house, assistants, backyards… now the problem is, if we leave these plants behind, someone must water them so they wouldn’t die. We thought, oh, if we incorporated IoT we can connect our water bucket, give sensors for the water hose so we can flow the water based on how much water it needs once every few days. That’s the initial idea.
K: Wow that’s interesting, I actually feel the same problem. In the past few years I’ve been wanting to try out farming. But I live in different places… so if I leave there would be no one to take care of it.
O: Same thing, because we work remotely, we don’t have any office, and although we have employees but they are distributed in some countries, like Mozilla. But we want to have the freedom to travel without dealing with those things. These are chores that we’re lazy to do but we have to. As people in tech, we think that all of these could be automated, but then we see that people who are not in tech have the same problems. That’s when we realized that this is a problem for some people. If we can provide a solution and make a business out of it then maybe a lot of people would want to use it.
G: So Tania is the farming management software, right? I’m curious, what were your considerations in open-sourcing Tania?
O: So Tania is a farm management system, and the idea of making it open source goes way back. Since when I was in college I’ve been involved in several open source projects, for example WordPress. Using WordPress to build a website is so convenient, but alongside all that the WordPress’ business still continues. So we think open source is not a mere social project, but also a profitable project with open source as its marketing tool. So the reason why we open-sourced it is because it is a marketing tool. Just like Mozilla—all of its products are free and open. That’s actually a marketing tool, to embrace the communities—developer community, user community, and so on. If we don’t open-source it, people wouldn’t want to know much about it, so there’s less feedback.
K: It also opens up the opportunity for people to develop, innovate with other people.
O: That’s right. But, not everyone who decided to open-source their project can understand the business. Actually it’s very tricky. Until now, we’re still in a trial-and-error phase as well.
K: Okay, so about Tania, what’s the actual use for farming management software?
O: So personally from me, like what I said—I wanted to have a farm at home but I still wanted to do everything else that I wanted, building another business… still farming, but as well as doing other things. In that case, the farm needs to be automated. The thing is, automating farming activities is not as easy as clicking a button just like that. We need to be make SOPs or standard operational procedures. How can we create SOPs if we don’t take notes of our activities in the farm? The first touch point of automation is to create a management system. So if we’re already used to using farm management system, we just need to input everything, and after that we can automate it. Without such system, we won’t be able to automate it.
K: What tech stack did you use to create Tania? And can you tell us more about the team itself, how many people are part of the team and how long did it take you to build it?
O: We created Tania from 2016. In 2016, Tania was created in PHP using the Symfony framework so it could be faster, because we thought why would we build a productivity tool using a complicated stack. The fastest was by using Symfony framework. Symfony at that time was already mature, a lot of people used it. But the problem is, because our objective is to automate hardware, PHP couldn’t accomplish that. So we rewrote everything and now we use Golang, a programming language created by Google. We use Go for the backend and Vue.js for the front-end. And then we use sqlite for the database, that’s it,.
K: You said that Tania automates farming activities. So in terms of implementation, if I want to use Tania, I have to add my own sensors, right?
O: Yap, that’s right. We don’t create sensors for now, so we purely focus on the farm management system itself first. For sensors, we can use what are already available in the market. For example, you can connect Atlas Scientific to Tania. Or you can also purchase cheap sensors in Alibaba. So any sensor is the same.
K: I see, so the sensors are just add-ons, right?
O: Yes, the sensors are add-ons, we provide the gateway, we built the MQTT to connect the hardware with our system so it can be automated from everywhere.
K: So that’s about Tania, now let’s talk about Tanibox. I’m curious, what’s the business model of Tanibox?
O: The business model of Tanibox is, like I’ve mentioned before, still in a trial-and-error phase. But one thing for sure is we focus on B2B. The product of B2B is consultation and custom order. So we will adjust the products that we already have to clients’ requirements. For B2C, we will release a SaaS within the next few months.
K: Can you tell us more about it?
O: You can download it already actually, the product is the same as the open-source Tania. We collaborate with other companies as well. But the focus of this SaaS is in Europe, because we actually are not an Indonesian company.
K: Right, so Tania is an Estonian company. Can you tell us more about it, why you chose Estonia and what was the process like until it became an official company?
O: We have a close friend that goes to college there, they initially worked in one of the biggest online travel companies in Indonesia, and then they resigned because they said they’re exhausted from working and they want to go to school instead. Suddenly he said that he was accepted in Estonia. We were like, what, Estonia? Where is that? We haven’t heard of it. They were kind of offended, they said that Estonia is technologically advanced. We didn’t believe it at first, but then we did some googling and turns out Estonia is one of the more technologically advanced companies among the Baltic and Northern Europe countries. We were so amazed.
K: I heard that in Estonia the system is already digitalized so the bureaucracy isn’t complicated, is that true?
O: That’s right. So, the reason why we picked Estonia is, one, Estonia is a part of the EU. So once we’re in Estonia it would be easier to get into other EU countries as well, making market penetration easier. Second, Estonia has an e-residency program. So like its name, electronic residency, we have the right to create a business there with the e-residency program. We can build a business without having to move there. So, we built a business through the e-residency program. Third, they also have a startup visa program. So if you want to move there and you have a startup, you just need to apply for this startip bisa, and then you’ll be given one year to run your business and you can extend it until six months, so that would be 1.5 years in total. Why 1.5 years? Because during those 1.5 years if your business takes off, you can extend other visas as well, such as residential permit. But if your business isn’t sustainable and must be closed down, well, you don’t lose much. You don’t have to move your entire team, you just need to close down the business. So in 1.5 years you should be able to see whether your business can yield something or not.
K: That’s smart. So, how was the process like when you were applying for e-residency, what are the steps perhaps?
O: So first, for Indonesians who want to create a business in Estonia, the first thing that you have to do is apply for e-residency. You can apply in the government’s website, just Google e-residency program. But the process can take a while, about two-three months. Actually the process was easy—you just need to fill out the form, pay 99 euros, and they’d process it. Then they’d conduct a background checking. After that they’ll send you a card, this is like KTP (Indonesia’s national ID card) but with a chip. But, it’s not all done, you need to do some biometric scanning for authorization in their consulate office. So after I applied, three months later I got the call, and I needed to choose which consulate office I’d go to. The closest one is in Singapore, so I need to go to Singapore to do biometric authorization. And then… I registered the business through a business provider. So business providers are like agencies, they take care of your every business needs such as lawyers, legal team, accountant team… until virtual office. Business providers will handle the company registration. We just need to fill out the form, pay for around 400 euros… and then they registered it. Do you know how long did it take?
K: One month?
O: No, 15 hours.
O: Yeah, the business registration only took 15 hours.
G: Is it 15 hours from submitting the application until the business or registered, or 15 hours being handled by the business provider?
O: So we registered, filled out the form that the government has provided, paid for it, gave our proof of payment, and then we just waited. After 15 hours we got an e-mail, and that’s 15 hours because it was nighttime. So in 15 hours our data was registered in the list of companies in Estonia, and then we would get a company ID, like an ID number.
G: That’s super easy!
O: Do you know what’s the fastest record for their business registration?
G: An hour?
O: Four minutes.
K: Oh my God.
O: That’s so amazing. Because actually, registering a company is not that difficult—we just need to pay for the administration fee, because your data is already available through the e-residency program. They’ve done the background check for months, so they already knew who you are.
G: Indonesia’s bureaucracy cannot relate.
K: As we can see (Indonesia’s) e-ktp (electronic ID) didn’t work out well. It’s actually sad to talk about the differences between Indonesia and other countries.
O: But they don’t have that many citizens, so it’s easier to take care of way fewer people. But still, they were the first country to create such program.
G: It’s just amazing that they thought about it.
O: And the one who initiated this program was just 29 years when he did it. So he was very young… oh his name is Kaspar Korjus. He was 29 years old but he worked in the government, in the IT team. But the process itself took years, and now he isn’t working on e-residency anymore. So their approach is already very modern. Right, so we already registered through a business provider, got our company ID, but at that time we couldn’t run our business yet because we still needed to create a bank account. Now the problem is, although Estonia already has a very advanced e-residency system, we still need to go to Estonia to register a bank account. So we requested our business provider to provide us with the required data to register a bank account, and then we registered it. But to authorize it we still had to go there. At that time we had an opportunity to join an exhibition in Web Summit, so Web Summit is one of the biggest tech conferences in Europe. I think it is the second biggest. We went to Portugal, and then we dropped by Estonia because it wasn’t that far. So we authorized our bank account there. But now, it’s much more flexible, you don’t need to go to Estonia to create a bank account. You can just use a local bank account. But, the bank account has to be separate from your personal bank account. It strictly is only for business. Now you need to really track your cash flow, and you report that to your business provider, because their accounting team will do the bookkeeping. And the bookkeeping will be reported to the government for the tax system. So you need to pay for the taxes if you have business activities with Europeans.
K: I see, so we only need to pay for the taxes when there are activities in Europe, right? If the activities happen here?
O: We don’t need to pay for the taxes.
K: I see.
O: In my case, because the money flows from an Estonian bank account, I need to pay for the taxes still. Now you can use things such as TransferWise or others.
K: Sounds fun.
O: That’s it, you have your business running.
K: You said there’s a visa…
O: Startup visa?
K: Ah yeah, startup visa. Do you have plans to apply for that? To stay there and run your business from Estonia?
O: Since we’re already in the e-residency program, we have already asked for a recommendation so we can apply for the startup visa. So we already have the recommendation, and now it’s just a matter of when we’ll register it. We’ll do so whenever we want to move there, because we only have 1.5 years to run it. But to apply for the startup visa itself is kind of complicated.
K: So now you’re eligible to apply, but then it’s still la long way to go from there?
O: Not really… it’s just a matter of when I want to apply that’s all. It’s like applying for an accelerator, they see what your business does, they really see…
K: The business idea…
O: Yeah the business idea, how you make money, who is the target customer, the technology… all that.
K: Now I’m curious, is it possible that you want to focus more on the European market because in Indonesia there aren’t many farmers that farm using technology?
O: Not really, because actually… the products are released open-source, so everyone can use it. And because it’s open-source we have a lot of fans, fans that contribute and give insight. And we started to consider, which one is more prospective, and from there the business rolls. So it’s all because of open source. That’s why open source is a great marketing trick for those who understand it.
K: Can I ask where most of your clients come from?
O: Lithuania, Hungary… and then the US, Canada but not really significant. Most of our clients now are from Lithuania and Hungary. Because Hungary is like the barn of Europe. The biggest farmland in Europe is in Hungary, France, and Spain. Netherlands is good, but they’re already very advanced so they’re not our direct target.
K: Globally, who are the competitors of Tanibox?
O: It depends because we have a few products. For example, Tania is a farm management system. There’s another open-source farm management system called FarmOS. They have their free open-source product as well as enterprise product called Farmier. But they don’t focus on IoT, so it’s purely a management system. And then there’s another one from the UK called Agrivi, and then Portugal… there are a lot, actually, but there are only two in this world that are open sourced: Tania and FarmOS. We’re surprised as well, because we saw in GitHub someone created this list of farming tools. The open-sourced farm management systems are only Tania and FarmOS. The rest are not free.
K: So locally there are not a lot of people who have adapted this kind of technology, right?
O: Not yet. We follow wherever our market is, because if we force ourselves, for example if we force ourselves to stay here although there are no customers, we’ll bleed.
O: That’s our issue last year. Tanibox used to have a PT (limited liability company in Indonesia).
K: So there was one in Estonia and Indonesia?
O: There was one in Indonesia, PT Tanibox Agritech Indonesia. Because the business wasn’t running, we closed it down. There were no business activities.
K: So now there’s only the one in Estonia?
O: Yep that’s true.
G: Based on your observation, why can’t Indonesia be like Hungary, for example, in terms of adapting technology?
O: From what I see, people here are still conventional. They don’t really understand how to apply technology. The easiest example is, there are not a lot of farmers using tractors. Let alone computers, smartphones… we’re not there yet. The tech infrastructure is not yet adequate as well. For example Internet connectivity in big cities is great, but not really when you go to the farms… they’re in rural areas, not big cities. If the connectivity in rural areas is not guaranteed, how can it be reliable? And talking about IoT, we can’t rely on security as well. If you put a sensor somewhere, hours later you’ll probably find it missing.
K: Yeah, like disasters sensors they get stolen a lot.
O: Those disasters sensors cost billions each. It’s so expensive and yet it gets stolen and ends up in many places. Next, providing the technology still costs a lot of money, it’s still cheaper to use human labors or even animals. So I think Indonesia is still in the first phase of economy—the phase of processing raw materials. For technology adaptation, we still have a long way to go, that’s in the second or third phase of economy where technology has to be adapted because humans no longer want to farm anymore. In Indonesia, there are still a lot of farmers—they’re forced to. Because they don’t have any other jobs except being farmers. That’s how it is in Indonesia. In other countries with fewer number of people, like Thailand… Thailand is actually way more advanced than Indonesia. Why? Because the country is starting to head towards manufacturing. Everything has to be automated. When they start to head towards manufacturing, human resources in agriculture start to decrease, and thus they have to use technology whether they like it or not. And because of technology, they have more productions. If they have more productions, they can sell them with way cheaper price. That’s why Thailand rice is cheaper than Indonesia. In Indonesia, the price of Indonesia rice is still way more expensive than Thailand.
K: Because the production cost between using technology and human labors is different.
O: That’s right. In Thailand, they already use tissue culture for the seeds. It’s like cloning, you can just copy-paste it and the result will be the same. But in Indonesia, not a lot of people have used it yet. Thailand’s production can be five times more than Indonesia’s production. That’s just rice alone.
K: When it comes to agriculture I feel like I want to spend hours talking with Ocha.
O: I really don’t know how I learned all that, because I was always focused on tech, but then I became a generalist by studying other things.
K: So aside of Tanibox, there’s also Chloe and Matt, and you are running two different businesses. How do you manage it? Do you have tips and tricks?
O: Those are two completely different businesses, in the sense that the products that they’re selling are different. For me the first key is to know why—why do you want to run two businesses at the same time? For me, the drive is, I have goals that I want to achieve. Like I said previously, my interests are not just sustainable agriculture but also entrepreneurship and education. Chloe and Matt is like my second home to achieve those goals. Second, because I already have goals and the strong will, I need to define them so I can become more productive. And I also learn to be more disciplined in dividing my time. What do I want to work on? Tanibox is still running and Tanibox has a few products, like the SaaS that we want to release. After the SaaS is released, we have a mobile app that we want to release. And C&M, because the business is an agency, I need to communicate with clients. I also need to divide my time when working on clients’ products. And the most important thing is delegation. Who is working on what, when, how’s the timeline like… things like that.
K: Who are you running C&M with?
O: For now there’s just two of us.
K: With your husband?
O: Yes, just me and my husband.
K: Can I ask a question—how it feels like to run a business with your husband? Do you have to separate your personal and business issues, or do they just sort of get mixed up together?
O: Sometimes it’s like gado-gado, it all gets mixed… but actually, everything has its pluses and minuses. The pluses are, it’s easy for us to understand each other, because we have been married for five years. I already know how he things, he knows how I think, although there are still moments where we’re like “oh”. And it’s easy for us to divide our tasks with each other, like I said we need to be good at delegating tasks—who’s working on what. My husband and I, although both of us can code, our skillsets are different so we can complement each other. We also have the same purpose, so it’s easier for us to chase it. Lastly, just trust each other on each other’s work. The minuses are, we see each other 24 hours a day. There’s no “work time”, “play time”… everything is mixed up. Aside of that, when we’re registering a business legally, spouses cannot have a business together. Because their assets are calculated as one, together, so yeah… we have to divide, who becomes the boss of which company. That’s why we have two companies. It’s the same thing in Estonia, they don’t acknowledge the separation of a couple’s assets. And if we have employees, like in Tanibox we do have employees, sometimes it becomes awkward when we’re in chatrooms because in chatrooms we have to be professional. Sometimes it just feels a bit awkward. And finally, you can’t fire your spouse. If you’re mad at them the least that you can do is rant.
K: That’s how I imagien it, if you have problems you can’t go anywhere else, because you see each other every day.
O: Before Tanibox my husband has his own business, and when he had an underperforming employee he could just fire them. But in our case, if one of us makes a mistake we have to acknowledge what they did wrong and move on.
K: OK, last one. Do you have any suggestions for listeners that have a plan on building their own tech business?
O: For you who want to build your own tech business, my suggestion is to learn recognizing the issues around you. Leave your laptop, go to the society, observe the environment around you because there are always problems in our environment. But, we need to seek solutions for those problems, and the solutions have to be validated—do they really need it or not. Then we create the product, and then we develop the business. Second, you need to know who your target market is. After acknowledging the issue, we can’t say that everyone has the same issue. It’s not possible. My problem is not necessarily your problem. That’s what validation is for. After validation, you need to think, who is your target customer? If we want to release this product for the first time, you need to know who the minimum viable product is for. And you need to know your customers in depth. Third, you need to know the basics of business. Understand the fundamentals of doing business, not just creating a tech product. If you’re good at technology but don’t really understand business, start learning business. There are a lot of resources out there, they don’t have to be expensive, there are a lot of free resources in YouTube and Internet. You just need to Google it. Or start reading if you do like reading.
K: Do you have business book recommendations for beginners?
O: I have two recommendations. The first one is The Grid. The writer is Matt Watkinson, so he created this business framework. There are a lot of things you can learn from the book, it has the business basics but they also talk about the tech basics. The second one is a pocket book, it’s really small. It’s Professor Ram Charan’s book. He’s a business professor at Harvard and he wrote this book called What the CEO Wants You to Know. He talked about the basics of business, and he also gave examples from existing businesses such as Amazon, Starbucks. Although a tech business is based on tech, business is business. Whatever it is. That’s what Professor Ram Charan taught. I like those two books the best. Actually there are a lot of other books, but for me those two books are easy to digest. And, my message is, if you already have a job, but you want to have a side business as well, don’t rush to resign from your job.
O: When you’re running a business, you cannot make it right away. In the first year, you’ll be going through a lot of down times. You’ll find it difficult to get customers, you need to hustle a lot. When you’re hustling like that and you don’t have a job, it feels miserable. So my suggestion is, if you want to have a side business, you work on it until it becomes sustainable then you can start thinking about resigning. The most important thing is, your business has to take off first. You need to have a fallback option. Like in programming, fallback option cannot fail. If you leave your job then your business does not take off, you don’t have a fallback option, where would you go? You can go crazy. You have to have a fallback option.
K: This is like a concept that I read in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. The context is more about creative living, so Liz says that living a creative live is like having an affair. Although we already have our main job, we need to make time for our creative living before it really takes off. It’s a sensible advice for creative living and it turns out it also applies in business as well.
O: True. I can say that because I went through it myself, not that I learned it from someone else. I learned the hard way. I don’t want my friends to go through the same thing.
K: It’s so interesting. So what I can summarize from our conversation with Ocha is, the most important thing about starting a business is, you need to start from the problem first. Define your why. After we find the why, we have to validate it to our target market, does our solution work for them? So it has to be validated before we start running the business seriously.
G: And what I like is Ocha mentioned that you need to go to the society. I really like it, because I think technology is actually not the final destination but rather it is a tool for us to solve problems. So if we want to solve a problem we cannot just sit in front our laptop and start coding right away, we really need to see what kind of problem that we can solve.
O: True, I believe that when your business can create value for other people, for the society, they will keep on using your product. So if you want to create an impactful product you cannot just sit in your office and hope that it will be successful, you need to keep in touch with reality.
K: Well, if only we can extend our time… it’s also already Asr (prayer time). Thank you so much for Ocha, for chatting with us and sharing about your business with us.
O: I really enjoy listening to the previous three episodes, they’re very insightful.
G: Thank you!