Being a StartupLokal

Tonight was a StartupLokal meeting with @novpratama, @phoetz, @MissDimps, @rampok, @sagad, @nataliardianto and @nuniek. We gathered at Pizza e Birra, Plaza Indonesia EX and watched SVN vs ENG afterwards right there.

The agenda of the meeting was to talk about the directions of where StartupLokal is going. Out of all the interesting topics, one topic that caught my attention was how to be a StartupLokal. I guess here in Indonesia you guys as a StartupLokal would agree that although it’s time consuming, money-vacuum, sleepless nights, change of biology clock, uncertainty and all the other traits of being one; it’s a risk we all are more than willing to take and getting through it one smile at a day.

I had a StartupLokal in 2006 and it went down as soon as it went up. The team couldn’t scale it financially at the time. With the resource I have right, I’m sure it will be a different story. For me it was a happy experience albeit its failure. I get to learn what bootstrapping is without even knowing that word exists until just a month ago. The team was a team of SUPERMEN. We devour every technical obstacles without even blinking. While we were still on a shared hosting, we managed to bring the whole server down and got my reseller account suspended. After moving into a dedicated server, we adapted quick in a FreeBSD environment, it wasn’t as user-friendly as Linux is but it was way faster.

From a programming point of view, we optimized everything from optimizing database queries to scheduling database INSERTs. According to AWStats, with its lifespan of 9 months, we accumulated around 14 million hits. That’s BIG even for now. While there are a lot of hits, it wasn’t unique because of the way the website is all about. Nevertheless, we had to scale a single server with it application and database server as one to accomodate around 1.5 million hits a month with a very limited hardware configuration. We succeeded technically speaking.

When it reached its ninth month, we had spend a lot of money. We didn’t get any income and bills are still coming. The marketing was just NOT working. We didn’t have a model to which a web startup can fit in. We did it all only with heart and passion. Well I tell you, it’s not enough.

Many of you will argue my last sentence above I’m sure. If you are already a StartupLokal then I will say, your heart will not monetize your website BUT your heart will give endurance above your own expectations. However, you will still need a proper source of funding until you can monetize. That’s why you must have a BIG heart.

As of today, I have spent a big chunk of my own savings to support my own startup. I have no regrets, I only have hope and vision. It’s like going back to high school when I used to sell Christmas songs CDs. I bought a bunch of writable CDs and sell them with a margin of 300% if I remembered correctly. The thing is, web startups mostly does not sell tangible products. So its value cannot be measured with conventional means.

My answer to those days when you feel like it’s so far from your vision is to unite. We can’t do this on our own, there are others like us so join together and create something even bigger. I know we all have egos but we also have common sense and our Indonesian heritage is based upon “gotong-royong”. Translated plainly into helping each other. One can be amazed of just thinking how great unity can bring unforeseen benefits.

Money isn’t always the answer because startups I’m sure will have different circumstances but money can make you breath easier I suppose. However, money will NOT make your startup grow if you at the helm is still out of the loop. What I mean by this is my own experience of running a web agency and a StartupLokal. My projects is limiting my own time to explore more of my own startup. In other words, be committed and focused. I’m the kind of person who just tackles everything blocking my way, if I can’t get through it, I’ll go around it. No matter what, I have a startup to feed.

Still until today, I haven’t tasted any success in building a proven startup. It’s only a matter of time I tell myself. So for now, it’s back to the driver’s seat and count my blessings. Just saying thank you everyday takes me to another level of content. The vision is there but to get to the end, the process must be endured with an unlimited amount of grateful mentality.

Today I’m thankful because the meeting today empower myself to be a proud StartupLokal. In the end of the day, I’m also in this for the money. If not now then someday, not quitting ever. So not gonna be shy about monetizing in principle, it’s what businesses do since way before you and me are brought here to the planet.