Want to scale-up? Pay more attention to corporate culture, values

  • Important to have clear values that communicate the company culture to employees
  • The company’s culture and values begin with a founder and remain through the years


Want to scale-up? Pay more attention to corporate culture, values


IN BUILDING a company from scratch, entrepreneurs will spend most of their time figuring out how to be in revenue, finding the right business model, getting investors on board, or hiring the right people,

However, seasoned entrepreneurs in a panel discussion at Endeavor’s Scale-Up Asia 2017 Conference in Jakarta recently, say that having a strong corporate culture is the key to sustainability.

“Culture is more than just a vision or mission displayed on a board. It is the core and foundation of the company, the one that will always be a reminder in challenging times, the one that we will always go back to when we face difficult circumstances,” Blue Bird Group president director Noni Purnomo says.

Established in 1965 by her grandmother, Mutiara Fatimah Djokosentono, Blue Bird Group has survived and thrived, maintaining its position as the biggest taxi company in the country.

According to Purnomo, over the past 52 years, Blue Bird Group gone through different business challenges, but thanks to the company’s strong culture, the group successfully managed to overcome them.

She explains that the ‘Blue Bird’ name and philosophy is inspired by the 1908 play by European playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, in which the grandmother is the blue bird of happiness.

“It is always about happiness, about warmth of love from family, about the beauty to feel happy, and spread happiness around. The bluer the bird, the more happiness it shares. Happiness and warmth then become our company values,” she adds.

In order to have a strong company culture that will help the company become sustainable, Purnomo emphasises that it needs to be start from the founder, hence it is important for the founder to know his/her condition, weakness and strength, and what to achieve.

“My late grandmother knew her vision so well. She wanted the brand to spread happiness to others. She used to tell me that only happy people can make other people happy,

“She also used to communicate every single decision she has made and why she made that decision to me. This helped me a lot in understanding the reasoning behind her thinking,” she continues.

She also adds that it is important to have clear values that communicate the company culture to employees. Dissemination of information and reminders of the values and any changes in the company also need to be clear and reach every employee.

“Also remember this, when you hire people, hire those who have the same values and principles as you and the company. If this is not aligned from the first day, the relationship will not work for both parties,” explains Purnomo.

Different approach

For the younger generation of entrepreneurs, the inspiration behind the company culture is slightly different, with Go-Jek’s founder and chief executive officer Nadiem Makarim admitting that he was inspired by his own frustration.

“I was really really lazy. I called myself a high-energy chap but was an extremely lazy person. Life for me was terrible, because every day I woke up and all I saw in the world was inefficiency,

“I am always asking and complaining … why do I have to fill this document, why do I have to go to the immigration office. Basically I am the annoying kid that always asks himself why everything has to be so bad,” he says.

Makarim started Go-Jek in 2010 with a call-centre and only 20 drivers. It is now a service platform with more than 200,000 vehicles including motorcycles, cars, and trucks.

He says that he was an avid motorcycle taxi (or ojek in Bahasa Indonesia) user and felt that his experience using the service was terrible, but when he talked to the drivers, he realised how much more terrible things were for them.

“That was when I realised there must be something I can do in this sector, with the core foundation to make the experience better for both drivers and users,” he adds.

With that in mind, Makarim explains that his team shares the same vision and values, that they use the frustration of the world to create products and services that will make life better.

“How we build and organise the company is around problems and frustrations that people have. And talking to the most frustrated people around are our fertilisers of innovation.

“Where can you find these people? Listen closely to the people who love to complain about their lives. They are all around you. They can be your friends, family, or you can listen to them on social media,” he suggests.

Another interesting point on building corporate culture is to look at your childhood and see what are the things you would want to fix, give back, or achieve.

For Ahmad Zaky, the founder and CEO of Bukalapak, his motivation came from seeing the condition of small and medium business players in his village for the past 20 years.

“When I was a kid I remember they told me they make Rp1 million (US$75) per month. When I came back 20 years later after I graduated and talked to the same people, they still earned the same amount. I told to myself that this is ridiculous,” he explains.

That was the time when he knew that as a software engineer, his expertise in technology could help make a difference in the SMB players’ lives.

“The software my friends and I created at that time was to help democratise the SMB players, so they could start a business without heavy capital. What we wanted to do was to open up the opportunity to everyone,” Zaky adds.

Established in 2010 when the support for startups was non-existent, he had to lead the company carefully, with efficiency in mind, and focus on the impact the company could have on its customers, which are SMB players as well as end consumers.

He also admits that the company’s main value is impact, and that what each employee does is an effort to alleviate miseries of the SMB players of the country, to help them grow, compete with global brands, and in the end, provide a better life for their family.

“Setting the right culture and value from the beginning helps a lot in our business approach. We become data driven for the sake of efficiency, we improve our technology, we do not spend on expensive acquisition strategy, we try to always have leverage on the community side which has no cost at all, and bring ourselves closer to our customers like family,” he concludes.


Related stories:

Boosting high-impact entrepreneurship in Indonesia

Entrepreneurship: The value of cross-sector mentorship

The lean and simple startup way


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