ECID 2016: How do you prepare to become an entrepreneur?

Yon Heong Tung
ECID Indonesia panel on young talent

At Echelon Indonesia 2016, the panel discussed how aspiring entrepreneurs should equip themselves with necessary skills

From left: Ivan A. Sandjaja, Duong Huu Quang, Looi Qin En, William Eka, Kevin Darmawan

Strapping on the boots of entrepreneurship is a bold decision: many, if not all, who embark on this journey face a rough, turbulent road ahead.

It is no easy feat to manoeuvre through volatile markets, shifting technological trends and juggle team dynamics. Plus, you are still fairly green. It can really upend your life.

So for the aspiring entrepreneurs, it would be prudent to develop the necessary skillset early and seek as much as help as possible.

In a panel discussion on Echelon Indonesia 2016, which was moderated by Looi Qin En, Co-founder of Glints, the participants discussed what it would take to cultivate a resilient and competent entrepreneur.

Also Read: ECID 2016: Women entrepreneurs, think beyond your gender

The panellists were:

1. Ivan A. Sandjaja, Director of Ciputra Incubator & Accelerator, Ciputra Foundation
2. Duong Huu Quang, BO, Topica Edtech Group
3. William Eka, Associate Director, SkyStar Capital
4. Kevin Darmawan, Managing Partner, Coffee Ventures

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

First off, is entrepreneurship a set of skills you can acquire or is it inborn?

Darmawan believes in the former.

“It definitely can be taught; mentors need to manage and nurture entrepreneurs; and entrepreneurs themselves need to learn problem-solving skills and develop business acumen. Many entrepreneurs love to create products but have no business acumen. Luckily the market is still so young, and we [mentors and Founders] need to work together to solve this,” he said.

What goes into the entrepreneur toolbox and how do you acquire them?

Sandjaja said that some specific skills may be hard to identify, but that every entrepreneur needs two attributes: being creative and being innovative. The reason is so they can identify real problems and create solutions.

In general, the panellists agreed that both technical and soft skills are essential to the entrepreneur’s success.

But how do you pick them up?

Eka said that soft skills — such as presentation skills — can be picked up online through resources such as podcasts. Technical skills such as programming, however, are best taught in a private classroom setting.

He added that for small companies with around 10 to 50 employees, it would best to develop the talent in-house, and, at the same time, infuse them into the working culture of the company.

“Startups have no bureaucracy or a culture where people fear to fail, so we need to strategise and use that to nurture talent,” he said.

Duong said that many of the employees he worked with adopt a philosophy of constant improvement. Whether it be through google searches, or offline learning, “the most important thing is the entrepreneurs need to have the ability to learn,” he said.

Darmawan raised an interesting point in the context of Indonesia’s vast geography and diverse demographic.

“Most of the online education is delivered in English. But English is only prevalent in Jakarta. You may expand the technological infrastructure to other parts of Indonesia, but if the other people do not know English, picking up these skills will still be difficult,” he said.

What makes a talent development programme successful?

Sandjaja believes it goes beyond programmes that impart skills — first it is important to understand the entrepreneur’s passion and motivation.

Also Read: ECID 2016: Tech startups in SE Asia will not experience a nuclear winter

“Entrepreneurial education is not sufficient. You need to appeal to their passion and find out what is it that they want to be. To do that, you need to nurture them when they are young and develop their creativity levels. The last thing we need is an uncreative entrepreneur,” he said.

“Entrepreneurs are not just individuals with a business or a startup. They can be people who work within governments. It’s about having the mindset of an entrepreneur – being creative and innovative.”

He also said that online education would not be enough. Offline and online programmes need to complement each other.

Eka, cited lessons he gleaned from Twitter’s CEO and Founder Jack Dorsey, and said that talents can be developed in a group environment.

“Engage in a group study, or, plug them into an independent and let them learn in that [silo] environment,” he said.

Participation from bosses and mentors is important as well. And bosses shouldn’t be fearful of employees becoming more skilled than them.

“I think bosses fear that if their employees become too smart, then they will become disloyal. That old mindset should be gone. Learn about their aspirations and goals. You need to have highly-engaged meetings and conversations. Don’t be afraid to share,” Darmawan said.

How do you retain talent?

Talent retention is one of the key challenges many employers face. How do you motivate them to be more loyal?

According to Duong, Topica does this through its executive programme. Most young graduates have neither the skill sets nor experience to enter high level executive positions.

So what Topica does is bring each new employee into a six-month programme. The employee is tasked to work in one position for month, then switch to a new position the next month.

If by the end of six months, assuming he or she manages to excel, the employee will be promoted to executive manager. This in-turn significantly lowers Topica’s turnover rate.

Cultivating healthy team dynamics is also important for boosting employee retention rates.

Sandjaja said that because startups are usually lead by two or three Co-founders, it is vital that they have chemistry and are able to work effectively with each other, and this will trickle down to the rest of the company.

“Bossing around is bad, allow more freedom, empowerment is important. Also, success should be a team success, not an individual success. Be complimentary to one another.”

For Darmawan, it is about maintaining the level of creativity and innovation within the startup.

“When the company grows, more managers will be hired. The experienced ones are trained to make a company stable and predictable. But if you are just focussed on that, the engineers are going to be bored and leave.”

Of course, at the end of the day, having the personal touch is still vital. “Conversations and cultivating personal relationships will help retain people,” said Eka.

What should entrepreneurs look for in a mentor?

Entrepreneurs and their mentors should be on the same wavelength, said Eka.

For Darmawan, he believes that entrepreneurs should not be afraid to challenge mentors on their ideas (respectfully of course).

Within Indonesia, what should startup Founders think about?

There is no lack of opportunity of entrepreneurs in Indonesia. It is a question of how entrepreneurs utilise it.

“There is a lot of active participation in Indonesia. But you need to challenge yourself, you may be intrigued to solve the same problem but don’t be a copycat. Learn to code too as it would help you communicate with engineers. Also don’t be afraid to fail. See it as a badge of honour,” said Darmawan.

Also Read: My ancestors roll in their grave every time a startup wants to expand to Indonesia

Indeed the more failures you make, the closer to you are to hitting gold.

“Good ideas come from failure. The more failures you make, more ideas you will develop. If you have 10 ideas, the chances of them being all bad is high. But if you have 100 ideas, there has to be one that is good – but that is something you need to pursue and execute. In order to be successful, an entrepreneur needs 3 things – confidence, competence and connections,” said Sandjaja.

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