Bukalapak CEO: Start early, fail more

achmad zaky

Achmad Zaky grew up wanting to having a good job with a large salary. He lived as a child in the small Sragen regency in the eastern part of Central Java province in Indonesia, where his parents worked as middle school teachers. Both parents were hoping that their son would work in a government office or at a stable vocation. “I never got in touch with any entrepreneurship world in my childhood,” says Zaky. But he is now running Bukalapak, one of Indonesia’s biggest marketplace sites.

Zaky was introduced to the tech world in his elementary school days. His father bought him computer and programming-related books like Basic and Fortran, and Zaky grew up reading them. He loved playing with his computer and this love turned into a hobby which later led him to participating in computer competitions. One of those was for the national computer Olympics during high school.

Still thinking that he wanted to get a stable job, he continued his studies at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). It was during that time that Zaky developed a curiosity to create and run his own business. “Because a lot of my friends at ITB were talking about entrepreneurship, I kinda wanted to become one too.”

A simple noodle shop

Zaky’s first stab at entrepreneurship was his noodle business in the second year of university with the money he saved from winning computer competitions. He wanted to sell noodles at a good price for fellow students. He ended up closing it. “We failed because of [our] lack of experience. We wanted to open a tasty noodle shop that is cheap, but that caused us to have low margins, and that resulted in a below-par service. It just didn’t match up.”

He didn’t give up though. The following year, Zaky utilized his computing skills to set up a software house called Deft Technology. The team won the Indosat Wireless Innovation Contest in 2007 and picked up a merit award at the Indonesia ICT Awards a year later. Zaky ran the company for two years and then rebranded it as Suitmedia, offering creative and consulting services in the tech sector.

That same team built Bukalapak as a side project. It was originally meant to become a portfolio product to showcase to clients. Bukalapak gained traction and attracted an investment opportunity from Batavia Incubator. Realizing that there’s space in the ecommerce market to fill up, Zaky took on the project full-time.

Bukalapak now oversees more than IDR 500 million (US$43,000) in transactions in its online shopping marketplace on a daily basis. The team is optimistic that thitey can encourage more shoppers this year to conduct their transactions inside Bukalapak’s payment platform, BukaDompet. Bukalapak recently raised funds from a group of Japanese investors to help scale faster.

Start now

Zaky encourages all youngsters to start building their startups as soon as possible:

“Because if you’re older and married with kids, you tend to have more considerations and be more conservative. […] If I had to build my startup now with zero capital, I might not [take the risk] because I have a wife and a daughter.”

He adds that people shouldn’t fear failure – instead, embrace it. “Failure is what makes us improve ourselves and sharpen our instinct. I’ve failed a lot of times and I find it’s good for me. It brings me to this current condition.”

When you do take the risk, plunge yourself and focus 100 percent, he adds, because running a startup is very tough. Zaky quit his company to run Bukalapak and his wife quit her regular job to run the Islamic clothing estore HijUp.

The ride is going to be much smoother if you can find a good partner. “Running a startup is like getting married – it needs commitment and a good partner,” explains the Bukalapak founder. “Sometimes you have conflict, sometimes you have fun, but personal chemistry [with your founder] will always be there, no matter what the condition is.”

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