- As we pointed out in the first compilation, vision is key to drawing in the right talent, but in this set of stories, we also notice the value of traction and the uniqueness of the business’s approach to solving pain points and achieving growth.
- Company cultures geared toward growth play a role in enabling leaders to develop a deeper understanding of their own fields of expertise, specifically as it relates to the hyper-growth trajectory for a venture-backed startup also becomes clearer and how they are able to develop talent for these roles, both within the company and in the greater ecosystem.
- Great leaders have a clear view not just of the goals of their function, but also the long-term, big picture impact of the company on society and a thesis of why their company will lead in making this happen.
In this episode, we’re back with another compilation of A Leader A Minute, where we feature non-founder leaders driving the growth of Southeast Asia’s most impactful tech companies.
In the first compilation, we showcased how these leaders are able to create needle-moving impact, and in this edition, we flip the script and focus on how companies are able to shape these leaders and even their perspectives on their own expertise.
- Nabil Ishak is Head of Human Resources at Aplikasi Super: Full Interview and See openings
- Bryan Tan is Chief Data Scientist at Carro: Full Interview and See openings
- Agus Daud is Shipper’s VP of Engineering and Product: Full Interview and See openings:
- Marolop Leonardo David Siagian is Group Product Manager at leading open finance platform for Southeast Asia Brankas: Full Interview and See openings
- (00:52) Introductions to Leaders and their Roles;
- (10:09) Company cultures and how the company has shaped its leaders;
- (17:26) What excites these leaders about the future of their company and their role in it;
Great leaders build great companies
But first, introductions to our featured leaders for this compilation, how they joined their current companies, and also get a better idea of the leadership roles they play in each of their companies. Some insights we picked up across these four leader profiles:
- 3 out of 4 came from unicorn / global tech companies in their previous role, and 1 came from the academe or research background.
- As we pointed out in the first compilation, vision is key to draw in the right talent, but in this set of stories we also notice the value of traction and the uniqueness of the business’s approach to solving pain points and achieving growth.
- With all the companies featured in this list being growth stage companies (all raised at least their Series B round), we see leadership roles becoming more segmented and defined around specific business objectives.
We start with the Nabil Abdullah Ishak, the HR leader who came from Bukalapak, now building the people strengths of Aplikasi Super, the leading social commerce platform in eastern Indonesia’s tier-2, tier-3, and rural areas.
“I’m currently serving as a Head of HR here in Aplikasi Super. Previously I was the HRBP of Bukalapak. So my responsibilities included but were not limited to the alignment of the business objectives with those of HR, as well as the employees.
And talking about Super, I was initially approached by Steven who is the CEO of Aplikasi Super, and was immediately hooked on its purpose-driven vision and its business model which is very unique. And the rest of it is history.”
Then we have Bryan Tan, the nuclear scientist turned Chief Scientist fuelling the AI engine of Southeasts Asia’s fast growing auto retail tech platform Carro.
“Prior to joining Carro, I was a nuclear scientist. I worked with supercomputers to devise ways to encapsulate and contain radioactivity from spent nuclear fuel, which remained radioactive for thousands of years after it had been used. My research in Cambridge University spanned many collaborators in Europe and driving across the English Channel was a monthly endeavor. Luckily, I love driving and of course, cars.
Aaron, my buddy from the army days, founded Carro and we have always been chatting about cars, from pricing, and taxation to intercontinental exports.
Coincidentally, more than a year ago, Aaron asked whether I was interested in heading up a data science team to anchor the digitalization of the car trade, a team that would be grounded in deep math, science and technology. It took me probably two whole seconds to say yes.
Aaron has been a great friend since my army days. He is smart and decisive and working with him is natural. We do not communicate much with words. A simple phrase or sentence conveys much between us. It is easy to make twenty friends, but hard to keep a friend for twenty years… So taking up his offer is a no-brainer.”
The Chief Data Scientist Role: “It has been a truly amazing experience thus far. I oversee all the Machine Learning and AI programs at Carro. The core mandate for my team is innovation. We run initiatives to improve people’s car ownership and usage experience with a focus on South East Asia. Here at Carro, we are involved in almost every vertical relating to cars, from buying, selling, leasing, insurance and finance. You name it, we do it. And we do it differently, empowered by AIML.
Some examples include price automation in car transactions. Distance-based and behavioural-based insurance premiums and maintenance costs. AI monitoring of engine health to automated inspections and listing of cars…These and much more form the foundations of AI/ ML in Carro.
Besides automating processes, I make sure to spend a few minutes each day on divergent thinking, basically inventing ways to further enhance the car ownership experience with data and AI.”
For our third leader, we bring back to the show Agus Daud, ex-Amazon now VP of Engineering at Indonesia’s largest tech-enabled logistics network and fast-emerging ecommerce enabler platform, who went on call with us with Shipper CTO Marvinus Kokoh Arif.
“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.”
First Day Experience: “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.”
VP of Engineering (vs CTO): “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 an order management system, so we can put orders automatically for marketplaces in Indonesia. So the customer doesn’t need to give us their orders via 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.”
Finally, we have Marolop Siagian, ex-Xendit now Group Product Manager of Southeast Asia’s leading open finance platform Brankas.
“Actually I started as a full-stack developer. And then after eight months, I decided to move into [product management] because I wanted to learn about the industry. Before Brankas, I was moving between [companies] to learn about the industry and all of a sudden COVID came.
[At that time], I met my ex-manager from one of the payment gateways in Indonesia. Apparently, he is the CPO of Brankas right now. So I just came to him and I asked, “Hey, what are you doing right now?” And he answered, “Open finance.”
And after that I did some research about open finance because open finance or open banking is pretty niche in Indonesia. And even in Southeast Asia’s, it’s pretty new. And then I did my research and it blew my mind because I believe economic growth happens when there is money movement. And open finance is enabling people to [experience] the beginning of inflection towards [embracing] money movement, financial data sharing, and everything else.
I joined them not just because of the vision and mission. I think all of the companies have that, but I joined because I believe in the [progress] that had been [made] by the Brankas team in the market. The initiatives that they did, I never saw a company do that as efficiently and focusing on [their goal] to build financial services infrastructure in Southeast Asia, as much as they did.
So that’s why I chose [Brankas], and decided to join. It’s been almost two years since.”
Group Product Manager: “Basically, the group product manager is the leader of a product team that focuses on supporting a business vision and customer needs and they only focus on that scope. If you are the group product manager, you are responsible for growing your team to make them achieve their goal within the company.
Of course for that, a group product manager strategizes and see the bigger picture of the direction that the team wants to take on their products. Of course, it’s a leadership role that needs trust to be shared between the group product managers and the product teams. So it’s never one way.”
Great companies also shape great leaders
Now that we have a better idea of where our leaders came from, how they joined these fast-growing startups, and what their roles are in these organizations, we can get into the meat of this episode. And for each of our leaders, they talk about company culture and how working at their respective companies has shaped their perspective on their expertise. Some insights we picked up across the sharings of these four leaders on their company cultures and the impact of working in these companies on their fields of expertise:
- Even as they describe their company cultures in different ways, a commonality is that they are all geared towards professional development and growth, whether through fulfilling work, learning opportunities, or ownership and autonomy.
- These company cultures geared towards growth play a role in enabling them to develop a deeper understanding of their own fields of expertise.
- Their understanding of their expertise as it relates to the hyper growth trajectory for a venture-backed startup also becomes clearer (i.e. what is the role of HR in going public, how does engineering evolve as the organization’s operations become more complex, how does product management evolve as the company expands into more markets).
- Their roles are also avenues for them to improve people’s appreciation for what they do best, and even develop talent for these roles, both within the company and in the greater ecosystem.
Company culture in one word: “Rewarding. At Super, we call ourselves dreamers and doers. We dream very big. Our dream is, of course, to improve economic equality for Indonesia, and we work relentlessly toward those.
And yes, there might be some formidable challenges ahead but of course, we do need these challenges to grow, don’t we? To be able to turn these kinds of challenges into solutions and opportunities for a lot of people is definitely a rewarding experience for each and every one of us here in Super.
Our work has a visible impact, and we find that a meaningful experience for our lives personally and professionally. And we always take a moment to celebrate how much we have achieved, how far we have come, and how many people we essentially have helped.”
How his perspective on HR is being shaped by Super: “In a sense, I do believe HR is not the icing on the cake, but it’s very much the baking powder I would say. HR can make a huge difference for a company to either scale up or bust. So HR is an entity that defines your business right from the very beginning, your culture, your competitive advantage through people, your growth, as well as your exit strategy.
It’s unfortunate that in the past, HR has had an unfortunate reputation as a “fun police”, which is far from the truth, well, at least not at Super. We work very hard here, but we have fun doing it as well.”
Company culture in one word: “Opportunities. In Carro, regardless of whether you are C-suite or fresh graduate, young or old, man or woman, as long as you have a good idea, we will support you and give you the opportunities to make an impact. And have fun while doing all these – we are a really fun-loving team, even outside of work, we meet up for happy hour, board games, etc.”
How his perspective on data science is being shaped by Super: “My expertise has been put to the test many times. But just like AI models, we human beings also become sharper and faster and more accurate each time we tackle a new challenge as we never stop learning.
Besides our consumer offerings, we are also doing our part for the data science community. An exciting initiative is our up-and-coming Carro x Amazon Scholarship for data science. This scholarship supports young people to read data science in the universities, and builds a steady pipeline of talents for Carro. Last but not least, we also want to play a part in strengthening and expanding the data science fraternity in Singapore.”
Company culture as it impacts hiring: “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 skills or they need 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.”
How his perspective on engineering and being a tech leader is being shaped by Shipper: “I used to do a bit of everything. But today as the team grows, we have a more mature organizational 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 as 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. 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.”
Company culture in one word: “So if it is one word, I would say autonomous. So everybody in the team is pretty accountable for anything that is given. We proactively communicate. We don’t need to be told to do something to work on something, so basically we proactively communicate to each other. We proactively help each other when people are out of hand.
[Brankas] is autonomous. There is no micromanaging within the teams as especially from the higher-ups. When we have a problem, management trusts us to solve it in our way. We can figure it out together, which will create a unique solution that comes from out team.”
How his perspective on product management (especially in Indonesia) is being shaped by Brankas: “Basically I think because Brankas is targeting Southeast Asia, what I learned because of this part, especially in the Indonesia market is, when it comes to the Indonesian market, it reminds me that Indonesian people are not all the same. So there are a lot of areas here, a lot of islands.
Because of that, different areas will have different cultures, different values, different opinions, different risk appetites, and even different internet adoption rates. So it’s made me understand that in approaching the market and getting closer to the PMF or to the product market fit, we also need to consider [our customers’] goals or why our merchants or customers are using us. What is their goal in using our product? What do they need? And that’s the thing, because if we focus on their goal, it will shape how we will build our product, how we design it, even shaping how we sell it to them easily.”
Future of Company
To cap things off for this episode, we share these leaders’ views on what excites them about the future of their role in the company and the vision they are building towards. Some insights we picked up across the sharings of these four leaders on their company cultures and the impact of working in these companies on their fields of expertise:
- Effective leaders have a clear view not just of the goals of their function, but also the long-term, big picture they are contributing to in the company.
- Effective leaders have their own thesis as well behind why the company they are a part of will succeed and lead in the market.
Nabil Ishak: “We aspire to be the next unicorn coming from eastern Indonesia, the first one from eastern Indonesia, and to earn this recognition and make a place for ourselves in the market. But our dream is so much bigger than that. What we aim for is sustainable and profitable growth.
We are going for the long haul. We run like we’re sprinting but we pace ourselves for a marathon. What we aim for is the growth that naturally comes with bringing in more and more people to [build up] our organization’s bench strength. As a Head of HR, I want Super to attract the best local talents and build a winning team that will take us to the new heights and establishes us as an employer of choice.”
Bryan Tan: “Being an explorer, I am constantly excited by new frontiers. In Carro, we are expanding business and collaborations. We work closely with banks, OEMs, dealers, and consumers. We devise new ways of car ownership experience from leasing to buying and selling. In fact, people come to us, not for a test-drive experience but a test-own experience. Test-own means that you take the car for a few days and see if it suits your lifestyle. Conversion is high and Carro is dedicated to empowering the user experience with our technology and our people too! We are lucky to have a team of committed, capable and caring staff to realize our ambitions.
Carro is a company that truly believes in using data and technology to solve problems and empower our customers. In some companies, data plays a passive role, but here at Carro, it plays an active role. The environment here is fast and people joining us will have an exciting ride combining innovation, opportunities, and fun!”
Marolop Siagian: “I’m excited about the direction that we will take where Brankas defines and introduces trends in open finance, not only to the market but also to the government because we are here to support governments as well to find what is the best that we can get to through open finance.
With open finance, payments can happen digitally without any — in Indonesia, it’s through credit cards and virtual accounts, but the problem is it never settles in real-time. So basically if you want to tackle those, so payments can happen digitally and settle in real-time, it’s going to be like the normal bank transfer.
Sharing your financial data will happen easily and fast as well through open finance so people can get a new chance to [secure] loans. Basically, I see loans as a new chance for people, and then sharing your financial data will enable you to get a loan as soon as possible.
And also we have our own vision to enable all the financial institutions to be available online and benefit everyone in [terms of] economic growth. As I mentioned before, the faster money moves [in an area], the faster the growth of the area around it. So if you want to grow Southeast Asia together with us, especially Indonesia or the Philippines, please join us.”