What does bringing Indonesian ecommerce logistics to Amazon-level efficiency look like from the tech perspective? How do tech leaders think about investing in engineering talent? What does it mean to leverage software and data to level the playing field for SME digitalization? We answer these questions on our latest call with Shipper CTO Marvinus Kokoh Arif and VP of Engineering Agus Daud, leaders behind the tech stack and engineering teams powering the fast-growing logistics-first ecommerce enabler in Indonesia. Join Marvin and Agus in Shipper in various tech roles here.
Highlights and Timestamps
- (00:47) Paulo introduces Marvin and Agus;
- (01:58) Boarding Shipper with Tech Leaders Marvin and Agus; “As the CTO, first I gain clear visibility from my vantage point, across business functions that allow me to become a change agent who drives the technical innovations in Shipper…For me, [as VP of Engineering], I’m in a more specific domain whereas Marvin looks after a more horizontal [coverage]. So I currently have responsibility for the end-to-end process in the fulfillment domain and warehousing.”
- (09:00) Tech Perspective on Building the OS for Indonesian logistics; “In Shipper, we need to have a “tech mind” to solve problems in a smart way, in an innovative way. That’s why we don’t create a new logistics company…We do [things] differently. We want to become the operating system of the logistics to connect all the logistics players into one [platform].”
- (13:32) People Behind the Code Behind Shipper; “When we hire [engineers], we want to make sure this is going to be a long-term investment for the company…And then as a company, we always prioritize investing in our engineering…We treat engineering as a value generator.”
- (18:11) Future of Shipper in a Globalizing Workforce and Indonesia’s Maturing Ecommerce Logistics Industry; “We commit to empowering our merchants through digitalization to level the playing field with big enterprises. We always put our merchants as our close partners and continue giving them digestible insights from their data, so they can act accordingly to improve their stability, and I think this is the situation where the back-end data come into play and be the gamechanger.”
- (21:43) Rapid Fire Round;
About our guests
Agus Daud is Shipper’s VP of Engineering and Product. He began and built his more than a decade career in engineering in Australia then moved to Seattle where he worked at Amazon on their external payment system before returning to Indonesia and joining Shipper. He received his Bachelors and Masters in Computer Science from UNSW.
Boarding Shipper with Tech Leaders Marvin and Agus
Paulo: So, Marvin, Agus, welcome to the show. How are you guys doing?
Marvin: Thanks Paulo for having us.
Agus: Yeah. Thank you for having us.
Paulo: I’m sure our listeners would be very curious to know, first things off, like how you decided to join Shipper in the first place. What was the pitch to you from Budi or Phil for you guys to say yes and bring your talents and your expertise to the company, especially given your background with Agus for example, coming from Amazon and you Marvin coming from Tokopedia? So maybe we can start with Marvin.
Marvin: I joined Shipper in 2019. Before that, I was in Tokopedia as an architect where I got exposed to logistics in the e-commerce industry. And one thing that got my interest was [seeing] the millions of packages delivered every day across Indonesia, and that number has been still rapidly growing till today.
Since then, I’ve always viewed the logistics industry as really compelling and a [market] that offers tremendous potential. But having said that, logistics has had its own challenges, which have not been easy to solve, and back then tech disruption in the logistics was fairly minimal, [such that] it left us huge opportunity to craft technology solutions to improve the overall logistics operations, as well as to reduce the logistics costs.
With that in mind, I think that was a good time for me to start my journey in logistics. And then my friends introduced me to Phil and finally here I am.
Paulo: What was that first meeting like? What was your first impression?
Marvin: It was good and Phil pitched a lot of things, and shared his [thoughts] about logistics. And I thought that that makes sense because I handled logistics in Tokopedia, and I know the numbers. So I think that was an opportunity for me.
Paulo: All the pieces seem to come together. How about you Agus? How did you join Shipper?
Agus: The reason I joined Shipper is that I [could] see a big challenge and big opportunity in logistics and e-commerce in Indonesia. Because like you said, I came from Amazon. So I know Indonesia where ecommerce has grown rapidly, I think all these Tokopedia and Shopee one day will be the size of Amazon.
So I know in order to do that, you need logistics as well, because the delivery online or the online buying, you need to have [fast] delivery [speed], delivery accuracy, and right prediction. So it’s an interesting problem.
And on top of that I was also doing research and I read research that actually Indonesia has a very big market size US$80 billion market size in logistics, and still growing with the growth of e-commerce.
So that’s one of the reasons I’m quite interested in this challenge. The reason I joined and took this challenge [is] I think it’s good to have these challenges and contribute to the country — Indonesia.
“The reason I joined Shipper is that I [could] see a big challenge and big opportunity in logistics and e-commerce in Indonesia. Because like you said, I came from Amazon. So I know Indonesia where ecommerce has grown rapidly, I think all these Tokopedia, Shopee one day will be the size of Amazon.”
Paulo: A little bit of a lighthearted question. I wanted to ask also is what was your first day like in Shipper? And if you joined towards the tail end of 2019 or moving into 2020, when the pandemic hit, how was that experience transitioning to remote working as well? Maybe we can start with Agus this time.
Agus: I mean, to be honest, when I first joined Shipper, it was a culture shock. I mean, I came from Amazon, a big corporation, [then] suddenly going to the startup. and almost starting from almost ground zero, but I think in the last two years, we’ve been working with Marvin, to improve everything right from standardized hiring.
Now the team is over 150 people, and then a lot of stuff that I learned from my previous company, I bring it over to improve the quality and the stability [of the organization]. Now I think the quality, culture, and performance of our team is comparable to other top unicorn startups in Southeast Asia. I’m actually very proud and fortunate to join Shipper and have the ability to grow from almost ground zero to where we are now.
Paulo: I think it’s really amazing that even if you had all this experience from Amazon, I think it was like six years [that you were there], and when you came into Shipper, you still had to sort of start from ground zero in a way. How about you, Marvin? How was your first day, and how was the adjustment for you?
Marvin: My very first day was a fascinating experience. I could work together with Budi, Phil, and the founding team, discussing the problems we face and we gathered in a small room to tackle these problems, with a limited amount of resources.
As far as can remember, there were only less than 30 people in the room, and 12 of them were the engineers who built the entire Shipper software. I worked closely with them by reviewing their code, patching some bugs, help them deploy the app to production. I think it’s been interesting to see the details of the [challenges] in Shipper and try to solve it one by one. That’s something that I miss, you know. I cannot do that today, especially when we have more than 150 plus people in engineering.
Paulo: And I guess you also had a hand in bringing Agus into the team as well. So you met Marvin during the early days of getting into Shipper, is that correct?
Agus: Yes, we worked very closely. So Marvin joined I think a couple of months before me. And then I joined, although my team started with three people, I remember, but we worked very closely. We did a bit of everything from a to z because we don’t have a tester, we don’t have product teams, so I was doing a bit of everything. It was just very fun like Marvin said, and I kind of miss that moment, but now we have more important stuff because we have 150 people under us currently.
“I think it’s been interesting to see the details of the [challenges] in Shipper and try to solve it one by one. That’s something that I miss, you know. I cannot do that today, especially when we have more than 150 plus people in engineering.”
Paulo: And speaking of roles and how those roles change, I wanted to use this opportunity to explain to our audience, like, what is really the specific role when it comes to CTO and VP engineering, and how those differ. And yeah, maybe Marvin, you can start off. What exactly is the scope of a CTO’s work when it comes to like a fast growing, scale-up like Shipper?
Marvin: As the CTO, first I gain clear visibility from my vantage point, across business functions that allow me to become a change agent who drives the technical innovations in Shipper.
And second, what I need to do is to lay the company-wide architecture out to ensure the technology underpins our business model as well because it’s very important for Shipper. Shipper has a very flexible business model that really suits our customer needs.
And then the third is I need to ensure that our tech stack can encompass our short-term goals, as well as our long-term strategic paths. One of the key aspects I think of successful tech companies is their tech stack. The reason our tech stack allows us to go further with our investment is it simplifies a lot of development processes, without introducing too much complexity.
Paulo: As you mentioned, Shipper really started as a software company. I mean, now it’s really like a whole auto logistics network, supporting all the way from fulfillment and micro-fulfillment to warehousing, but at the same time, in order to really be flexible and have all of those advantages as a startup, it really depends on the, on the tech stack, as you’ve mentioned. For you Agus, how does the VP of Engineering role differ from what Marvin has talked about?
Agus: For me, I’m in a more specific domain whereas Marvin looks after a more horizontal [coverage]. So I currently have responsibility for the end-to-end process in the fulfillment domain and warehousing. So starting from order management system, so we can put orders automatically for marketplaces in Indonesia. So the customer doesn’t need to give us their orders on email and WhatsApp anymore.
And then I’m also responsible for the customer-facing portal where customers can use self-service to upload their orders, online orders, and especially offline orders because online orders are mostly pulled by OMS. And then they also can monitor all of their activity, inbound and outbound inventory in real-time from all channels.
On top of that, we also have in-tools and WMS for our warehouse management and for our warehouse team. And then that team collects all the data and builds the analytics for our customers. So the key differentiation is more specific to each domain in Shipper.
“As the CTO, first I gain clear visibility from my vantage point, across business functions that allow me to become a change agent who drives the technical innovations in Shipper…For me, [as VP of Engineering], I’m in a more specific domain whereas Marvin looks after a more horizontal [coverage]. So I currently have responsibility for the end-to-end process in the fulfillment domain and warehousing.”
Tech Perspective on Building the OS for Indonesian logistics
Paulo: [So your role is] really getting into the nuts and bolts of the operation. Now I’d like to move into the logistics industry per se, especially e-commerce logistics and helping out all these SMEs. What have you had to learn in order to really cater to the needs of Shipper’s customers from a tech perspective?
Marvin: So I think due to the e-commerce boom, for the past few years, we’ve seen a rising demand for end-to-end logistics solutions. And especially when the pandemic hit, we have witnessed a strong demand for our fulfillment service, but on the other hand, not every business is prepared in terms of resource and capabilities.
So two main questions emerge. One is how ready is the business for this sudden change? And the second is how long will the demand last if they decide to invest in more, let’s say warehouse capacity or building the tech capabilities in-house?
So we can see that basically, business owners need more at this time. And to answer those questions Shipper decided to strengthen two key areas. One is in integration. And then the second is pricing models.
So for any integrations, our customers can select their integrations based on their needs, so they don’t need to overinvest in something that they have already done or built in-house.
The second is the pricing model where our modules come with a flexible or pay-as-you-go model that enables our clients to use Shipper with a small initial investment. So I think by focusing on those two areas, we believe that we can help our merchants to scale efficiently with less.
“When the pandemic hit, we have witnessed a strong demand for our fulfillment service, but on the other hand, not every business is prepared in terms of resource and capabilities…[so] Shipper decided to strengthen two key areas. One is in integration. And then the second is pricing models.”
Paulo: Really emphasizing that flexibility in bringing that certainty into the equation, especially since you’re dealing with a majority of the customers which are obviously SMEs.
And for Agus, I also wanted to talk about how you align the tech layer — because as I mentioned earlier, it’s not just a tech solution. There’s very much a physical component or physical aspect of it. How do you align that tech layer to the physical component? And what’s the biggest misconception people usually have when it comes to these O2O type of businesses when it comes to that?
Agus: I think the biggest misconception is people think the core business is a more traditional business. We can run without technology. We can run without it. But then I think the problem is it’s not the problem that Shipper wants to solve. I think the problem we want to solve is where we can use technology to bring to the next level logistics in Indonesia.
So as an example, we want to enable like a one-day delivery, like Amazon enabled in the west, or starting maybe with two days delivery, but this kind of [service] cannot be delivered [with just] using traditional [methods], because we need to have a prediction demands.
So this is what we strive for with logistics in Indonesia. Now I think the way we use the software development cycle, we use scrum, we have our UI/UX research, and we work closely with the business. I think this is how we can make it happen in logistics, how the process works, and then we always get feedback
So in Shipper, we need to have a “tech mind” to solve problems in a smart way, in an innovative way. That’s why we don’t create a new logistics company. We are an aggregator, we put a flex-model warehouse. We do [things] differently.
Paulo: Even if we often say that Shipper has built this really large logistics network, at the end of the day, it’s not a logistics company. It’s really a tech that’s helping all these like growing businesses primarily through logistics.
Agus: Yeah we want to become the operating system of the logistics to connect all the logistics players into one [platform].
“In Shipper, we need to have a “tech mind” to solve problems in a smart way, in an innovative way. That’s why we don’t create a new logistics company…We do [things] differently. We want to become the operating system of the logistics to connect all the logistics players into one [platform].
Paulo: That definitely involves a lot more of not being able to really separate the tech from the physical aspect as well. So moving on, I also want to do touch on the organization itself and your approach to tech and engineering.
Maybe you can shed a little bit more light on this. How has Shipper’s approach been to tech and engineering? How has it evolved as the company scaled — you touched on that a little bit — maybe you can expand on that a little bit more when it comes to Shipper?
Agus: From tech maturity perspective, one way to approach this is like we promote the usage of the latest technology. So we use the latest cloud tech. We use Kubernetes. We also enable unit tests and automation tests, and continuous integration to make sure our speed of development stays fast and scalable.
Even if we are big, we need to stay fast in the development. And then we need to clean up our technical debt as well. So we migrate a lot of our application from the C monolith to microservices, and then we hire many great talents to mentor and grow our engineering from over the world.
The most important one though is having a “day one” startup mentality, [going back to when] we’re together in a small room with Budi and Phil, where we embrace changes and make quick decisions. And then most importantly is having a “customer-first” mentality.
“Even if we are big, we need to stay fast in the development. And then we need to clean up our technical debt as well.”
People Behind the Code Behind Shipper
Paulo: It’s really a balancing act of scaling, but at the same time, maintaining that kind of culture of day one kind of mindset.
And speaking of which, how would you describe Shipper’s company culture, especially to our listeners out there? We have a number of folks from Indonesia who are listening in, and are curious or maybe even interested in joining Shipper. How would you describe the company culture of Shipper?
Marvin: I think we are bold and moving fast. That’s also one of our core values and we are a really dynamic team. Sometimes we need to change our direction very fast, especially when we see that our hypothesis is wrong. In some cases, we changed our sprint goals in the middle of the sprint because there was something that needed to be prioritized, and I think that’s an essential trait of a successful startup, where we need to be able to learn from our mistakes and adapt with the change.
“We are bold and moving fast. That’s also one of our core values and we are a really dynamic team…that’s an essential trait of a successful startup, where we need to be able to learn from our mistakes and adapt to the change.”
Paulo: I mean, in order to sell flexibility, you also have to be flexible internally as well. And talking about culture, obviously, you talked about how the maturity of the tech approach has evolved, how does that impact your approach to hiring and retaining engineering and tech talent in your respective teams?
Agus: In our hiring process, we’re not just testing their code skill, but also we deep dive and it’s very important we find someone who aligns with Shipper’s company culture, especially with the values of being “customer-first” and “all for one, one for all”, we need to evaluate whether this guy is going to be aligned, or this is something that can be teachable or we see something that just doesn’t fit. Because when we hire them, we want to make sure this is going to be a long-term investment for the company.
And then for retaining talent, we have a common process. We have regular one-on-one where they make direct reports and managers make sure to listen to their new ideas and their concerns, and if they have issues, we help them resolve those issues. We also identify areas for improvement. For professional growth for example, they may need to move to management. So they need management skill. They need a new technical skills.
And then as a company, we always prioritize investing in our engineering. So we give them allowance for joining virtual conferences, online tutorials, joining training, and getting certification with AWS, for example.
Then we also need to make sure our salary is competitive. We treat engineering as a value generator. We [enable] them to create innovation, understand customer needs and create a suitable product solution for our customers.
“When we hire [engineers], we want to make sure this is going to be a long-term investment for the company…And then as a company, we always prioritize investing in our engineering…We treat engineering as a value generator.”
Paulo: Since we’re in this whole conversation about hiring and building the team, I also wanted to talk about your own sort of professional development. How has the experience of being in Shipper, compared to your past experiences as well, impacting the way that you see your role as an engineering leader?
Marvin: So I think in hindsight, there were three main day-to-day jobs: coding software, setting decision frameworks, managing daily operations. This was a vertical approach, but today I focus on the horizontal IT plans and research.
So the first thing is I help with the engineering team expansion to support new business initiatives. One example is our engineering team in China.
And the second is researching new technology stack. Like I mentioned before, having the tech stack is really important. So I’m researching on new cloud infrastructure, which we call the just-in-time environment. So the engineers can spawn the entire Shipper environment in a single click so we can move the infrastructure closer to our users, so they get a better experience.
And the third is all about leveraging our data to strengthen our core capabilities. As we generate more data, it’s important for us to pull some insights to make our products smarter. So one example will be warehouse optimization, where we predict a number of orders in every warehouse. Then the operations team will adjust their warehouse manpower, based on our system recommendation. So that’s kind of how the responsibility has shifted a lot from a vertical approach to doing more research.
“Today I focus on the horizontal IT plans and research. The first thing is I help on the engineering team expansion to support new business initiatives… the second is researching new technology stack…the third is all about leveraging our data to strengthen our core capabilities.”
Paulo: And it’s really seeing what’s out there and staying ahead of what the tech team eventually needs to do and work on. How about you, Agus? How has your time in Shipper shaped your view of being an engineer or tech leader?
Agus: I used to do a bit of everything. But today as the team grows, we have a more mature organization structure. We have a dedicated product team. We have a dedicated test engineer. We have a business team.
Well before I used to do a bit of that, but now I concentrate more on the fulfillment engineering, and then, especially on the strategy and team composition. And then we have expanded outside Indonesia like Marvin says, or we have a fulfillment team who help from China.
On top of that also, I still review systems design on more complex projects. Sometime I still do hands-on coding, but it’s very limited as time does not permit it. That’s probably one thing that I miss.
“I used to do a bit of everything. But today as the team grows, we have a more mature organization structure…Sometimes I still do hands-on coding, but it’s very limited as time does not permit it. That’s probably one thing that I miss.”
Future of Shipper in a Globalizing Workforce and Indonesia’s Maturing Ecommerce Logistics Industry
Paulo: In addition to just like building, you’re also managing teams as well, which I think is also another level of development when it comes to one’s career as an engineer.
And one thing I was curious about is, Marvin, you mentioned having a team as well in China. What are Shipper’s engineering team’s views in terms of, especially now like a lot more companies are hiring remotely, especially for the engineering function, where it doesn’t really matter in a way, like where you’re from, as long as [they] can contribute? How does that trend impact or influence Shipper?
Marvin: Even as we promote work remotely, so we don’t think that geography will limit productivity, we encourage a lot of cross-cultural and diverse tech backgrounds, because we can get the best practices from each country and we can combine it together and get the best flow and the best way to develop a software.
I think that’s the value we try to promote in Shipper, and it’s really fun when you talk with your teammates, and let’s say that your teammates are Chinese, and maybe if you’re learning Chinese, then you can practice your Chinese as well.
“…we encourage a lot of cross-cultural and diverse tech backgrounds, because we can get the best practices from each country and we can combine it together and get the best flow and the best way to develop a software.”
Paulo: I imagine the communication is definitely not super simple from the get-go, but I guess you guys have definitely worked that out because I think I personally, I think it is a necessity and you’re sort of left out if you don’t really [tap into] this global population of engineers from everywhere who are keen to work on a lot of different things.
My last question before we go into our rapid-fire round is given that Shipper, I think it was mentioned earlier that Shipper really wants to build the OS for logistics in Indonesia, how much of it are you closer to that goal? How close are you already to building out that entire OS and what does the future look like for technology enabling a lot of this, like e-commerce and SMEs in Indonesia?
Marvin: We want to strengthen our conflict of first mile delivery and fulfillments for these SMEs by cooperating with dozens of our shipping partners, tens of thousands of agents, as well as, our warehousing partners in order to level up Indonesian SMEs.
And the second is I think the broader customer reach also means that we will have more challenges in the future and as we can see, many customers demand faster, same-day delivery like in the US that might be followed by Indonesian customers.
Paulo: For example, quick commerce getting a lot more attention.
Marvin: Right, then we realize that we cannot solve this complex problem alone. And I think one way to deal with it is by forming an alliance through partnerships and networking with other parties who serve the needs of various businesses at the domestic or international level.
Likewise the larger networks could mean that the technology architecture will be more complex than today, which will be very exciting to see in the upcoming years.
The last is we commit to empower our merchants through digitalization to level the playing field with big enterprises. We always put our merchants as our close partner and continue giving them digestible insights from their data, so they can act accordingly to improve their stability, and I think this is the situations where the back end data come into play and be the gamechanger.
We have good news as well. We are going to release atoor.com. So atoor.com is an omnichannel tools, so the merchants can scale their sales channel and help their backend operations to be more efficient. Atoor.com itself is a platform where you can manage all orders across marketplaces, through a single glass pane.
Paulo: Agus, do you want to add something to that?
Agus: Exciting with atoor.com coming and a few other things as well.
Paulo: How soon before Indonesia reaches Amazon level ecommerce, having worked at Amazon?
Agus: Maybe in a couple of years, but we are getting there really fast.
“We commit to empower our merchants through digitalization to level the playing field with big enterprises. We always put our merchants as our close partner and continue giving them digestible insights from their data, so they can act accordingly to improve their stability, and I think this is the situations where the back end data come into play and be the gamechanger.”
Rapid Fire Round
What are the top 3 traits of a startup tech leader?
Marvin: Visionary, high awareness and persistent.
Agus: Resilience, adaptability to change people and ability to take charge.
What digital technology/innovation (apart from the tech you are working on) excites you the most today?
Marvin: AI deep learning, I would say.
Agus: I’m interested in front end technology and IOT. We’ve been looking at warehouse robotics, it looks very interesting, and I hope it’s coming soon to one of our warehouses.
Most memorable day/moment at work?
Marvin: The first release of our microservices.
Agus: When we won the Facebook partnership to use our logistics solution and to deliver parcels for the Facebook marketplace.
What’s the most memorable class you’ve been in?
Marvin: My first programming glass where I learned Pascal.
Agus: Similar to Marvin, a programming class. I was very excited because we created a game called Matrix, like the movie Matrix.
Best one line advice would you give for aspiring tech and engineering leaders?
Marvin: I would like to recommend: be bold and move fast.
Agus: Continuous learning as technology moves fast. So it is important to keep up to date with technology and keep continuously learning.
What’s your favorite go-to destination in Southeast Asia?
Agus: Yeah, I love Bali as well, same as Marvin.
What do you do to de-stress?
Agus: I normally do small meditation, eat nice food and traveling.
Marvin: Yeah, I do coding.
Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.