#Asia Meditation, management, meetings: Running a fintech startup in Indonesia

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Aria Widyanto, vice president at Amartha. Photo credit: Amartha.

It’s 5:20 in the morning, a time when many adults are tucked snug in their beds with visions of durians dancing in their heads. But Aria Widyanto isn’t one of those adults. He’s vice president of fintech startup Amartha in Jakarta, so that means it’s time for him to wake up. He’s only had five hours’ sleep, but startup duty calls.

Indonesia is home to a creative population that skews young, but it can be a struggle to finance any kind of venture past basic necessities. Amartha offers loans to small businesses, like grocery stalls or tofu stands. Using an alternative to traditional scoring-type methods for measuring the likelihood that a business pays back, the loans range from US$100 to US$2,000. It only serves female borrowers, with a client base of around 50,000. Often, Amartha’s clientele are located outside of Indonesia’s cities, in smaller towns.

Amartha only serves female borrowers, with a client base of around 50,000.

Amartha keeps its employment numbers in line with their customer base: 90 percent of the startup’s staff are women.

“I have to be comfortable being a minority,” Widyanto quips.

Founded in 2010, the startup also specializes in peer-to-peer lending, alternative investments, and big data credit scoring. It has 320 employees, 70 of which work at the head office in Jakarta.

Amartha’s “warmed up” office. Photo credit: Amartha.

So, what does it take to be one of the brains behind running a fintech startup in Indonesia? Widyanto’s day-to-day tasks aren’t that different from other managers. There are just more of them.

All in a day’s work

Widyanto was a corporate banker but now oversees product, risks, social impact, and partnership strategy at Amartha. Upon waking up, the first thing on his mind is dealing with urgent matters that came up in the night, so he begins by checking his WhatsApp messages. Then it’s time to steel himself for the day. “I meditate every morning for 20 minutes between 5:30 and 6 am and at night between 9 and 10 pm,” he mentions.

After meditation, it’s time for breakfast – specifically, granola and a banana paired with either milk or yogurt – the perfect fuel needed before facing Jakarta’s legendary traffic with the help of another familiar startup.

“I go straight to office or [to a] meeting place outside the office, depending on my schedule,” he tells Tech in Asia. “I take a Go-Jek.”

By now, it’s 8:15 – still bright and early, but that allows Widyanto time to ease into the day. “Since it is very likely that I am the first person to arrive in the office, I usually prepare my coffee while browsing through some news portal,” he explains. Being readily available in the office also means that he’s present for casual chats with other employees. “Real business won’t take place until the office warms up at around 9:30 am.”

He shares his own desk with different people every day.

A “warmed up” office at Amartha means “chaotic in a good way,” Widyanto explains. In typical startup style, they keep things busy but casual – and they hit their deliverables on time.

“We went to horror movie night in the middle of the week. There are no cubicles. Everyone sits in shared desks with first-come-first-served basis, just like a coworking space,” he says, noting that he shares his own desk with different people every day.

Lunch is an informal affair, spurred on by someone in the office shouting out what they want to eat as an open invitation for others to join. However, Widyanto often orders in for dinner. And what’s a startup without a stocked pantry? The office is full of snacks and bread to munch on.

Things wrap up around 7pm – in the office, anyway. Widyanto meets friends for dinner or drinks afterwards. “I schedule meetups with friends both during weekdays – during or after office hours – and on weekends”.

Winding down from the day involves meditation and some leisure activities of choice. “Before bed, I usually read books or research something of interest,” Widyanto mentions. “And I write a travel blog too.”

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Photo credit: Amartha.

Work and play

Of course, no day is a typical day at a startup, but Widyanto mentions a consistent theme: meetings. A lot of meetings. In fact, he estimates that 60 percent of his workday is spent in meetings or talking to people, while the other 40 percent takes place behind a screen.

There’s plenty of talk required – Widyanto presents new ideas to stakeholders; helps oversee product management meetings; and briefs teams on the risks involved in strategic initiatives, projects, and marketing materials. When he’s not doing that, he’s meeting with clients for strategic partnerships, or regulators.

Throughout the day, the office communicates over a Slack group that contains a fair amount of “silly jokes and pictures” in addition to business chat.

However, all of this works for Widyanto – meeting with a lot of people is his favorite thing about his work, along with collaborating with colleagues and visiting villages to get feedback from people who have used Amartha’s products.

Little corners to work or nap in. Photo credit: Amartha.

A sale at Amartha is marked by the ringing of a bell as well as ordering pizzas to celebrate. If an employee needs a break, some common ways are watching TV, playing mini golf, grabbing ice cream, and – of course – in-office naps.

It’s a colorful, busy kind of environment, though one that’s hard to communicate to his parents; they do not understand what he does, he stresses. “Until they read some news or watch TV with your face on it, they never ask. And when they ask, all I can say is that I am working for an internet company and I can pay my own bills. No need to worry. End of discussion.”

The secret to partnerships

Amartha’s line of work also puts it in the unique position of being able to help investment firms like Mandiri Capital, which couldn’t offer loans to “ultra-micro” ventures without the startup’s help. Part of the wider Mandiri Group, Mandiri Capital connects Amartha with opportunities in collaboration, like channeling, building new products and services, and network optimization. Mandiri Capital partnered with Amartha as a series A equity investor this year.

Go to meetings.

If you’re looking to get a foot in the door in the Indonesian startup ecosystem, Widyanto’s advice is simple: go to meetings. “Indonesian startups are basically open to collaboration. Since most of the people in the ecosystems usually know each other as friends or friends of friends, it is always great to network and learn from each other,” Widyanto says. At best, you’ll gain a business idea or partnership for the price of your coffee. At worst, you’ll get new ideas or inspiration to keep moving forward.

Converted from Indonesian rupiah. Rate: US$1 = IDR 13504.


FINSPIRE 2017 is the yearly event held by Mandiri Capital Indonesia (MCI), a subsidiary of Bank Mandiri, to accelerate fintech development in Indonesia. It brings together financial technology organizations, startup communities, and fintech enthusiasts to discuss the future of financial technology in Indonesia.

MCI aspires to help grow the Indonesian fintech startup ecosystem and accelerate the creation of products and services that will support the banking and financial industry.

To find out more about FINSPIRE and MCI, visit their main website:

This post Meditation, management, meetings: Running a fintech startup in Indonesia appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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