Chasing Unicorn

One think I can think of, startup founders are masochist.

It has been almost a year (10 months to be precise) since I’m involved in the startup scene in Indonesia, no, not as a co-founder (yet) but just a mere employee. I find this startup world is quite fascinating, it moves fast, agile and very challenging at both ends: business and technical. Also, it forms some sort of community that at some point it is competitive yet very constructive at the same time. There has been regular startup talks organised by startups or VCs to share insights, practices and knowledge to others. Tech a break from Tokopedia is one of the example.

In recent years, startup scene in Indonesia is getting hotter. A lot of new startups founded, and bunch of them got founded by investors, Happyfresh for example. A well summary of Indonesia’s startup scene as off 2015 can be found here. With more than 250 millions of population, which around half of them around productive age (below 40) with the raise of the consumptive middle class (kelas menengah ngehe), it is given that Indonesia is a tasty and juicy yet delicate piece of meat.

Despite the potential market, Indonesia’s startup scene is clearly behind the startup’s mecca, Silicon Valley. Indonesian startup still yet to found unicorns. The closest one maybe Go-Jek with IDR 5,6 Trillion (around USD 400 million) of valuation. Another success story is Tokopedia, which raised a record-breaking funding around USD 100 million. Well, maybe those successes that inspire others to just quit their day job and build startups.

However, as I dive in inside a couple startup companies, it becomes clearer to me that to reach that level of success it is a lot more than just what we read or hear in news or tv. It is always easier said than done. To reach beyond that point, i.e., unicorn, the effort logically should be at the very least proportionally increasing, at worst it could be exponential. Only those who are committed and fully prepared can achieve that.

Technologically, unicorns are trend centres. They create cool projects/platforms/libraries/tools that are used by million other developers around the world. They don’t have much technical debts (if they have it at all) so they can keep improving their product instead of fixing bugs. Adding, removing and changing features are daily routines. Ever heard how Netflix and Spotify can have tens or even hundreds production deployments in a day? That’s how reliable their development methods are. And to be honest, Indonesian startup still far away from that level. Even Go-Jek struggled with their system earlier this year causing negative sentiments across social medias.

It is true that the road to unicorns is hard and will be even harder along the time as the competition arise from local or global competitor but I believe that won’t stop founders yearn to be one. Maybe it’s more akin to mountain climbing, the higher the mountain, the greater the challenge, the more obsessed the climbers are. One think I can think of, startup founders are masochist.


5 thoughts on “Chasing Unicorn”

  1. Masochist by definition is a person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others (dictionary). Those who seek pain as gratification. I would propose another view about this.
    I think it relates to the founder’s motivation. Developing something is a complex task, thus it is mostly driven by the need of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Chasing unicorn comprises those three aspects, so it is understandable that they are craving for greater challenges for greater purpose. One can’t feel pain when they keep working on their purpose. 😀 .

    As Voltaire once said: “Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need”

    Dan Pink explained it better though –>

    1. Indeed it’s true, motivation is the key. It drives the founders to do what they are doing despite all the efforts. Some founders I’ve talked to said, at some point they thought “why I’m doing this things anyway? I left my job, working all day and night” etc. It’s painful journey but the result pays all efforts and washed all pains. That’s why they do it over and over again even though they fell quite hard. The bottomline is, they feel pains in the journey and they find some degree of gratifications when doing so because they have a greater purpose that drives them to just do it.

      Anyway, why so serious tiek?! 😀

      I think I’ve seen that video once long time ago.

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