It’s difficult to translate the Indonesian word sungkan directly into English. A literal reading would be something like “hesitant,” or “shy.”
In the archipelago, the word is often used to describe an aspect of traditional east Asian workplace culture, where managers tend to prefer indirect communication with their team members in the hope of avoiding confrontation or creating feelings of disrespect.
A knock-on effect of this is that employees who perform poorly are less likely to be reproached openly – while employees who do exceptionally well miss out on praise, or appropriate rewards.
See: The struggles in managing human resources in Indonesia
Indonesian returnees Domenico Tukiman and Rhapsody Budiono realized that their home country might benefit from some of the more progressive thinking about HR management they had encountered while working in the US.
Because it is becoming… more expensive to hire new employees, people are really starting to consider: ‘Am I maximizing the resources I have?’
The duo conceived of an HR software platform that could help Indonesian companies track team performance and align business objectives goals with employees’ own goals, increasing the prospects of happier and more productive workplaces.
Named Synergo, the software suite Tukiman and Budiono have built also provides a structure for the appraisals process – something which is often seen as too time-consuming – and enables employers to run analyses on team performance data. It turns the old sungkan way of doing things on its head by giving businesses raw data and tailored tools to evaluate how their workforce is performing – and at a cost that is within reach for typical Indonesian startups and smaller businesses.
The boys are back in town
Tukiman and Budiono – who met and became friends while playing basketball in their down-time – have work experience spanning both Indonesia and the US. Among other roles, Tukiman has served as an investment analyst and financial consultant, and Budiono a software engineer and systems analyst.
Budiono also worked for a time at Cornerstone OnDemand, one of the world’s biggest employee management software producers – giving him invaluable market insight. They experienced the differences in workplace culture, and management of human capital, between the two countries first-hand.
Our biggest reason to leave the US was that we really think we can be a big game-changer for Indonesia.
A big part of the business idea “is how much salaries have started to rise in Indonesia,” Tukiman – who now serves as Synergo’s CEO – tells Tech in Asia. “Because it is becoming so much more expensive to hire new employees, people are really starting to consider: ‘Am I maximizing the resources I have right now? Do I really need new people, or can I get more production out the people I already have?’”
Compensation analysis is another one of several tools built into the software. Synergo’s feature can automatically suggest how much to raise an employee’s salary based on their performance review. It can cross-reference this with data that the Synergo team has collected from different companies across various industries using third-party sources such as Gartner and IbisWorld.
Synergo caught the eye of East Ventures while Tukiman and Budiono were still in the US. The VC firm’s US$200,000 seed investment in the startup was announced last week, but had been in the works long before the co-founders landed back in Indonesia just three weeks ago. “Our biggest reason to leave the US was that we really think we can be a big game-changer for Indonesia,” says CTO Budiono.
See: Indonesian HR software startup gets seed funding to take on SAP and WorkDay
Convincing traditional companies to change
The startup has several clients on board; they’re all in Indonesia, except for one that’s based in the US. Tukiman says that companies using the software come from a wide range of industries, including manufacturers, chemical distributors, and tech startups.
“We try to keep our system as flexible as possible to accommodate companies from all industries,” says Tukiman. “But we built it with the traditional company set-up in mind because we feel they are the ones that need the most convincing and most help in terms of changing their employee management systems. And because we designed it for the hardest segment, other businesses will be easier to onboard.”
We built it with the traditional company set-up in mind because we feel they are the ones that need the most convincing.
Synergo’s much larger and longer established competitors – such as WorkDay, SAP SuccessFactors, WorkDay, and the aforementioned Cornerstone OnDemand – are a little on the pricy side for the typical Indonesian small- and medium-sized business. They tend to charge costly installation fees and can require long onboarding processes.
Synergo instead offers a subscription-based model with several different options available, ranging from low-cost basic packages to more expensive enterprise deals including things like enhanced server storage space, on-site training, and greater customization. Tukiman says that Synergo’s solution aims to combine the best features from competitors while meeting the specific requirements of Asian companies, and the subscription model allows smaller businesses to “pay as they grow.”
In terms of size, Synergo’s clients range from a small business of about 30 employees to a medium-sized company of around 150. The startup claims to be in talks with prospective clients that have over 500 personnel. It is setting its sights on expansion throughout Southeast Asia – where Gartner expects annual enterprise IT spending to reach US$62 billion next year – and to other regions, such as the Middle East.
Tukiman says that much of the seed money from East Ventures will be used to fund free trials that Synergo will hand out in an effort to build recognition in the marketplace. “Also, because we provide onboarding and consulting services, we need to hire qualified people from all over the world,” he adds. “That is especially true as we try to onboard bigger clients – and a lot of clients at the same time.”
Tukiman and Budiono say that Synergo is targeting a follow-on funding round at some point before the end of next year in order to get these hiring plans in motion. The Jakarta-based friends also want to open offices in Indonesia’s other cities to better serve regional clients.
Another piece in the puzzle is the expansion of Synergo’s educational features. Challenging sungkan culture is as much about helping employees to help themselves, as it is about giving management the tools to better manage their human capital. Part of this is giving employers and employees the opportunity to learn and gain new skills so that they can do their jobs better and improve their career satisfaction. Synergo is now working with local universities as well as other startups in the East Ventures portfolio to acquire relevant content.
See: Firing: How to do it right
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