I was wrong.

Keith Tan
July 22, 2017


I was wrong.

Today marks the 20th day since I moved to Jogjakarta. A little over a year ago, we laid down a light footprint in Jogjakarta to build an offshore development centre for the development of our own product - - which has since been buried. 

As time went on, we pivoted through the product-market-fit struggles.To survive and keep paying salaries, we started seconding our talented developers to augment the teams of others. That led us to the business model that we have now - helping companies set-up and manage their offshore or offsite development teams in Jogjakarta. In 12 months, we grew from just 3 people to now, over 60 people, and we now service clients in Singapore, Jakarta and Hong Kong. And there's more expansion to come.

I was wrong.

We did most of this while I, as the CEO was based in Singapore, but making frequent travels to Indonesia. My focus at the time was growth, and meeting the milestones that would checkpoint us into our next fundraise.

Since we formed this company, it was both a conscious and subconscious strategy to find "silver bullet managers". We wanted to delegate or outsource the problem of having to deal with the nitty gritty of management. We felt we had graduated to a higher plane of management - where we could manage through weekly AHODs (all hands on decks), KPIs, and broad stroke strategies. After all, both my co-founder and I had forged a 15-year career in entrepreneurship, building 5 different companies, each more successful and profitable than its predecessor. Our midas touch was in seizing the moment to get in, and get out. We knew how to build businesses, and return to investors the promises we had made.

But manager after manager seemed to fail to deliver the growth we needed. We were confronted with decisions that flummoxed us, and frustrated us. But being remote means that all one can do is to reprimand over the conference calls, which resulted in disgruntlement, wounded egos and a further decrease in yields. Manager after manager was let go "because they could not hack it". Some left because "they could not take the heat".

I was wrong.

In May 2017, it dawned upon us that a company growing at 15% M-o-M in revenues was never going to raise serious venture capital at a valuation that would be fair to existing investors. It was a moment that required a significant strategy reset. And people had to be cut. What resulted was a morale slump, a staff without direction and productivity on a fast decline. Leadership cannot be operated in remote, especially when dealing with cross-cultural and educational differences. But I failed to see that.

It took what seemed like an existential crisis to force an intervention. That's why I made the decision to move here myself. This is the largest company to date that I have ever led. On top of its size, the cultural and language barriers pose new challenges which I have never had to deal with before.

In the last 12 months, so many mistakes were made, by me. On so many counts, I was wrong.

I was wrong.

But in the last 20 days living here in Jogjakarta, I've realised the one decision that was right - setting up here and hiring the amazing talent that make up Wonderlabs. There is an energy and familial comfort that fills our campuses. There is joy amongst our Wondernauts. And there is great promise for what we - collectively - will make Wonderlabs become.


images sources: Freepik


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