We began Season 2 of On Call with Insignia with the aim of showcasing more startup founders and leaders from Southeast Asia, specifically those in non-CEO roles, to shed light on their perspectives on growth and their respective industries. Over the course of the past 16 episodes, we’ve had the pleasure of featuring CMOs, COOs, CPOs, heads of marketing and strategy, and CTOs alongside our usual lineup of CEO founders.
For our final interview this season, we rang up Yada Piyajomkwan, co-founder and CPO of Ajaib, Indonesia’s leading digital investment platform — Indonesia’s own Robinhood. So Insignia has been working with Ajaib since their seed round last year and it’s been quite the ride seeing the company grow.
The reason I’ve called Yada on the show is because of Ajaib’s stellar growth in the last six months as it drove product adoption of its digital stock brokerage — a first in the country — which is now 4th largest in the country in terms of trades. Who better to talk to than the woman behind the product herself?
(1) “One thing that we notice is that people are starting to pay more attention to the companies that they’re buying. So they start to recognize those companies in their real-life as well.”
(2) “The whole team actually at Ajaib is super excited about the possibility of tech companies here going IPO, right. Because that would basically replicate what we saw in China.”
(3) “It’s not about the availability of content. It’s about how content is being distributed and consumed…And the key is trying to figure out what is the best way to communicate with our users.”
(4) “We have actually never had a brand ambassador since we launched, because we really wanted someone who can represent not only our brand, but we want someone that can represent our users — the millennial investor — someone they can aspire to be and someone that they can really look up to.”
(5) “Before I came here, a lot of people were saying that young Indonesians will never invest now…But obviously our growth kind of proves them wrong.”
02:17 How Yada co-founded Ajaib and took on product and marketing leadership;
04:02 Lessons from launching Indonesia’s first digital stock brokerage to becoming the fourth largest in terms of trades in 6 months;
07:30 Linking company culture and product development at Ajaib
09:42 Trends in investor behavior in Indonesia’s public markets;
10:51 Product-first marketing at Ajaib;
12:29 Misconceptions about retail investment in Indonesia;
14:24 Thought process behind signing on Korean actor Kim Seon Ho as Ajaib’s first ambassador;
15:50 Misconceptions about Indonesia’s stock markets and tech ecosystem;
18:29 Ajaib in 2021 from the product perspective;
19:13 Rapid Fire Round: Yada’s top 3 CPO skills, learnings from YC, leader she looks up to, etc.
Paulo: Welcome to show Yada! Any New Year’s resolutions for 2021?
Yada: Happy New Year Paulo. I think it will be for me to go hiking or at least be in nature once a month to take time off of work.
Paulo: It must’ve been quite a busy year and I guess mostly at home, right. And I guess you can go out a bit now in Indonesia, right?
Yada: Well, if you’re going into nature, it’s okay. So it’s not crowded, so that’s better.
Paulo: As long as it’s not crowded, that’s good. Also congratulations on Ajaib’s Series A led by Li Ka Shing’s VC firm Horizon Ventures, which we are also very happy to participate in! So of course any conversation with a founder would be remiss without talking a bit about how they came to be founders. And I think in the podcast that we had with Anderson, he talked about how he met Yinglan. And in your case, before founding Ajaib, Yada had her career in brand management at Unilever, consulting at McKinsey, and it was during her time taking up her MBA at Stanford that she met her soon to be co-founder Anderson.
How did you and Anderson come to found Ajaib? How did you come to settle on the role you currently have today, leading product and marketing as well?
Yada: Yeah, so Anderson and I met at Stanford during our MBA program and we connected really quickly because we’re both from Southeast Asia. We have both worked in consulting in the region, in financial services. I worked on financial inclusion a lot with governments. He worked in fintech a lot with corporates. So we have a lot of shared experiences and passion and we connected really quickly.
On the roles for myself as product and marketing, I think it also came very natural to me because I love connecting with people. And so I’m really motivated by product and marketing roles because product is all about understanding your users and marketing is about, you know, communicating and talking to them. So both kind of requires you to speak to people a lot and have a lot of empathy towards them.
“I’m really motivated by product and marketing roles because product is all about understanding your users and marketing is about, you know, communicating and talking to them.”
Another thing that fascinates me about product and marketing is that I like to have original thinking and I don’t like rules and both product and marketing are areas where you can be innovative that are already fast-moving, and so there are no rules on how things are supposed to be done there.
Paulo: Yeah, I really liked what you said about the role because it has no rules, so there’s always room for new things to be done and innovation. And it has been that right role for you since you’ve been able to grow Ajaib from the ground up in those roles, first joining YC’s Summer 2018 cohort, and then more recently the two of you got listed in Forbes’ 30 under 30.
But of course, these accolades are the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you’ve been able to achieve. And I think, more importantly, Ajaib has been able to onboard a lot of first time Indonesian investors digitally. And this year you’ve hit another milestone in that regard, right.
So when we had Anderson on the show, Ajaib had just launched its first digital brokerage after, you know, acquiring Primasia Sekuritas. And as we speak, Ajaib has reached the top 10, as I mentioned earlier, list of brokerages in the country in terms of trades.
So what was the journey like to gain this traction? I think our audience would be very interested to know what was it like from a product perspective? And the second question would be, did you learn anything new, specifically with launching this product?
Yada: Yeah. I mean, now it sounds like ages ago, since we made the acquisition, I think it has been quite a journey. They say time passes by quickly when you’re happy right. So I hope that that’s the case for us. Just today we closed the day with being number four and it’s not so much as being number four, but it’s the fact that the three people above us are Mirae, Mandiri and Indo Premier.
So these are the giants, right? The very, very big guys. So we’re kind of together with the real big guys now and the journey for us and for myself and everybody at Ajaib, I mean, has been a very rocketship ride. And this is all driven by product, at Ajaib we are very product-focused company because we’re educating first-time investors.
So getting the product right is really important. And when we started my team and I were looking through other applications, mobile apps and websites in the market, right. And we’re always quite frustrated by how they look and things are difficult to understand compared to apps that you would find in the US, in China or in India.
They have all the right information; it’s just shown in a way that’s quite difficult for first-timers right, more so to experienced investors. So that’s why we invest a lot in our product from the beginning. We talked to a lot of users. We experimented with a lot of ideas and we’re reinventing the experience from scratch, from what we think millennials would appreciate, and for you to do something like that, you need to have a very stellar product team because they need to understand what building product from scratch means.
And I talked to a lot of product people in Indonesia. And I think that a lot of companies here misunderstand the product role, right? So if you look around, there are product managers, product owner, product analyst, product marketing manager, business, product manager, technical, right? That’s just, not how product roles work in Silicon Valley actually.
And because I have seen what it’s like I want to bring that mindset into Indonesia and built a product team that is similar to the ones we see in the Valley. And what that means is that product managers have the mindset of being mini-CEOs. So they would make all the decisions starting from strategy to execution, creativity, design, technicality, everything.
So they are the one calling all the shots. And, I think you need a team like that to iterate on a good product because you need speed and a lot of ownership when you’re innovating new things.
Paulo: Right. Yeah. That’s quite interesting that you mentioned that difference between the roles, how people in Indonesia view product roles and how things work in Silicon Valley.
How was it like to introduce this mindset to your team early on that you guys are all — think of yourselves as mini-CEOs, what was that experience like? What were the challenges and how did you overcome those?
Yada: Yeah. I think, one thing that we did is in our hiring, we look for people who come in with that passion, right? With that passion, with that hunger. So for them, getting more responsibility, being a mini-CEO is great for them. So they’re already naturally fit into those roles. And I think in our product team right now, majority of people have no prior product experience.
Yeah, so I believe that the product role right in itself is a really fast-moving role, even in Silicon Valley as well. Companies are still experimenting on it. So for us, what we found works well is we bring in people who have such a high ownership mindset.
And then we say, okay, this is your baby now. You do whatever you want with it. You are responsible for the whole thing and here are our goals, right? And then we align on direction and then they go.
“Because I have seen what it’s like I want to bring that mindset into Indonesia and built a product team that is similar to the ones we see in the Valley. And what that means is that product managers have the mindset of being mini-CEOs. So they would make all the decisions starting from strategy to execution, creativity, design, technicality, everything.”
Paulo: Yeah. So I guess the key is really hiring people who are fit for those roles from the get-go. And I think that leads me straight into my next question, which is about, company culture and something that we’ve discussed in previous podcast episodes how it pervades marketing, product development and strategy.
And so from your perspective as CPO, how did Ajaib’s company culture influence the way it has led the digital wealth management wave in Indonesia?
Yada: Yeah, culture is everything for us. And it really helped us being able to build the product that we have today. So, one thing, as I mentioned earlier, that is important to us is this extreme ownership. We call it as being bold. So what it means is that you take a lot of ownership in what you do. You think like an owner, a founder, a mini-CEO, right?
So you think about everything. So as a result, when you have people doing that, you have a lot of ideas. So for me, seeing new features on the app that I’ve never even heard of is very common. So I would download our new update and I’ll be like, “Oh, I didn’t even know he started working on this, right, since when,” and sometimes our engineers, because they’re also users they would sometimes even build a feature that they themselves want to use.
And then they would finish it. Make it into an app and then come to the product team and ask, “Hey, I have this, do you want to release it or not? So these are like outside of sprint, right? Never discussed with before. And some of those things we ended up releasing. One example is our velocity price alert. So there’s a feature where if stock prices move quickly within 10 minutes, we’ll send immediately a push and we’ll tell them which brokers drive this.
So it’s really useful for people who are doing momentum buying, right? So they know which brokers are driving that, and that is purely a feature that one of our engineers really wanted. So that one we ended up releasing; some of them we didn’t. But sometimes the engineers would still want to use it, so they hide it within the app. So actually if you play around and you press this press that, you might find some of these like Easter eggs feature as we call it.
one thing, as I mentioned earlier, that is important to us is this extreme ownership. We call it as being bold. So what it means is that you take a lot of ownership in what you do. You think like an owner, a founder, a mini-CEO, right?
“One thing that is important to us is this extreme ownership. We call it as being bold. So what it means is that you take a lot of ownership in what you do…So as a result, when you have people doing that, you have a lot of ideas.”
Paulo: Right, right. Yeah. I guess that’s another reason to check the app out, right. Especially for the engineers out there, you know, try to find these Easter eggs. Yeah. So I think it’s just wanted to emphasize again what you mentioned about this extreme level of ownership, right? You mentioned being as you call it, “being bold”. And I think it’s pretty interesting. Maybe in the near future, you’ll have a lot of these people who, because they’ve embraced this level of ownership so readily that you might even have, ex-Ajaib founders in the future.
Yada: That would be an amazing experience for me to watch.
Paulo: Right, right. Yeah and you’ve mentioned before and an article that we’ve published on our blog on Insignia Business Review on product leaders, that Ajaib makes it a point, and you’ve also mentioned this in your previous answer, to regularly converse with customers and get their feedback. And we’re seeing now people are investing more in the public markets.
So what are the interesting trends that you’ve noticed from your users of your stock trading app over the past six months?
Yada: Yeah. I think one thing that we notice is that people are starting to pay more attention to the companies that they’re buying. So they start to understand what companies do, what are their brands, what are their services, right? So they start to recognize those companies in their real life as well. So they would go around and say, “Oh, this farmer company, I have this in my portfolio and all that,” which I think is great.
It’s great news, because then people actually understand the fundamentals behind the company. So the whole team actually at Ajaib is super excited about the possibility of tech companies here going IPO, right. Because that would basically replicate what we saw in China. China’s stock trading boomed a lot after Alibaba and Tencent kind of went public and that’s when millennials actually can relate, right? Like they use all these apps everyday and for them to be able to own part of that company, I think it’s going to be a huge driver for, even further the existing adoption of retail investment.
“So the whole team actually at Ajaib is super excited about the possibility of tech companies here going IPO, right. Because that would basically replicate what we saw in China.”
Paulo: Yeah. So definitely an exciting development to watch. And I guess all the Ajaib users will be looking forward to maybe buying some stock from these tech companies once they IPO.
Yeah, so aside from product, which we’ve talked about, you also lead up Ajaib’s marketing efforts. So I just wanted to know, since you handle both of these hats at the same time, how do product and marketing work hand-in-hand. Could you share a concrete example of how these work together?
Yada: Yeah. So, they worked together really closely, but here we believe that if the product is right, the product kind of markets itself, right? So we have a discipline at Ajaib where we don’t spend our marketing until we get to the exact product-market fit. And I think this is something important to watch out because if you have marketing money, you can actually fake growth and you can fake product-market fit, which is kind of not something that you would like to do, right? You would really like to understand where that point is. And because of that, that was a huge period last year for several months that we literally spent nothing on marketing because we were experimenting and all our effort goes into experimenting with products.
So now that we have product-market fit, marketing for us is now all about organic education and promoting product features. So they work really closely together. When product wants to launch something, marketing people try it first. They really understand what the feature is all about because we believe that we combine the understanding of millennials right into the product and marketing. So, because we built a certain feature, we want it to be used a certain way so it benefits them the best and marketing people help around that area. And so if you look at our Instagram, it’s all about education, right? It’s all about how to trade, how do you use the app to trade better, and that’s mostly where we spend most of our time on.
“Now that we have product-market fit, marketing for us is now all about organic education and promoting product features. So they work really closely together. When product wants to launch something, marketing people try it first.”
Paulo: It’s really interesting that you mentioned that marketing is really education. I think it’s a very straightforward way of thinking about things and it ensures that if it’s not clear to the marketing how the product works, or if the product itself isn’t really ready yet, it’s going to be hard to educate it in the first place which makes the marketing sort of very product-first in a way.
Yeah, so I guess one of the things that I also wanted to ask since, you know, given this whole focus on education is what are some interesting things that you’ve had to educate users on about stock trading or investing? Are there any common misconceptions that they have about it?
Yada: Yeah, I think not so much as the exact content, but we noticed that there’s a big misconception in the current market that investment education is not done well in Indonesia because there’s a lack of content. From my side, that’s not true. There’s a lot of content, you know big brokers, big financial institutions, they publish news, analysis, paper every day.
So there’s a lot of content out there, but still many millennials don’t know how to invest. And so it’s not about the availability of content. It’s about how content is being distributed and consumed. So, like myself, I don’t prefer to read PDFs anymore of stock analysis, right. And that is similar to our users.
So what they do is they tune into IG live. They watch videos, they join discussion groups. They go on community platforms to engage other people. They follow what other people are doing. So this is all about how content is being distributed, because you can communicate the same content in a much more attractive way. And the key is trying to figure out what is the best way to communicate with our users.
Paulo: Right, so it’s really more of a question of the medium, where do you reach the millennials and these first time investors? And it’s quite interesting to think that, you know, people are getting their stock analysis from IG live.
Yada: Yeah. It’s like Robinhood, with their Reddit threads. You know that’s the same thing, right?
Paulo: Yeah. And cause Reddit threads are, I guess still a bit text-heavy right. But this one is like fully, you know, it’s all video.
Yada: Yeah. I mean people will find ways that they are more familiar with, right. Indonesians, I think, people are really social. So in ways that they consume news are social: IG live, where they can share, groups where they can discuss things like that.
“It’s not about the availability of content. It’s about how content is being distributed and consumed…because you can communicate the same content in a much more attractive way. And the key is trying to figure out what is the best way to communicate with our users.”
Paulo: Yeah. I think that’s really interesting to know about, especially how Indonesians use social media.
And another interesting thing about the marketing of Ajaib recently, and if there are any K drama fans among our listeners today, was that recently Ajaib announced signing on the Korean wave actor Kim Seon Ho, from his series Start-Up. And I’m sure our listeners would be interested to know what was the thought process of signing a Korean actor to promote or be an ambassador for an Indonesian investment app.
Yada: Yeah, so Indonesia is actually the biggest market for Korean content outside of Korea. And I think that not a lot of people know about this, but Korean content is very big here. And actually, for us, it’s not whether or not he’s Korean or he’s not. For us, we have always been very picky about having a brand ambassador, right.
So we have actually never had a brand ambassador since we launched, because we really wanted someone who can represent not only our brand, but we want someone that can represent our users, the millennial investor, someone they can aspire to be and someone that they can really look up to, right. It’s not just about getting eyeballs.
It’s about getting the person that people really look up to and wanna copy and become more like them. So Kim Seon Ho in his role as Han Ji-pyeong is one of those. So he’s inspiring. He’s self-made. He started from not a lot. He worked hard, he worked smart. And so we wanted to show to our Ajaib users that if he becomes the investment mentor to them, then those are some of the things that they can achieve as well with their investments.
“So we have actually never had a brand ambassador since we launched, because we really wanted someone who can represent not only our brand, but we want someone that can represent our users, the millennial investor, someone they can aspire to be and someone that they can really look up to, right.”
Paulo: Right, right. And I think it’s also interesting timing, right, given that, you know, the drama appeared in the latter half of last year and then you also launched your stock trading app latter half of last year. So yeah, I think it’s serendipitous in a sense, that this all came together.
And I think one of the interesting things, for you as a co-founder is that you’re actually not Indonesian, right? You come from Thailand but you’ve helped build this product for Indonesians as a foreigner.
So I think one thing I wanted to ask you is what is a misconception that you think that people not from Indonesia would have about the country having worked here and built a company here? What misconceptions would they have about its tech ecosystem or investment space?
Yada: Yeah. I think two things for me, one is about the market. So before I came here, a lot of people were saying that young Indonesians will never invest now. They are very consumptive. They buy everything on e-commerce and there’ll be no market for what we’re doing. And it’s not just foreigners. It’s actually Indonesians telling me that as well. But obviously our growth kind of proves them wrong, right. People here really, really want to invest and they know about it. They understand the benefit of it. It was just that the process before was too difficult for them to get started. And as I mentioned, the educational resources were not available and that’s what we have done so far. So one is around whether young people would invest and I think we have already answered that they would.
Second one is around their tech ecosystem. So I have also heard, and I think it goes around in the market that it’s hard to find engineering talent in Indonesia, product and engineering talent. I think that so far in my experience, there are amazing engineering and product talent here. There are a lot of hidden gems, actually. The only thing that you need to do is you need to find them at the right place and then give them something impactful that they want to work on. Indonesians are very, very driven by impact and what they’re able to create. And so as long as you have that for them, we actually experienced many, many amazing engineering and product talent in our team.
“Before I came here, a lot of people were saying that young Indonesians will never invest now…But obviously our growth kind of proves them wrong, right.”
Paulo: Yeah, actually I wanted to dig a bit deeper into that. Since you mentioned that one, it’s a misconception. And two, a lot of people, especially founders, would find it a challenge to overcome. What is your approach to finding these hidden gems?
Yada: Yeah, I think, first of all, to us, it’s not about their resume as much as what they’re looking to do and their actual skill sets, right. So we don’t go after, you know, only the top university, top companies. And I think secondly is, we observed that people who are attracted to us and what we’re doing in our product are people who are investors, stock traders, people who have been frustrated by the solution that they were using. And they were like, if I could really build this, I would have done it in a way that I really love. And I think that’s why you also get the ownership, because they are like, I’m a user and I’m going to build something for myself. And they also represent a huge group of millennial investors, right. And so that’s how we’ve been able to get them.
“I think it goes around in the market that it’s hard to find engineering talent in Indonesia, product and engineering talent. I think that so far in my experience, there are amazing engineering and product talent here. There are a lot of hidden gems, actually. The only thing that you need to do is you need to find them at the right place and then give them something impactful that they want to work on.”
Paulo: Right. I think that, well, first thing is it ties back to what you said earlier about ownership. So it goes full circle and then second thing, it’s quite counterintuitive that you don’t really look at the resume or skim through the top first, but really focus more on whether or not they experienced the same pain points and want to do something about it.
Yeah, so for our listeners out there, you know, Ajaib is hiring massively across a lot of various positions. So if you guys are frustrated with your stock trading experience or investment experience and want to be an active change maker in that regard, definitely reach out to Yada, right.
Yeah, the question now for a lot of companies, especially those that have benefited a lot from digitalization in 2020 is what happens now in 2021, especially for those that got a lot of users, how will you retain them and what are the new exciting things that are coming up. So I guess without revealing too much, what excites you about Ajaib in 2021 from a product perspective?
“We’re only just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of acquiring users and convincing the new generation to invest, right.”
Paulo: So still a lot more work to do in that regard and a lot more people to reach and I think a lot of the things that you’ve achieved so far will definitely help. So to close things off we always ask our guests to join us in this, “fun corner” where we get some of their wisdom and ask them about some of their favorite things in this rapid fire question round.
What are the 3 most important skills that a CPO should have?
Be a truth seeker, think with first principle mindset and love to build things
What is one key takeaway from your time at YC?
Launch fast & iterate. You hear it every day.
What is one thing you learned in your experience so far being in a leadership role in Ajaib that you wish you had known earlier?
I’ve learned that having a great team is everything and you cannot achieve [anything] without having a great team. And so focusing on people and culture.
Who is a leader that you look up to in your career?
Meg Whitman. I had lunch with her when I was at Stanford and I think she’s the most grounded, innovative and bold woman I’ve ever met.
If you had the chance to travel anywhere in Southeast Asia today, where would you go?
The Philippines. I have never been
What are your go-to activities to de-stress?
Anything you’d like to plug or announce?
Yeah, I mean, we’re hiring across anything, everything. You can check out our website and I would love to hear your feedback on our products. So if you have any ideas, feedback, suggestions, anything nice, mean just email me at email@example.com, I’d love to read them.
And I think before we close off, I’d like to really thank you Insignia. I mean, they have been, as Anderson has told the story many times before, Yinglan and the team have been our supporter and believer since day zero, I wouldn’t say even day one, since day zero. And so thank you guys so much for continuing to support and believe in us.
Paulo: And for anybody who is interested in them, our listeners can download the Ajaib app on App Store, Google Play, check it out, send Yada some feedback as she mentioned. Thanks Yada for coming on to On Call with Insignia and to our listeners stay tuned next week for a season recap of the best advice from the founders who have come on our show, Yada included.
About our guest
Yada is currently the Chief Product Officer at Ajaib (YC S’18), where she also leads up the company’s marketing efforts. Prior to co-founding Ajaib during her Stanford MBA, she has worked on financial inclusion with various governments in Southeast Asia, did brand management at Unilever, and consulting at McKinsey. She was recently included in the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 list alongside her co-founder Anderson Sumarli. She’s hiring for various roles at Ajaib and also accepts product feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.