Ben Soebiakto is a self-made man who turned his life around when he decided to build his own business from scratch. From a creative consultancy, a women’s portal and an infotainment portal to a marketplace for Muslims, Ben is a multi-faceted man with many creative talents. Recently, Indonesia Tatler got the chance to sit down with Ben and enquire about how he started everything.
Looking back at the beginning, what motivated you to start your own business?
I think my background as a graphic designer is the reason why I wanted to dive into business. As a graphic designer, there have been limitations when it comes to managing my own business because I have no background in business, sales, marketing, or finance. So in order to learn more about business, I decided to create my own business.
I believe that by learning about business, my job as a graphic designer will be more sustainable. And the other obvious reason why I started my own business is because I want to accumulate wealth. I was thinking that when I have gathered enough money, I will be free to pursue what I love, such as graphic designing or becoming involved in movies. Of course, the motivation changed along the way, as I started to realise that money is not everything.
What is the motivation behind your first company, Octovate group?
What motivated me to start Octovate group is because I want to help other creative talents like me. As a graphic designer, if I want to start a business, it would be hard because I don’t have any business skills at all. Through Octovate group, I want to incubate creative talents to grow in business and management skills. Because most start-up founders that I met know really well how to optimise Google, social media, website creation, and cool digital campaigns, but they may not have the skills to build and manage a company. So our role in Octovate is to help them in funding, investment, legal structure, and everything else.
So you’re helping them to build a more sustainable business?
Yes. We approach creative people and ask them to become our partners, to run their own business, to have their own stake in our companies, and do whatever they think is wise, and we are supporting them to grow the business. That’s how we met Kevin Mintaraga of Bridestory in 2007 and also Yoris Sebastian back then to build OMG Creative Consultant. At the same time, I am also learning from them. I would not know much about the digital world if I had not met Kevin Mintaraga. I would not be great in creative marketing consultancy work if I hadn’t met Yoris Sebastian.
What is the motivation behind Fimela?
I see potential for a female digital market, so I know exactly why they’re not investing in detik.com, and why they’re investing in Cosmopolitan. And then I approached Dian Muljadi, because she knows about the building of women’s media like Harper’s Bazaar. The other reasons behind the creation of Fimela are my personal financial reasons.
What about the motivation behind Muslimarket?
Back in 2016, many consolidations happened in businesses and e-commerce platforms, such as Tokopedia, Lazada, Blibli, and JD.com coming up. That is why in 2017 we made a fast move to create Muslimarket. Even though it started out as an online platform, we decided to build both an online and an offline presence for Muslimarket. We created a brand called Suqma that provides affordable hijab fashion. After establishing an online platform for Suqma, we opened some offline stores in Tunjungan Plaza [Surabaya], Kota Kasablanka, and FX.
How do you see the development of digital media today?
I guess everyone is shifting there, starting from their business, lifestyles, and basic communication needs. If you’re asking me about the prospects of digital media, it is leading the way now. Even the old traditional banks are facing new challenges from the new disruptive systems of fintech. Go-Jek has suddenly become one of the biggest potentials for the bank industry in Indonesia for its Go-Pay technology. Go-Pay is now the number-one platform for payment in Indonesia. The number of Go-Pay users has even surpassed has the number of credit-card users in Indonesia.
What about the business development of digital media?
I think the form of business models is changing rapidly in digital media, too. At the beginning when we started KapanLagi.com and Fimela.com, we were just counting the amount of traffic that would bring more and more revenue to the banners. However, four years ago, the business model shifted towards content marketing. Everyone also got into video marketing, such as making YouTube content.
Two years ago, there was also the rise of celebgrams [celebrity Instagram pics] that showed the collaborative community in the media. That is why my new companies, Benson Capital and KapanLagi, heavily invest in content creator networks such as Avenu and Famous. More and more influencers are getting more influential than traditional media. So that’s why we work with these content creators. The way we work with them is that we control their revenue, build content platforms for them, and connect their campaigns with the influencers through our platform on KapanLagi.
When you were starting out, what was the toughest challenge you have to overcome?
During the financial crisis, Octovate faced problems when some of the government projects left my agency because they cut a lot of marketing budget and we suffered because of that. When I was building Octovate, I might have been overinvesting because it was growing so much, and it caused me to invest in more industries, as well as hiring people and generally putting out lots of money.
Then the crisis happened, and clients started leaving, and I got into a lot of debt. Not only that: I decided to invest in movies, but I lost money on my investment—so I lost Rp5 billion. We lost clients and we had to cut many people from my company, so in 2009 it felt like the worst day of my business life. And then I thought that things would get better again. In 2010, the economy started to rise, but another crisis came in in the form of a legal crisis.
Can you explain more on that?
I was sued by one of the big conglomerate companies for one of the projects. We got a project with the government, but the government didn’t pay us, so the other media company was suing us. That was my first experience dealing with legal problems in my nine years as a businessman. I thought, how come this happens? It’s like I’m thrown another crisis on top of the one I already have.
So I got sued for a total of Rp12 billion. I called my lawyer and I asked him how long this was going to take, and he said two years. So in my mind, I had to prepare Rp12 billion in 2012 if I lost the case. I told my lawyer: “I will try my best to pay you, but please don’t call me during these two years because I need to accumulate money.” If I lost the case, I could have gone to jail. Those two years were really difficult for me. So I created Fimela with the intention of paying off my debt. But after two years, my lawyer called me, and he said: “Congratulations, you won the case!” So I could still keep Fimela too.
However, those three years were really tough for me. There was always something in the back of my mind that reminded me of my debt. However, those experience helped me to become a better businessman. It is important to face the person loaning you money on a regular basis, to show them that you’re doing your best to pay the debt. If you take a loan and run away, that is really bad for your credibility and people won’t trust you anymore.
So is it safe to say that you become a better businessman after this experience?
Yes. I learned to restructure my debt better and winning back my business also boosted my confidence. I also learned more about legal protection and also about financial cash flow. From there, I kept on investing in many companies so that even if two or three companies are facing trouble, the rest of the companies I have invested in will cover that. That is how I started in 2012, being an investor. As an investor, we always bet on other people’s business.
Ben Soebiakto is currently active in his newest endeavour Benson Capital where he got over 20 companies under his management. Stay tuned for the next part of our interview with Ben Soebiakto!
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