The CEO and founder of Bubu.com, Shinta Witoyo Dhanuwardoyo, had her early encounter with the internet in Oregon, USA, and it left her gushing over its revolutionary potential.
The mother of two recalls how her unwavering faith and resilience in the cutting-edge field led to the establishment of Bubu.com in 1996. A prominent digital entrepreneur, venture-builder, and angel investor, Shinta has also graced Forbes Indonesia’s “Inspiring Women Honour Roll” and Globe Asia’s “ 99 Most Powerful Women” lists.
Hello, Ibu Shinta! Could you please tell us a bit about your early life and background?
Hello! I found joy in creating works of art from a very young age. I was this artsy-crafty person and my penchant for drawing eventually led me to pursue architecture at the University of Oregon, USA. The business world, however, has always intrigued me. I started going through the depths of business management through reading. My curiosity soon paved the way for the MBA degree I later completed at Portland State University.
How was your first encounter with the internet?
When I was pursuing my MBA, the university would offer around 70 percent tuition fee deduction for those working in their computer lab. I was lured by the prospect, so I applied for the job. This was when I had my first introduction to the internet. I was besotted and fascinated by its power. Its innate ability to facilitate communication between people from different countries was surreal. I subsequently learned how to create a website by myself. There were no search engines back then, but I knew the internet was a force to be reckoned with, even back in 1994. I also envisioned it to be a powerful marketing tool.
What eventually led you to establish Bubu.com?
I flew back to Indonesia and landed a job at a management consulting firm for two years. However, I’ve always had this unrelenting drive to start my own company from a young age. In 1996, we finally launched Bubu.com as a web development company. As the internet was in its very formative stages back then, we had to brief our prospective clients with the appropriate information – mostly about having a website and the ways it could fulfil their needs.
Of course, I was a novice in the area. There were no blueprints or role models for me to look up to and human capital was yet another issue. Hiring the right people was quite challenging; there were no schools and courses for web development. Despite all the hurdles, I had always been a strong proponent of the internet and its future. Some of our earliest clients were the Bank of Indonesia and the management consulting firm I had previously worked for.
Could you please tell us more about some of the clients and notable experiences?
In 2006, Bubu.com evolved into a digital agency. Our task shifted from web development towards handling strategies in digital spaces. We’ve had a vast array of clients from different fields throughout the years. Manchester United has been a long-term, treasured client for the last eight years. Back in 2006, we initiated campaigns for Axe deodorant. One of the campaigns saw angels falling off the roof of Cilandak Town Square, via augmented reality. They were a breath of fresh air for us. Axe and Bubu collaborated for four long years. Clients with few boundaries are the most fun to work with.
What are your other ventures aside from Bubu.com? What are the challenges?
In the past, there was this entertainment portal called nasigoreng.com, and a news portal website, koridor.com. I had also arranged for email ids for students and educators at various institutions. Some of them were from the University of Indonesia and Trisakti University. In the USA, the internet started taking off in the early 2000s. It was pretty challenging here because it took some more time for the internet to become popular in Indonesia. The penetration rate in Indonesia has largely been attributed to the high number of smartphone and social media users, especially in the mid-2010s. It’s estimated that 90 percent of internet users in Indonesia access the internet via their mobile phones.
Do you consider emerging digital agencies as competitors? How do you manage to cope, especially during tough times like this pandemic?
To be honest, we were one of the earliest players in the tech industry. Over the years, Bubu.com has managed to spread its wings from a simple web development company to a digital agency, and finally into the world of venture capital, angel investing, gaming, and start-up mentoring.
I don’t consider new digital agencies as competitors. For instance, we have the LabX platform under Bubu. Here, we employ our expertise to redefine the notion of collaboration and strategic planning. With the simple #impactcollabs hashtag, we encourage local brands to achieve their vision and introduce Indonesian products worldwide. We also have the Startup Indonesia platform, e-sports, and gaming, which are pretty much online-driven. Initially, venture capitalists undertook face-to-face meetings with start-ups which we are now able to facilitate online. Those staying at home during quarantine are also more inclined to try out Bubu’s gaming platform. In other words, this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for us.
Do you have any advice for the younger generation aiming for a career in the digital world?
A good understanding of the market is required. Adaptability is also crucial in the digital world, as the rate of change is pretty high. Things always evolve. Being creative is one thing, but this pandemic and unprecedented situation call for higher levels of creativity and innovation. Always see opportunity in every situation, and remember to execute your ideas. Don’t simply let them dwell in your thoughts. Then comes the hard work, perseverance, and resilience. I can confirm that things will favour you even more if this field happens to be your passion.
Technology is often deemed as a man’s world. Being a woman, how has the world treated you?
I fell in love with the field some 20 years ago. Unbeknown to me, it was indeed a man’s world. I was lucky to have never been subjected to any form of discrimination or derogatory remarks. If anything, this whole being female-in-a-male-dominated world has garnered me plenty of respect and appreciation. Women face barriers to shatter what is often deemed as the “glass ceiling”. Of course, being a wife and a parent involves a multitude of responsibilities. There were times I felt guilty for not spending enough time with my family. When my daughters were younger, I was fortunate to have received help from my parents and parents-in-law. My daughters are now 15 and 21. The eldest one is about to graduate from UNSW Sydney.