Sat. Oct 24th, 2020

Graduating from Gojek executive to proptech startup founder: On Call with Pinhome co-founder Dayu Dara Permata and Ahmed Aljunied15 min read

“For me, Go-Jek was almost an entrepreneurship academy…In five years, I was ready to graduate and apply all my knowledge, expertise, and network to build my own startup.”

About the episode

We’ve seen how many first wave Southeast Asian founders worked at unicorns and big tech companies in the US or China before returning to start their own. More recently we’re seeing alumni of Southeast Asian unicorns and tech companies found their own startups to solve more problems at scale.

And today, we went on call with founders who have done just that: Indonesia property marketplace Pinhome CEO Dayu Dara Permata and CTO Ahmed Aljunied. They have gone on from successful leadership stints at Go-Jek to build Pinhome, a platform enabling seamless discovery, interactions, and transactions for property buyers and sellers in Indonesia.

In this episode, they share their biggest takeaways from their time at Gojek and how it has shaped their leadership approach and culture-building at Pinhome.

Takeaways

Takeaways from our call with Pinhome co-founders Dayu Dara Permata and Ahmed Aljunied
Takeaways from our call with Pinhome co-founders Dayu Dara Permata and Ahmed Aljunied

Timestamps

00:37 Yinglan introduces Dara and Ahmed;

02:11 Thought process behind starting Pinhome;

05:15 Lessons from time at Gojek;

08:03 Advantages as a founder coming from tech unicorn leadership role;

10:06 Hiring for both tech and industry expertise;

10:49 Pillars of Pinhome culture;

13:07 What will set Pinhome apart as a property marketplace;

13:51 Dara and Ahmed’s recommends;

Transcript

Yinglan: It’s indeed my pleasure to welcome on our show today two of my favorite people, the cofounders of Pinhome, Dara who is the CEO, and Ahmed, who is the CTO of Pinhome. Pinhome is a full-stack property e-commerce platform that facilitates property transactions end-to-end. And I’ve known Dara, you know, since her early days at Go-Jek,  when she was the lead of GoLife and before that she was doing a couple of roles at Go-Jek and she was a rockstar.

And I told her, you know, anything you want to do after Go-Jek I want to be your investor.  So I’m very honored that she gave us this privilege to partner with her. And we are very happy with the progress of Pinhome. It has grown from strength to strength while staying lean over this period.

So, as I mentioned, Dara was a Senior VP at Go-Jek where she led Go-Jek’s expansion to 100+ cities as the SVP of regional growth. And Ahmed as well is a veteran CTO. He is well versed in product development and building systems. He was previously VP of engineering and product at Go-Jek before starting Pinhome. And he has also led engineering and product teams at startups like Jualo and a couple of other startups in Singapore and Jakarta. 

So great, without further ado, I think my first question for Dara and Ahmed is I’ve seen many talented leaders from tech unicorns in Southeast Asia go on to start their own companies. And each of them has their own stories, and obviously, I’ve been on the other side of the story but what was it like for the two of you? 

You met in Go-Jek and decided to start Pinhome. And obviously, I was very intrigued by your journey at GoLife as well. So what was the thought process behind transitioning from leadership roles at GoLife to starting Pinhome and dominating Indonesia’s property sector?

Dara: Thank you Yinglan. First of all, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s been an honor working with you Yinglan. Thanks for being our biggest supporter so far.  Yes, it was a natural transition joining Go-Jek when it was a 15 [person] management team in 2015. I had been in Go-Jek for five years working as an intrapreneur, so I called it, incepting, and scaling new services for Go-Jek.

I had always wanted to be a full-fledged entrepreneur. It wasn’t an “if,” it was a “when,” right.

So [at the] end of 2019, I found my momentum. Go-Jek was transitioning from a founder-led startup to a successor-led scaleup when Nadiem left in October 2019. And I personally had learned everything about building and scaling a tech company.

Also, the five hundred people team that I managed was self-sufficient, I thought. They would function well with or without me. So I spoke to Ahmed about this intention to start my own thing. So Ahmed was the mini CTO for it, the same services I [was] responsible for. He was the mini CEO. And Ahmed also felt the same way.

So we discussed what sector to focus on, what model to validate, and because we were deeply passionate about property and real estate, we decided that you know, it was going to be our first focus. 

And why property? I mean it started from my own pain points. We used to live in a boarding room, eventually managing to save money to buy my first property.

And every year [I’ve] been buying one property. Now I have 10 properties in total big and small, you know, from like $5,000 piece of land to a few hundred thousand dollars landed house.  And my dream is for all Indonesians to own a home and the vision is to make property more accessible for better livelihood and financial inclusion.

The vehicle is Pinhome. Our mission is to create a platform that organizes information and interactions for all stakeholders in [the] real estate sector, from property owners, developers, renters, buyers, agents, and service providers. So that’s what Pinhome is. Would be great to hear also from Ahmed’s experience.

Ahmed: Yes, the transition was very natural as Dara mentioned. We had a unique setup in Go-Jek where we ran our businesses like individual startups. So we would present our plans to leadership. We would raise funds for these individual products, which would essentially be our yearly budget. We were very autonomous.

So we were free to identify opportunities and pursue them. So with that excellent brand, we were able to grow our teams at a suitable rate to match our growth. But I eventually reached a point, coincidentally, around the same time as Dara, where our teams had the right leadership and had gained a level of independence that required less of our attention.

At the same time, our desire to solve problems at scale was stronger than ever. So it was very natural to identify the next larger challenge ahead of us and apply ourselves to it.

Yinglan: That’s fantastic. I think it must have been a really exciting journey. And I always ask this when people, you know, leave large unicorn companies, what’s the most important lesson learned from your time at Go-Jek that you are currently, you know, sort of employing at Pinhome? Dara?

Dara: For me, Go-Jek was my almost an entrepreneurship academy, right? In five years, I was ready to graduate and apply all knowledge, expertise, and network to build my own startup. And four most important lessons, I mean, maybe let’s, let’s make it three most important lessons we are currently employing at Pinhome.

The first one would be it’s about people. Hire people for culture, not just capabilities.  Mindset and culture [are] relatively harder to change because it’s a product of years of behavior and habits and exposure, but capabilities can be upskilled if talents are fast learners.

So we have hired people for potential capabilities, but we never hired someone who didn’t have the right culture with us.

The second one would be [to] expand geographically only after the product reaches product-market fit and there’s proof of profitability as reflected in positive unit economics. If a product is structurally broken and current users are not willing to pay more than the cost needed to produce them, throwing money at the problem by subsidizing or giving incentives or giving gimmicks and expanding to more users once of the problem, it will only amplify it. We’ll see temporary growth, but also massive cash burn. And the minute we stop incentivizing, the growth will be gone. So I think that’s the second one. 

And lastly, prioritize scalability over margin. It’s really tempting to try to vertically integrate everything, run very heavy operations to try to get the highest possible margins.

But I think in startup tech, almost always it’s better to build a five to 10% margin business that can scale quickly to reach, for example, 200 million users nationwide in Indonesia, than building 30, 40% margin business, but it can only reach a city of 10 million. I think also that’s because once we reach 200 million users, eventually multiple monetization can be made possible and additional revenue streams can also be made possible.

Ahmed: There are two takeaways, just two takeaways for me, maybe more technical. There’s a huge payoff in introducing processes, non-blocking primarily, and structure at the early stages of startup.

Startups don’t always have to be completely informal and unstructured, and this applies to engineering as readily as anything else.

And also applying a heavy dose of pragmatism into engineering and, you know, keeping an eye on the target, keeping an eye on the compass where the objective is to create impact. Shiny new tech can be a pleasant byproduct, but should not be the focus.

Yinglan: Great. These are great learnings, and we have an audience of entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, and also investors, and I’m sure our listeners would be interested to know, what advantages do you think you gained as a founder having these leadership experiences at Go-Jek?  

Dara: Yeah, sure. A fellow VC told me and Ahmed this, it really stuck in my memory, that there are three levels of tech founder, from the least experienced to the most experienced. So starting from the least experienced level three founders is the founder who knows how to build products. 

Then go one scale higher, you have level two founder with the founder who knows how to build products and monetize or generate revenue at a positive unit economics.

And then there’s the level one founder, which is the founder who knows how to build product, monetize, and generate revenue at a positive unit economics at scale.

Right? So the scale is the kind of underlying theme for level one founders. A unicorn company founder is very, very likely a level one founder who has had leadership experiences at building unicorn, a billion dollar worth company. 

Working closely with this type of founder and being exposed to the pursuit of building product and monetizing at scale is a privilege and a rare opportunity, especially if you’re not just participating or observing, but if you’re actually driving that exponential growth, not just studying or observing them.  

Ahmed: Yeah. Growing with a unicorn is, yeah, it’s a real experience. Since growth happens at an unprecedented pace, so you have to keep up or you’ll be left behind and this applies to everyone in the organization. And as a leader you want, as many of your team members to grow with you, experienced that rapid growth with the organization as well, not to be left behind.

So balancing that, striving for moonshots, you know, every quarter in an organization that’s evolving at each stage of growth, it’s a very unique kind of lesson to learn.

Yinglan: Let’s move on to another topic, which is I think one that a lot of our listeners worry about the most, which is talent. Having come from a tech company that’s known for hiring top talent, how has that influenced how you have built Pinhome? And how do you balance between getting people who have property experience versus tech experience? How do you juggle between those with industry and tech mindset? Ahmed?

Ahmed: Yes, hiring at scale, in a rapidly evolving organization is a massive challenge that we’ve been fortunate to have experienced previously. It has taught us the importance of getting the right people into the organization, particularly those with the same values as us, and striking that balance between industry and startup experience can be very tricky.

Some industries don’t have much exposure to setups. So there has to be concerted efforts in identifying individuals that either have that dual exposure that can be rare or find those that can demonstrate that ability to crossover.

Read more about different approaches startups take to striking this balance between industry experience and tech expertise >>>

Yinglan: Got it. Makes sense. And, you know, one thing that, sort of is the leading indicator of, success is culture. How have you tried to build a company culture at Pinhome? 

Dara: Right. I think culture eats strategy for breakfast. That’s a very famous saying we lifted in our previous organization. We saw how even the collective abilities of capable individuals, if not glued with the right culture, it might fall apart and doesn’t translate to impact.

So we have five values at Pinhome. Our culture is largely defined by these values. The first is customer love. [I] particularly like the word love, because I think when we love someone [like] we love our customer; it’s unconditionally, we emphathize with their pain points, we work tirelessly to solve it and we try to earn their trust and keep it.

I think that’s number one. The second is entrepreneurial mindset. We like to not just look for opportunities, we want to create them. We don’t want to be just a player. We want to be a pioneer.

We like to challenge the status quo and think big and act bold. No one ever talks about building an ecommerce for property transactions, [and] so far we are the only player in the market looking into this transaction deeply. 

Third is impact orientation. We prioritize 20% that creates 80% of the output.  We’re trying to be resourceful without introducing waste. so that’s the third one. 

Next is execution excellence. We push our team to put a telescope on one eye, to not lose sight of the vision, of our long term vision, but also a microscope on the other eye to execute well, to think about today, to think about how we serve our customers. We always like to be well prepared, very detailed. That’s the balance we always try to strike. 

And lastly people leadership, we believe that everyone is a leader, and so there’s a very significant amount of independence in every individual, teams and divisions and functions, in squads and tribes, that are in Pinhome, right?  We lead ourselves very well by being disciplined, being committed, and working hard. And that’s very much manifestations of leadership. And then we progress to lead others and lead change. I think that’s progress that everyone is geared towards in our organization. 

Yinglan: That’s great. Fantastic. I think it’s amazing how quickly you have grown Pinhome in the short time since you started the company and definitely looking forward to what you have in store for Indonesia’s property sector. Maybe as a last question for Dara,  what is your ultimate end goal for Pinhome and how would you set Pinhome apart as a property marketplace?

Dara: Sure Yinglan, it’s a tough question, I’ll try to answer it concisely. One is our unique selling point or unique value proposition where one is that we have singular unduplicated listings with accurate information for a single discovery. So that’s one. The second one would be, we have one-stop solutions for mortgage and property-related services for seamless interactions along the customer journey. And lastly, a robust payment backbone for seamless transactions.

So there’s seamless discovery, seamless interactions, and seamless transaction. That’s going to be our unique value proposition.

Yinglan: That’s great. So to wrap things up we always ask our guests to share some of their favorite things in our rapid-fire question round. 

Favorite book on entrepreneurship:

Dara: The Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki. For me it’s a crash course in building & scaling a tech startup.

Ahmed: The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank is a guide in framing product development, emphasizing the customer. Particularly good for engineers that are stuck to their keyboards.

App do you use the most nowadays that you think not many people use: 

Dara: Tasks App to keep list & keep track of my daily to-dos. I like it so much I personally message Stephen Nottage.

Ahmed: Zero (IF tracker) for those w sedentary lifestyles

Favorite, go-to destination in Southeast Asia: 

Dara: It’s really mainstream but I always like Bali. I usually travel to Bali 2-3x per year, on work or leisure.

Ahmed: Singapore, for family, friends and food

Favorite activity to de-stress: 

Dara: Play with my cats, watch movies, or do some gardening at home.

Ahmed: Going for pre-covid brunch with my girls (wife, and 2 daughters) and re-watching anime classics

About our guests

Prior to Pinhome, Dara was a Senior Vice President at Go-Jek where she led Gojek expansion to 100+ cities as SVP Regional Growth, co-founded and scaled Go-Life from concept into 15M users in 80+ cities in Indonesia & was responsible for Commerce Product Group in Gojek like Gomart & Goshop. She was also formerly a consultant at McKinsey before joining Go-Jek. Dara graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Bandung Institute of Technology, and was an honor student and full scholar.

Ahmed is a veteran CTO with over 14 years of technical experience. He is well-versed in product development and building systems, and was previously VP of Engineering and Product at Go-Jek before starting Pinhome. He has also led engineering and product teams at startups like Jualo (acquired by Carro) and started a couple of startups in Singapore and Jakarta. Ahmed is a graduate of Computer Engineering at NUS and received his Masters degree in Computer Science from Stanford University. 

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