How Che Guevara inspired a young entrepreneur
- 19 July 2015
- From the section Business
It was the hit movie The Motorcycle Diaries that inspired Aldi Haryopratomo to take to the open road.
He packed one bag and a small tent to sleep in every night and took off around Indonesia and Vietnam on a motorbike.
This was back in 2007. Yet far from plotting revolution like Che Guevara, upon whose memoirs the film was based, Mr Haryopratomo was riding around to see how microfinance - the lending of small amounts of money - could best improve the lives of millions of poor people in rural parts of both countries.
More specifically, the Indonesian entrepreneur was trying to work out the best way of getting money to those who wished to borrow it.
Mr Haryopratomo was employed by a US microfinance firm at the time, but the knowledge he gained from the trip inspired him to set up his own business in 2009.
His business is called Ruma, and it now enables 30,000 company representatives across Indonesia to make money via their mobile phones.
They do this by providing local people with access to services, such as paying electricity bills, repaying loans, and checking job advertisements, all via a Ruma mobile phone app.
The representatives, who Ruma calls its "agents", are typically small shop owners.
So in rural parts of a country where the World Bank says just 16% of people have regular access to the internet, if a person wants to pay their electricity bill online, they can go to their nearest Ruma agent.
Ruma then charges a small transaction fee, which is shared between it and the agent in question.
The company says that more than 1.5 million people now access its services.
His early life
Mr Haryopratomo, 32, was born and brought up in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.
From a wealthy family, he says that his attitude to life was shaped from an early age by playing with children from much poorer backgrounds.
"I was brought up in a government housing complex, but all around it was villages," he says.
"I hung out with the people from the villages... even though I grew up in a very middle class family. That experience of being in both worlds really shaped how I grew up."
Mr Haryopratomo, who has one brother, also cites his mother and father as a big influence on him, saying they were "mentors" as much as parents.
"My dad spent most of his life building infrastructure for Indonesia, building roads. He really believed that roads would have the biggest impact on our country... he would talk about his work endlessly," he says.
"I spent my life trying to find out how I could create as much impact as he had."
After school in Jakarta, Mr Haryopratomo moved to the US where he did a degree in computer studies at Purdue University in Indiana.
Upon graduating he got a job as a computer security consultant for accountancy giant Ernst and Young.
Mr Haryopratomo then worked for a micro finance business called Kiva, on whose behalf he travelled around Indonesia and Vietnam on a motorbike.
He subsequently did a master of business administration (MBA) course at Harvard Business School in Boston before returning to Indonesia to launch Ruma.
Funding has come from a number of firms in California's Silicon Valley, and from one of Indonesia's largest businesses, Gunung Sewu Kencana.
Life and business
Ruma now directly employs 512 people, of which two thirds are out in the field meeting agents, while one third work at its head office in Jakarta.
Mr Haryopratomo says his staff deserve much of the praise for the company's continuing success.
"A really good bit of advice for any people who want to do something meaningful is to surround yourself with people who are doing something meaningful," he says.
"Because it is much easier to lift yourself and build a team when you are surrounded by people who are passionate about what they do. I have a huge team in Ruma who are all doing something to change the world essentially."
Mr Haryopratomo's trust in his employees is such that for two days every week he leaves them to it, so he can relive his Motorcycle Diaries trip by riding his motorcycle around villages on the main Indonesian island of Java.
He does this to visit Ruma agents and customers, the members of the public who use the service.
Mr Haryopratomo says this is vital as it helps him establish the gut feelings which form a key part of his decision-making process.
"In order to have the right gut feelings, you need to be sitting with your customers so you understand how they think, how they feel, and what they need," he says.
Advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Mr Haryopratomo says that ambitious young people who want to make a positive contribution to the world shouldn't think that they have to set up their own business.
"Being an entrepreneur is not something that you should aspire to be. Solving a problem and being passionate about a problem is something that you should be doing," he says.
"Entrepreneurship is just one way to solve a problem. Unfortunately the world is putting entrepreneurship on a pedestal, while I think the people who are doing the hard work in my team are not getting as much credit as they deserve."
Despite the pressures of running a company, Mr Haryopratomo says he makes time first thing every morning to go for a walk in the park with his wife and their young twins.
"Being very disciplined about allocating time for your family and work is very important," he says.
"I talk to them [the twins] about my work as if they are adults. That morning walk is kind of my therapeutic session," he says.