4 Tips For Entrepreneurs Who Are Just Starting Out, According To Modalku Founder Iwan Kurniawan
Iwan Kurniawan describes his leadership style as "results-oriented, systematic and nurturing." In 2016, he co-founded Indonesia-based peer-to-peer lending and credit platform Modalku, which helps small businesses across Southeast Asia to grow and thrive.
The next year, Modalku became the first Southeast Asian startup to win the Global SME Excellence Award from the United Nation’s ITU Telecom World awards for its impact-driven technological innovations. Most recently, the company raised US$40 million in Series C funding, which will be used to support businesses in the region affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to Modalku, Kurniawan was one of the top-performing consultants at global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.
Here, he shares his top tips for running a successful business that new founders and leaders need to know.
Prioritise Your Passion And Hunger For Success
All seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you that achieving success in business is tougher than it looks. From Kurniawan's perspective, it's "your hunger for success and passion for helping society that will determine whether you last in the race." There are many challenges and entrepreneurs need to be ready to confront them head-on without feeling intimidated, or "entrepreneurship may not be for you," he says.
From his own experience, founders of early-stage startups can do well if they focus on understanding their target customers’ pain points and "why they haven't been able to solve those pains to date." Doing this may give you a good sense of what your product and solution should look like.
"Then later, through trial and error, you can develop a product that truly meets the needs of customers," he says. "At the end of the day, if your users or customers win, you win."
Don't Try To Raise Too Much Funding If Your Product Hasn't Been Market-Tested
A common mistake Kurniawan sees many entrepreneurs make is trying to raise too much funding before their product has been market-tested. "Some problems that may arise include founders experiencing resistance from more prudent investors or misusing valuable funds."
If you're facing difficulty finding initial funding for your startup, Kurniawan advises to "reassess your business to see if it would be possible to survive with less, by keeping your operation lean and avoiding unnecessary costs."
"You will be surprised by how much you can do with very little. Once you are able to show your product traction, your network will then trust you more with their money."
Your hunger for success and passion for helping society will determine whether you last in the [entrepreneurial] race
— Iwan Kurniawan
Remember Your Sense Of Humility
Kurniawan believes that founders who lack a sense of humility often end up failing at business. "As a budding entrepreneur, your knowledge at the beginning of your journey will be quite limited compared to what you need to know," he says. "So it is important to be open to receiving customer feedback and to learn from them. Just as important is the feedback of your employees, who are your ears on the ground."
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Build A Team That Shares Your Values, Purpose and Vision
The success and sustainability of a business greatly depends on the stability of the team that runs it, says Kurniawan. In his view, the best teams share their founder's vision, purpose and values. "We found that individuals with a deep sense of purpose and alignment with our values tend to perform better and stick around longer in the company."
At the same time, he recognises that his team also needs the right environment in order to thrive. "I find that the ideal environment for the millennial generation is one that promotes a balance of purpose, result-orientation, learning and enjoyment," he says. "This generation, more than any other, needs to feel inspired about what they do, where they work at and who they work with."
At Modalku, employees are given various communication platforms to share their thoughts. "To keep our team engaged, we run monthly town halls, weekly check-ins, monthly team leader workshops, as well as facilitate social activities through our club system, which is similar to student organisations in schools, among other activities," shares Kurniawan.
"As a leader, it's important for my employees to feel that they can respect me, learn from me and take direction from me. I also want them to feel that they can challenge my decisions without being judged, for the greater good of the company. More importantly, they themselves need to feel confident, challenged and excited about their work. If I'm able to help facilitate all this, then I've done my job as a leader."
See honourees from the Finance & Venture Capital category of the Gen.T List 2019.