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Crystal Widjaja: GoJek Early Days, Organizational Debt & Learning from Mistakes

· Podcast Episodes,Female Founders,GoJek,Indonesia,Philippines

I realized that wizard of Oz experience is very real. The frontend looks like magic, you can actually buy things. But in the background, there's a bunch of people working off of a Google Sheet altogether, copy/pasting links and trying to buy things manually to makethat experience seem real. And I think that was a big magical moment for me because I got to actually work with real live engineers in practice.  I do think some of the best people are very lazy. I don't like doing very repetitive things. And sowhen I can automate something, I feel like I am doing that work, plus I get my time back. So that becamea turning point for me. - Crystal Widjaja

Crystal Widjaja is the Chief Product Officer of Kumu, a social live streaming superapp platform that amplifies Filipino creativity, community, and commerce. She is currently the cofounder of Generation Girl, a non-profit for young women in STEM fifelds, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at Reforge, an educational program for product and growth practitioners, and an angel investor through the Sequoia Scout and Monk's Hill funds, where she works with startups across South East Asia and the Bay Area. Previously, Crystal was Chief of Staff and SVP of Growth and Data at Gojek. She has been recognized by Forbes 30 Under 30 and HerWorld's Woman of the Year.

This episode is produced by Kyle Ong.

Jeremy Au (00:00): 

Hi, Crystal. I'm super excited to see you. 

Crystal Widjaja (00:04): Hi, Jeremy. 

Jeremy Au (00:05): 

I'm excited to share your story because you are currently the Chief Product Officer of Kumu, which is an amazing Southeast Asia and Filipino live streaming app and super app approach. Previously, were Reforge, which is a great community in leadership dynamic there, as well as being former chief of staff at Gojek. And amongst other things Forbes 30 Under 30, holds women of the year, lots of various awards for someone so amazing. 

Crystal Widjaja (00:35): 

Thank you, Jeremy. Hopefully things that I will continue to do and there's a lot more impact to be heard. But yes, lots of time at Gojek, a lot of different roles, and I guess titles in that sense. But excited to be here today. 

Jeremy Au (00:51):So Crystal, could you tell us a little bit about who you are beyond all the awards? 

Crystal Widjaja (00:57): 

I definitely believe that awards are something that we need to get over. And that's probably, again, privilege of someone who has maybe received an award or two, but I do feel like a lot of these lists are interesting accolades that don't necessarily reflect the real achievements of many other people. So I'll put that there. Well, you mentioned the first thing. So I am Chief Product Officer at Kumu these days and we are a social super app. So Gojek was very much a transactional super app. Kumu is more of a social super app. 

So everything that you would want to do with your friends, however, you'd want to meet new people, chatting live asynchronously on video, on text, there's a million different ways that you should be able to interact with your friends. And one thing I'm really passionate about for Kumu is that it helps me realize a lot of what I went through as a very young adult growing up on the internet. A lot of the friends that I'd have to meet were not living near me because I moved around a lot. And so I do think it's important that in a more digital world, the friends that you have should be less about circumstance and convenience of them being around you and more so people that you choose and really dedicate time to getting to know people who share the same interests as you and the people that you discover. So that's why I'm at Kumu. 

Before that, and I guess technically, currently now, I've been working with Reforge as well, and then EIR there, an Executive in Residence. And we essentially do growth practitioner training and coaching, helping founders now through one of our newer programs. But I was teaching the advanced growth strategy course, last cohort, currently creating curriculum around a data for product managers course. So keep an eye out for that in the fall next year. 

Pretty excited. It's a lot of work creating curriculum. I think the best curriculum takes thousands of hours to create. And I'm realizing just how many hours, thousands of hours are, so currently in the middle of that. And of course before that as most people probably know me from, I was at Gojek for almost five years. When I joined, it was a pretty small company. We had a call center downstairs, it was loud, it was fast paced. Everything felt like it was breaking at the seams. 

So the first two years I want to say really flew by, but I had this huge social cultural gap of two years. So anytime anyone talks about movies from around that time, I'll be like, "I never heard of that. What is that?" But it was an amazing ride and I'm really excited to see what go to gets to. 

And before that I grew up in San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose specifically. Amazingly, a lot of the founders are actually from San Jose as well. And didn't really know what tech was. I was very lucky to grow up in the area with all the pink mustaches. I would see them and I'd be like, "That's a really weird marketing tactic. I wonder why. Why would someone get into a car with someone else?" 

But having had the privilege of living in that ecosystem and seeing stuff scrappily get built into place, I ended up joining an investment bank straight out of college, where I did M&A advisory and VC financing for what we called wireless startups back then. That's how maybe dated now I am. And that we basically called apps the new age of wireless. But it was a really cool experience because I got to see what metrics matter and what are the common patterns to evaluate founders and their businesses also. That really helped a lot. I could pattern match much faster these days now that I'm also advising a handful of companies. 

Jeremy Au (04:52):Amazing, Crystal. So how did you get started? I mean, your love for tech and startups, was there a moment or was there some influence that made you say, "This is something that makes sense?" 

Crystal Widjaja (05:03): 

I would say very similarly to probably a lot of other women that I got into tech despite a lot of my early influences. Had a schedule mix up in high school. I got put into an advanced placement computer science class. And before then I had really just learned how to copy/paste my Zynga, HTML, and CSS code, so this was not a place for me. I think it was crazy scheduling mix up. But my experience there was a class of 27 dudes out of 30. The other girl there, she was like, "I don't know what I'm doing here. My dad's doing all my homework for me." They would give out pamphlets of Java code to this day. I don't even know what we were programming in. And I made a deal with one of my friends in that class. I would do all their English homework and they would do all of my computer science homework. 

So that was my first experience. I got a C in that class. I learned absolutely nothing. What I learned was that coding is hard and when no one teaches you properly, it's almost impossible. I was not taught to Google certain things or the basics of how to learn engineering, or computer science, or just tech in general. So I had such a bad experience that I immediately shifted towards maybe I'll be a lawyer when I grow up, or I'll go to college for something else. 

I ended up going into education research first. So I worked at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I worked as an intern when I entered Berkeley at the Graduate School of Education. And I was really focused on data in general, but very qualitative market analysis, trend analysis, looking at the impact of different types of training programs for students going to school, like common core in the US. And that was what I expected to do longterm. 

And I think the reality check was when we were working on a program for a cohort basically a charter school program in San Francisco. And they said, "This is a two-year research project." And I said, "Two years. By the time we finish this, the students who have needed it will have graduated already, what are we doing here?" So I think that's where I backed shuffled into tech. I had to get a third job because I was trying to pay rent in San Francisco while going to my last semester at Berkeley. And the first job I found on Craigslist that accepted me was at this very bare bones startup. They were working on Pinterest, but you could buy stuff. 

And like many startups, apparently, I realized that wizard of Oz experience is very real. The front end looks like magic, you can actually buy things. But in the background, there's a bunch of people working off of a Google Sheet altogether, copy/pasting links and trying to buy things manually to make that experience seem real. And I think that was a big magical moment for me because I got to actually work with real live engineers in practice. I got to see how they thought about problems, how they worked together to solve them, and the speed at which they could do this stuff, and how quickly they were able to automate something really fascinated me. 

I do think some of the best people are very lazy. I don't like doing very repetitive things. And so when I can automate something, I feel like I am doing that work, plus I get my time back. So that became a turning point for me. 

Jeremy Au (08:47): 

Amazing. And what's interesting, of course, is that we both went to UC Berkeley. We almost overlapped, so Go Bears. And what's interesting is that we went to UC Berkeley and there was a certain position where you made a decision to basically say, "Do I want to continue working in America?" Which you did for quite a bit. And at some point you were like, "Do I go to Indonesia and go to join Gojek as well?" So can you talk us a little bit more about what was that process like? 

Crystal Widjaja (09:16): 

So, I think this is one part of why I really liked this podcast because sometimes when you consider your options, you actually make this mistake of not considering all the options. And I never thought of leaving the US, that was never an option to me. I hadn't really traveled that much at that point in time. I had never actually been back to Indonesia. My parents were both born in Jakarta, but had stayed in the US the entire time. And while a lot of my family relatives and community that I grew up around was very Indonesian indeed, I had a very Asian upbringing, it wasn't something I considered. So I went straight out of college to an investment bank, like any good Asian daughter would. And my mom was very proud. She was like, "My daughter's in finance, she's working on important financial things." 

I was really a research analyst there. And it was only really maybe a step apart from education research where people certainly moved much faster, but they were motivated by very different things. But it taught me a lot about hard work and how loud people in Boston could be. Well, my CEO at the time was from Boston and that was actually my ability to quickly pattern match. Because my job was calling a bunch of these CEOs and startups and trying to get investment metrics, understanding whether or not they were a good point of sale for, let's say, Verizon. And it became very clear over time that there's a common set of metrics that every startup needs to be monitoring that would really give you a sense of what their growth potential was. 

And I was able to see that because I made dozens of those calls every day. And my foray then into more so into tech was to try to automate that because it was a terrible process. And realizing that banks aren't the most innovative technical places to hone your skills, I ended up Googling top startups in Southeast Asia. And I said, "I want to apply my investment banking mindset to my next job, going to analyze the metrics. I'm going to look at their competitors. Look at the background of the founders, assess the TAM." 

And I shortlisted a couple of companies, and I got really lucky that some of them actually replied. I literally Googled HR at Gojek just because I went on vacation to Indonesia for maybe one month. And I was mostly in Surabaya and Bali, and I really wrongly that Jakarta was exactly the same as those places. So when I ended up actually flying over to Indonesia, I think it only was about a week apart from when I first talked to Kevin on the phone. And I landed in Jakarta and on the way to the office, it was very clear, I knew way less Indonesian than I thought I did. But I do think I wasn't actually being quite so brave then because I had no idea what the challenges were that I was about to face. Being brave, I think, is doing stuff despite all of the fears. I had very little fear because I was not very smart. 

Jeremy Au (12:35): 

That's a common realization is that we don't really fully understand what actually we're getting into, which is nice and helpful because in retrospect it looks like pretty very ... What would you say were the things that you felt like you didn't understand then that if you sat down with that person on that cab ride, you would have been like, "Hey, here's a quick download on the stuff that you don't know that you don't know yet?" 

Crystal Widjaja (12:59): 

I probably would have told myself you were about to make a fool out of yourself and it will be okay. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have changed anything because Gojek has despite many things gotten to be a very big company. And a lot of that is because I did not know that I knew nothing. And so I'd very frequently Google potential solutions to every problem I would encounter. I would ask stupid questions to everybody and anyone who would be willing to help, I would just constantly brute force try things. And I think a lot of that paid off because when you're in growth mode, the biggest failure mode is inaction, especially at a startup that was growing at the rate that Gojek was. 

So I think I would have told myself, "Yeah, you're going to do great. You're not going to get a lot of sleep though. So maybe stock up on vitamins, live closer to the office because traffic is no joke in Jakarta." I made a few logistical errors and I probably could have saved myself a headache moving closer to the office early on. 

Jeremy Au (14:05):This is the real advice folks- 

Crystal Widjaja (14:08): That's a real advice. 

Jeremy Au (14:08): 

... for living and working in Jakarta, especially. And so, I think, I still want to ask the question, why Gojek? Because at that time it was obviously a startup, there was growth as visible. That was obviously the Uber benchmark. 

Crystal Widjaja (14:26):I don't know if it was very visible. 

Jeremy Au (14:26): 

But it wasn't necessarily a slam dunk. So why did you make that choice to do that? Because it's a double move, right? Is a move in triple if actually. It's a move in terms at a time geography, obviously, it was a move in industry as well in the tech. And then lastly, obviously it was a change in role as well. So talk us through what was dynamic. 

Crystal Widjaja (14:52): 

I do think that early on my shift into that role was increasingly, I think, a knowledge that I didn't like what I was already doing. I knew I wanted to get closer into tech and whatever I had to do to prove that I would deserve a spot at that company, I would do it. And so I knew that I was taking a chance on the company, but they were also taking a huge chance on me because, like you said, I had never done that role before. When I got the job offer, I actually called Kevin the CEO and I said, "I just want to let you know, I don't know what you're expecting from me, but I'm not sure I can do all of this stuff." And he actually cut me off. And he was like, "Hey, don't worry about it. We're all doing this for the first time too." 

And that gave me so much relief. It gave me a lot of the confidence and the understanding that, "Okay, we're all doing this for the first time. It's okay to feel like this. I just need to do damn my best. And if I have done that, then I can be very proud of myself." But at the same time, my relatives, I did not know this at the time, but they were all asking the exact same question that you just asked. They were like, "Oh, Crystal, can't get a job in America. That's why she's coming to Indonesia. What is this Gojek thing? You can't work with Gojek, they're not trustworthy. You can't go on these bikes." 

And I mean, five years later, people are like, "My niece works at Gojek, she was an early employee." They're really excited about it. And I think because I did not care quite as much about what other people were thinking at the time, I knew that there was so much more I had to learn, and I was willing to basically be at the bottom rungs of the ring to get there. I didn't care. I was not listening to them. I didn't even hear them. And I really focused on, "Am I learning something? Am I enjoying it?" And the answer to that was basically yes, every single day for five years. 

Jeremy Au (17:06):Tell us about those five years because you started out really on what we call the business intelligence 

side. So tell us what business intelligence means in this context for this first half of your Gojek career. 

Crystal Widjaja (17:20): 

It was coming into a company and trying to figure out what do we currently measure and how accurate is that? And how do we measure that? And I'd find out that someone from IT was pulling a SQL query, was sending a CSV dump to someone in finance. That person would turn it into a prettier Excel sheet and then manually email that every day. My first week there, we were actually just starting to do due diligence with Sequoia. So I got looped into an email, Sequoia team saying, "Hey, we need some of these metrics because we want to understand the business more." And on the front side of the email, I'd say, "Yes, let me help you with that." And then behind the doors, I'd say, "I have no idea what I'm doing. What is a cohort?" 

And so I had to learn very quickly. It was honestly a lot of Googling all the time. It was looking at how do other companies do this? What other tools could I use? How can I get to that point more quickly? And a lot of Google Sheets. And I think part of this is what I want to teach in the Reforge curriculum as well. This data for product managers, you have to start somewhere and oftentimes we get too paralyzed by how much data there is, what we could research, all of the data we could have access to. When really, you just have to think about the fundamentals of the business. 

It was clearly we need drivers and those drivers need to do their jobs. And so I really narrowed down the first, probably three months into just looking at driver metrics, understanding how we onboarded them, really understanding their experience, and then trying to figure out where are the biggest gaps? Where do we fail on the consumer side the most? And that meant every morning, I even wake up at 6:00 AM, pull metrics, see what we did yesterday. And when you have access to all this data, you eventually find out how much fraud is in the system. 

And so then I ended up taking on the fraud team, the risk function, eventually hiring someone way more qualified than me to do it. But just doing whatever it took, using whatever tools I had building on top of all of that experience and knowledge. And pretty soon I had basically the data map of Gojek in my head and used that to route to myself effectively. The biggest problems weren't necessarily, "Product-led growth," at that time, it was, "Are we onboarding enough drivers? Are we in enough cities? Are we doing the job that we're supposed to do? Are there drivers abusing that job or non drivers who are creating fake accounts? Are we expanding enough of our offerings?" And so it was always a step-by- step motion of just letting the data tell us where to go and being able to listen to that effectively. 

Jeremy Au (20:09):And what's interesting is that you use the same phrase over and over again, which paraphrase is, you learning by doing and learning by Googling, right? 

Crystal Widjaja (20:19): Yes. 

Jeremy Au (20:19): 

So it feels like those are the two modes that you were in terms of learning. What's it like to learn on the fly? Because you was just really doing all of this just in time as well. So, I think, how did you go about whatever, any intentional steps you did to learn faster, or were there times where you struggled more of learning what you needed to learn? 

Crystal Widjaja (20:39): 

I think the hardest things to learn are things that don't have an obvious answer. It's obvious and there is a clear answer of how do I build a cohort. There is a less obvious answer around when do I hire or fire someone, when do I create this type of org structure? And so I found that in those types of situations I could Google, but the nuance of the question and the type of answer I needed would be lost. And that's when I started taking this approach, which a lot of people in Gojek probably know about, which is, how do I interview the experts? 

So I had all of these big meeting logs of called interviews with experts in acquisition, interviews with experts in org building, culture building, whatever it may be. And I got very comfortable with being shameless and just messaging people on LinkedIn, cold emailing people just asking for help. And maybe it's because Gojek had already built more of a name for itself by that time, but people were very willing to help. I think it's very true you miss 100% of the shots that you don't take. 

And so I took that really to heart and I would email or message people when I read their books and I'd get very specific with my asks. I'd draft out like, "Here's a situation that I'm dealing with. How would you do this in your company? How have you done this in your company?" And this includes people like Elad Gil, who's one of the earliest investors at Twitter, people like Claire from Stripe, the COO of Stripe. And these people have just been amazing. I think there are a lot of individuals who are willing to share their experience and give back to the community. I'm always incredibly grateful for those people. 

Jeremy Au (22:25): 

And what's interesting is that you then transitioned from that functional leadership role on business intelligence, and then you became chief of staff. So could you tell us a little bit more about that role change within the company and what that meant for you? 

Crystal Widjaja (22:39): 

So having done the data stuff, I realized now you'll never be done with the data function. And Kevin had called me and said, "Hey, I need you to work on product growth." And I actually said, "No, I can't. I'm not done with the data stuff yet." And he said, "No, no, no, you have to take this. I'm going to send out an email. You're taking this." So I didn't even accept the growth role initially. But I think Kevin really does know me super well and it's, I think, a testament to a really great leader, and mentor, and sponsor that they look at the type of skills you have and where you need to go in your growth, that he was able to give me that opportunity. 

And from there, it was being the first big picture center of excellence within the company. It was helping empower teams to move towards a growth strategy, to look at growth optimization as a whole new function. And eventually to put that into each of the product units themselves to the point where we've built out all of the initial framing, the experimentation platform, everything that you might need to be a growth optimized company. And we embedded that in every product group across food, and transportation, and so on. 

And so that then gave me the opportunity to start working on some bigger problems. As Gojek had grown, we inherited a lot of organizational debt. And of course, Nadiem had been in talks to potentially become the minister of education. And so becoming chief of staff was really, how do I help support the organization knowing all that I know, all of our organizational debt, all of the problems that I wished that we had worked on many years ago and just start building programs around that? 

So the first thing that I ended up doing was an early manager training program. So very simple workshops pairing some of the best strongest rated leaders in the company with some of the newer managers in the company. And giving them a place to brainstorm about how do I manage both upwards and downwards? How do I have a great one-on-one? How do I build psychological safety? How do I have great feedback sessions? And giving the company those tools, I think, would help us mature to a company that needed to be at the world-class level. 

Because facing it, no one had ever done what we were doing in Indonesia yet. We were basically the biggest startup. And so to expect someone to come in with a bunch of experience that was going to be very hard. So we had to invest in the teams, we had to train them, we had to give them the resources. I built out a lot of the culture books and oriented the teams around OKRs. I do think we became maybe a little too data-driven, but at the end of the day, I think, we built a lot of the scaffolding so that Gojek could mature into what it needed to be at the IPO level. 

Jeremy Au (25:38): 

And as you saw that organizational debt is a common issue for so many different organizations, especially when they succeed, what would you say is your thoughts about how proactively that should be managed versus is as a severity that organization debts is going to pile up? 

Crystal Widjaja (25:55): 

That's a good question. I don't know. I think that's why I'm really excited about my experience at Kumu. I'm coming in at a time that's very similar to Gojek's when I came in, but I now hopefully know a lot more about what mistakes we'll be making. And so I'm noticing very early on, or think about, "Okay, we need a growth framework for all of the product managers. They need to know what's expected of them. They need to have clear expectations laid out." But then I stepped back a little bit and I have to say, "But what were the biggest problems implementing this at Gojek? It was insanely rigorous. It was crazy long. It was very complicated. People took it too seriously." 

And so I appreciate that I'm now able to iterate on some of these learnings and put them into practice and I can very early on see more of these kinds of red flags or warning signals. I do think that there is a type of organization in growth stage that is going to be a little crazy. I think Kanye West probably said it best, to get something crazy good you have to be a little bit crazy. And I think in startup life, most large consumer impacting companies will probably be extremely messy. And it's that messiness that allows us to change quickly to innovate and to try new things without going through maybe the natural processes. 

But I don't think that we have to allow the things that burn people out or that are detrimental to long-term growth, long-term sustainability. We don't have to let that fester. When it becomes a net negative, we need to know to fix it. And I think the biggest problem at Gojek oftentimes was we knew when something was becoming net negative, but we didn't know how to fix it. And so it took us a lot longer to start working on that operational debt, that organizational debt, because we had to figure out what the right answer would be. We'd have to test a couple of things. And then finally we would come to the right approach. So hopefully we'll cut out a few of those steps at Kumu. 

Jeremy Au (28:05): 

And it's a good segue because what's interesting is that you went, wrapped up your time at Gojek. We'll circle back to this in between period at Reforge, et cetera. But you entered the US and then now you're coming back to Southeast Asia and you chose Kumu. So why Kumu? 

Crystal Widjaja (28:24): 

I do believe that the creator economy is going to change very drastically in the next 10 years. Something that has always been top of mind for me. A place that I've never felt very good at is actually the creator economy. So a lot of people will know, I don't have a lot of social media accounts. And if I do, I am terrible at using them. The woman at Generation Girl know me as the person who tried to do an Instagram story, but didn't realize it was like 15 seconds long, or that I had to unmute to post sound. 

I'm not good at creating content. And so I do believe that there are tons of people like that who want to create content, but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work it takes. I mean, looking through all of the work that it takes to put on brave, it's a lot of work to make something that's high quality. But I think that that's really hard for people who want to still meet new people, still want to communicate ideas and interact. They need their own platform. 

And so I've been really interested in anything that brings people together in very low effort ways. And Kumu is exactly that. It's a place where you can pick up your phone and you can start live streaming and you can earn a bunch of money if you want, or make a bunch of new friends. In as little as an hour, we did a product PH event on Kumu for the first time. And I think within an hour, we had raised $200 for the community. And that's amazing. 

I think just the ability to break down all of these walls to have something that works for so many people and allows them to just connect seamlessly, very powerful. And when you include the monetary system, the system of governance, and ability to interact with people in more private groups than what Facebook has become, that becomes very powerful. Because you then interact on your own terms, you're able to engage or disengage and you meet tons of different people doing it. 

So I'm very excited about creator economy. There's been a lot of buzz around creator economy, like the sub stocks and patreons of the world. But most of them are really towards people who want to put in a lot of effort. And I think some of the work needs to be done on just lowering the barrier to entry. 

Jeremy Au (30:50): 

So let's talk about that a little bit, which is, you talk about the creator economy and what's interesting, of course, is that it's a word that was generated in America. And this also feels like a conflation with social media. And so it's interesting because it feels like is a move from platforms like social media to content creation as the generation at a starting point. How do you think about that? 

Crystal Widjaja (31:18): 

I think this generation is insanely creative. And it's always going to be the case that the youngest generation, the one that has the most time on their hands and technically the least social status or status in life are going to spend unbelievable amounts of time on these platforms and discover what it should really be like. They're going to push the boundaries of creativity of what the platform offers and they're going to really make it their own space. 

So people on Kumu, one of my favorite things that I've seen it's, again, audio, and video, and chat, but there's this audio live streaming feature where you have 12 different seats, anyone can join. And if people give you gifts that's great. You can actually share it with the whole table. And what they've actually created is this game in the app where a host will create a live stream and a bunch of people will go on stage. And they'll say, "We need sponsors, who is going to make it rain?" 

It's basically become an experience of like, who are the bottle droppers in the club who want to provide for the community, who want to be seen and recognized and thanked, and give back to their fellow Filipinos at the same time? So they'll actually rotate and they'll kick people off if they've been staying on stage for too long, they'll let other people rotate up. They'll collect gifts, they'll kick them back down. And people just rotate in circles around this. 

And if you think about what is the overall size of the market of people going to clubs, being the bottle dropper of the club, and you expand that on a virtual digital stage, I mean, it's a fairly big market. And what's amazing is that people are actually able to meet genuinely amazing friendships here. We're not talking hundreds of dollars in gifts, they're pretty small ticket sizes. And people invent amazing games. So they'll do things like spin this wheel, whatever you land on. I'll do that. And it's like, I have to do pushups outside, 50 pushups. Or great, now I have to wear this silly hat on my head for two hours while I'm streaming. 

And I think that that's just a really cool way to engage with people and to break down the barriers that previously were there because it was mostly asynchronous or you just couldn't reach out to these people. So I'm really excited by just digital friendships, creating ecosystems that empower that and let you make it your own world. Because most people are going to be way more creative than any product manager at scale. So I'm always excited to see what people created. 

Jeremy Au (34:01): 

Amazing. And of course, it feels like there's a whole new wave of that audio/live stream obviously we know Twitch from Justin Kan. And obviously we now have Clubhouse, which became this global thing. And so a lot of this has historically been generated from America. And so I think kind of asked the questions like, why is there a requirement for a Southeast Asian take on this creator economy? And so how do you think about it? 

Crystal Widjaja (34:30): 

So this is what drives me crazy actually, everyone was going crazy over Clubhouse. They thought it was amazing. Kumu has been doing this for a year-and-a-half and it's way more advanced, not only do you have audio but you could do toll seat audio. There was video. There was one-to-one video, there's one- to-many video. And so I do think in Asia, we're much more of a social community. People are much more willing to interact with one another. You'd have companies or products like Chatroulette, and you would be like, "Hmm, that's scammy and fishy." But communities like Kumu it's actually more like Disneyland, where you come in and you're going to see someone who like ... I met someone who can dance with their hands, I can't do it. So maybe I shouldn't. 

But they were amazing to watch. And I was really impressed. I asked them where did they learn how to do this? How did they all meet? It was like a whole group of them dancing together. And it's just amazing how these communities have formed, especially during COVID. So I don't think that the US is going to have the best model for social, anything, to be honest. Not just because they have no social super apps or super apps in general, but because they're also a lot more insular. 

You ask anyone in the US what they know of politics outside of the US it's like complete ignorance, but people in Asia know a lot more, they're interested. They want to learn more about other communities, other cultures, it's because we're actually probably more exposed to these different types of cultures around us. And I think that makes us a lot more curious. So I think we'll see much more success out of social super apps in Asia broadly, not just in China. 

Jeremy Au (36:16): 

It's interesting because a lot of what we discuss implicitly leverages a lot of the concepts that both you and I learned in the States. Especially Brian Balfour, I was tracking him for a long time. He talks a lot about his metrics, about growth, retention, and just different dynamics. What was it like for you to join the Reforge community and start learning all of that? 

Crystal Widjaja (36:39): 

Oh my goodness. So first there was relief because when I was going through the curriculum that I was going to be teaching, I was so relieved to see that, "Okay. A lot of the stuff that they teach at this level, it's actually the stuff that we do at Gojek." Pat myself on the back. But then it was also dismay because then I realized it took me five years to learn most of this, when I probably could have just read all of this in a course curriculum. 

So the content is amazing and they really do spend thousands of hours on it, but it really helped me sharpen my mental models for how Gojek grew. I realized that a lot of the things that really were not on purpose, but just happy coincidence, they were magical tipping points for Gojek's growth. But at the same time, I also realized that people like Nadiem, and Kevin, and Andre had a very intuitive sense of what consumers wanted and what would be a game changer and their interaction with Gojek. How Gojek could be part of their daily lives. 

A lot of what they worked on was this daily transaction frequency element, looking at how do you leave your wallet at home and just rely on Gojek for everything. And within that, there were core tenants of the Reforge growth strategy within. But we just happened to get there maybe by luck, maybe because some product stroke of luck and intuition. But I'm really glad that a lot of the principles that we teach at Reforge were actually things that we started to practice and implement at Gojek as well. 

It's been a really interesting experience because I also think it's really refreshing to introduce myself in a class. And then for people to say like, "Oh, what's Gojek?" But it was even more cool to start introducing myself and lots of people be like, "Oh my God, Gojek is one of our mentor companies. It's like one of the companies that we look up to." I've been able to be at Gojek and with the Reforge team long enough to see that change in perception, which I think is very cool. 

Jeremy Au (38:53): 

And what's interesting about Reforge as well, and I'd love to hear your take on it is that, from my perspective as a blog and sharing his personal point of view too, personal brand, and then thought leadership, and then now it's become a startup on his own as well. So it was just interesting to watch that transformation. And I was laughing a bit because it was if you've been following that newsletter and everything long enough, you're like, "Oh, I guess, see the techniques being used on me as well as a consumer and a leader. So it's funny. So I was a curious here. 

Crystal Widjaja (39:25): 

And even some insider scoop on that. It actually started out as just Brian, and Andrew Chen, and probably Casey Winter just hanging out after the office and talking about different strategies and techniques commenting on what companies were doing. Then it became a WhatsApp group. Actually, there was a bunch of product leaders, they would add there, or they'd be like, "Oh, you should talk to this person." They're doing the same thing. And then it became, "Hey, we should write a blog post about this. Wouldn't it be cool if we made something out of this?" And yeah, now they're growing pretty rapidly. There's, I think, more than 10 programs now. 

Jeremy Au (40:01): 

Yeah. Really fascinating to see that grow out. And this new wave or what I call content based courses, I don't even know what to call it, but OnDeck is an idea of those. There's also a lot of cohort base courses and a lot of platforms that are enabling it. It was interesting, that explosion. 

Crystal Widjaja (40:22): 

It's a saturated space. I do think there is a lot that goes into teaching. There's a lot that goes into education. I think one of the reasons I felt worried about potentially going into education research is that it actually, there's a lot of work and you're impacting people in very vulnerable states where they trust you, they're early on in their experience, they need help. And so I am always weary of companies that make teaching a little too easy because I think it is ultimately very hard work and we probably should respect that. 

Jeremy Au (40:59): Makes a lot of sense. So wrapping up here, could you tell us about time that you have been brave either through ignorance, as you shared earlier, or either way that you think about bravery? 

Crystal Widjaja (41:11): 

I do think that now that I knew how much work it was to scale a company from the 30 people to 6,000, I think, that Gojek is, it took me a little bit of time to convince myself that I was ready to work at another company. I knew that I was prone to burning myself out and working insanely hard hours, and getting way too attached to the company, and the culture, and the outcomes. So I would like to think of my most recent bravery was to say, yes, the COVID situation sucks. It's building another company, is going to be a lot of hard work, but I'm going to do it anyways because I really like the people. 

I really like the problem. I think I can be very helpful. I still have a lot to learn and I am ready to do a lot of that hard work. So hopefully joining Kumu was one of my more recent bravery attempts because joining Gojek it was definitely less brave because I did not know how big of a risk I was taking nor how much work it would be. 

Jeremy Au (42:18): 

How did you make that decision to join Kumu? I mean, not the decision itself, which we covered earlier, but how did you go to that process? Obviously, I'm sure you must have seen a bunch of different routes. You could have taken different roles, even different geographies. So this time around you're making the same decision, I would say, but with a lot more experience of the geography, the role, the companies. So how did you approach that or structure that search or thinking process? 

Crystal Widjaja (42:47): 

So I wasn't being very brave. I was telling myself, "I'm going to take this year off. I'm just going to focus on me. I'm going to work on research curriculum, which feels really good. I'm going to advise some companies noncommittally." I was just advising an hour or two a week. So it was a very nice life. It was talking to people and founders who were of course trying to convince me to join their company and fielding those calls and those calls feel great. It feels great to be wanted all the time and for people to ask for your help. But I think it's funny because there's so much of the serendipity and how I found Gojek that I'm now realizing is how Kumu found me. They actually cold-called me, which is weird because I cold-called Gojek. 

And so they cold-called me and they were like, "We need help. We're going through all these same problems. We watched your podcast. So, hey, people join podcasts. Apparently it can get you a job." And they reached out and said that they needed help, chatted with them for like an hour. And it was always just nagging on me that it was so interesting, the problem they were working on, a lot of the same signals of Gojek breaking early days. And so we ended up doing a weekly engagement. And I remember one of the days where the call ended and I was like, "I wish we had more time." 

And my biggest concern was that I didn't get to work with them more often or in a more committed setting. And so I heard from someone else that they were potentially looking for a product person and I was being again, somewhat unbraved, but very coy. And I was like, "That's interesting. I could be interested in product if you guys are looking for a product person." And they said, "We've been using your profile for headhunters for finding our CPO. We need someone like this, but we didn't even think that we could ask you." 

And so it was just funny. That conversation wrapped up very quickly. I ended up joining them and it's been crazy. We've hired 20 engineers in the past two months and we're still hiring. So please email me if you are looking for a role at crystal.@kumu.ph. And it's going to be another rocket ship, I think. 

Jeremy Au (45:12): 

Amazing, Crystal. And wrapping things up here, what advice would you give to other people who are making a decision about whether to join startup, or rocket ship, or whatever it is? What advice would you give them? 

Crystal Widjaja (45:30): 

Make sure you're considering all the options. Don't let a free hypothesis slip you by. Consider what is the craziest thing you could do at your age, given your circumstances, of course. But I mean, you're only young once, you only get to make all of the mistakes that no one will ever notice once. Now that I am in my role, I feel like I can't make any mistakes, but man, I made a lot of mistakes at Gojek and I'm really glad that I got to because it taught me a lot. So it's probably consider all the options, make as many mistakes as possible. 

Jeremy Au (46:06): 

Amazing. And so, Crystal, I'll have to wrap things up by paraphrasing the three biggest things I learned from this conversation. The first of course is thank you so much for sharing your personal journey about how you actually begin accidentally learning computer science at AP to learning and discovering technology and saying, "Hey." Actually making that triple jump in geography role and industry to go to at that time a 30% team Gojek in Indonesia in tech. So just a really fun walkthrough of that journey. 

Crystal Widjaja (46:44): Thank you. 

Jeremy Au (46:44): 

The second is thank you so much for sharing what I call the inside of you about being part of a high growth, fast scaling company. So you talked about the decision to make learning by doing, learning by Googling, learning by asking stupid questions. And it was just a blast to hear that. And also talked about being a participant in those things, but also being zooming out now an executive thinking about it from organizational depth. And thinking about how you would transfer that from what you've learned at Gojek to what you're now packaging and delivering at Reforge and Kumu. 

And lastly, thank you so much for also sharing a little bit of a domain knowledge about, I think, what I call the bullishness of Southeast Asia. So talking about Gojek and why is amazing even though it was not really understood early back in the day. But also striking that parallel in contrast with what you're feeling about Kumu, and live streaming, and content, and creator economy in Southeast Asia versus America. And so I think that was a really great podcast and one hour conversation. 

Crystal Widjaja (47:50): 

Thank you, Jeremy. You asked amazing questions and it's always amazing to chat with you. You have so many insights and you're very thoughtful about what companies should be thinking about and what leaders should be thinking about too. 

Jeremy Au (48:01): 

Thank you so much, Crystal. I'll see you around. 

Crystal Widjaja (48:03): Thanks, Jeremy. Bye now. 

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