Exclusive: Indosat CEO on challenges and successes in ever-changing tech world

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Alexander Rusli, CEO of Indonesia’s second-largest telecom service provider Indosat

Imran Saddique sat down for a quick-fire interview on the start-up ecosystem in Indonesia with the CEO of Indosat, Alexander Rusli. Rusli is no stranger to the public sector, having spent 11 years as an expert advisor before his leap to the private sector.

Can you tell us about the state of the current telecom market in Indonesia and the role of Indosat in serving a population that is adopting new services at a rapid rate? And talk a little about Indosat’s general growth ambitions?

Alexander Rusli: From a consumer standpoint there is a crisis of loyalty between over-the-top-content (OTT) services (like Netflix, Skype and Viber) and telcos. Telcos don’t have the same standpoint in this matter. Indosat sees OTTs being the reason for our customers to use data. We are in the midst of moving traditional voice and SMS customers to become data customers and we are partnering, starting and trying different apps to facilitate this journey of our customers.

Indosat recently partnered with Facebook to launch Internet.org and offer free Internet services, is Facebook the right platform when there are issues on net neutrality and most users are even not aware that they are on the Facebook platform?

Alexander Rusli: The net neutrality debate is something that we do not want to engage in. It is clear that Indonesian operators have a clear position on this subject. For us the Facebook partnership on internet.org is about implementing a shared vision where we would like to get the next layer of telco customers to become Internet or data users. That’s why it’s about taking out all barriers to entry.

What is Indosat doing to innovate and what are you doing to capitalise on the growth opportunities created by the Internet of Everything?

Alexander Rusli: There is an incubator, a venture capital fund with SoftBank and various partnerships. There is machine-to-machine (M2M) infrastructure and a good data network in place to support this. A lot of contributions to the Internet of Things come from vertical industries, which need us as an infrastructure provider and as a partner. We will not try to fool ourselves and claim to be an expert in all these vertical spaces. For example, we will launch a child monitoring system in July 2015 by partnering with an established party in this space. We just need to be opportunistic and anticipative as we are seeing very quick movement in this space.

How does Indosat stay on the cutting edge of technology?

Alexander Rusli:  By partnering, with investments, and, most importantly, challenging our team to try new things and not penalising them if it doesn’t work.

What are the major challenges faced in Indonesia for entrepreneurs/start-ups and how can you help alleviating them?

Alexander Rusli: With access to funds, in particular Series B and beyond. From another angle, the start-ups need to have the language skill sets to deal with telcos and also need to be able to understand their position in the business world.

Is there really an appetite in Indonesia for investors to sink money into start-ups that could probably fail?

Alexander Rusli: At the moment there is definitely more angel investor fund money than opportunities. But we also lack the next stage of funding.

What has been the outcome to date from the partnership with Crowdtivate? Crowdfunding is still somewhat of an alien concept in Southeast Asia and even being transformed in markets like the US. Will this change your approach?

Alexander Rusli: There is slow growth, but we see this as quality growth. It’s a game changer, a mind-shifting activity. We don’t expect this to be fast.

What’s the end goal of being in the entrepreneurship market? Is there an appetite to create something unique or follow models taken from other markets and adapt them to the local market?

Alexander Rusli: I think there needs to be a combination of both.

You mentioned in an earlier interview “if someone goes through one of your programmes it will be easier for investors to stomach.” Does this not go against the essence of an entrepreneurial mindset and the fostering of an innovative ecosystem?

Alexander Rusli: As a telco, we are expected to bring stability and a certain level of certainty. This is the fine balance we need to play as a telco entering this space.

Some cities have transformed their start-up ecosystems and created next generation change. If you could have a wish list to kick start such a process in Indonesia, what would be on top of the list?

Alexander Rusli: Government regulations should be start-up-friendly and also friendly to early investors. There is a need to support financing, give more access to funds and access to cheaper infrastructure.

Finally, what is the nature of the relationship with parent company Ooredoo in the running of day-to-day operations at Indosat? And are there to any expansion plans within ASEAN in mind?

Alexander Rusli: We have a sister company in Myanmar, Ooredoo Myanmar, and there is a two-way relationship where we provide support to each other particularly in this new business space.

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Alexander Rusli, CEO of Indonesia’s second-largest telecom service provider Indosat

Imran Saddique sat down for a quick-fire interview on the start-up ecosystem in Indonesia with the CEO of Indosat, Alexander Rusli. Rusli is no stranger to the public sector, having spent 11 years as an expert advisor before his leap to the private sector.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

IMG_1132_Final
Alexander Rusli, CEO of Indonesia’s second-largest telecom service provider Indosat

Imran Saddique sat down for a quick-fire interview on the start-up ecosystem in Indonesia with the CEO of Indosat, Alexander Rusli. Rusli is no stranger to the public sector, having spent 11 years as an expert advisor before his leap to the private sector.

Can you tell us about the state of the current telecom market in Indonesia and the role of Indosat in serving a population that is adopting new services at a rapid rate? And talk a little about Indosat’s general growth ambitions?

Alexander Rusli: From a consumer standpoint there is a crisis of loyalty between over-the-top-content (OTT) services (like Netflix, Skype and Viber) and telcos. Telcos don’t have the same standpoint in this matter. Indosat sees OTTs being the reason for our customers to use data. We are in the midst of moving traditional voice and SMS customers to become data customers and we are partnering, starting and trying different apps to facilitate this journey of our customers.

Indosat recently partnered with Facebook to launch Internet.org and offer free Internet services, is Facebook the right platform when there are issues on net neutrality and most users are even not aware that they are on the Facebook platform?

Alexander Rusli: The net neutrality debate is something that we do not want to engage in. It is clear that Indonesian operators have a clear position on this subject. For us the Facebook partnership on internet.org is about implementing a shared vision where we would like to get the next layer of telco customers to become Internet or data users. That’s why it’s about taking out all barriers to entry.

What is Indosat doing to innovate and what are you doing to capitalise on the growth opportunities created by the Internet of Everything?

Alexander Rusli: There is an incubator, a venture capital fund with SoftBank and various partnerships. There is machine-to-machine (M2M) infrastructure and a good data network in place to support this. A lot of contributions to the Internet of Things come from vertical industries, which need us as an infrastructure provider and as a partner. We will not try to fool ourselves and claim to be an expert in all these vertical spaces. For example, we will launch a child monitoring system in July 2015 by partnering with an established party in this space. We just need to be opportunistic and anticipative as we are seeing very quick movement in this space.

How does Indosat stay on the cutting edge of technology?

Alexander Rusli:  By partnering, with investments, and, most importantly, challenging our team to try new things and not penalising them if it doesn’t work.

What are the major challenges faced in Indonesia for entrepreneurs/start-ups and how can you help alleviating them?

Alexander Rusli: With access to funds, in particular Series B and beyond. From another angle, the start-ups need to have the language skill sets to deal with telcos and also need to be able to understand their position in the business world.

Is there really an appetite in Indonesia for investors to sink money into start-ups that could probably fail?

Alexander Rusli: At the moment there is definitely more angel investor fund money than opportunities. But we also lack the next stage of funding.

What has been the outcome to date from the partnership with Crowdtivate? Crowdfunding is still somewhat of an alien concept in Southeast Asia and even being transformed in markets like the US. Will this change your approach?

Alexander Rusli: There is slow growth, but we see this as quality growth. It’s a game changer, a mind-shifting activity. We don’t expect this to be fast.

What’s the end goal of being in the entrepreneurship market? Is there an appetite to create something unique or follow models taken from other markets and adapt them to the local market?

Alexander Rusli: I think there needs to be a combination of both.

You mentioned in an earlier interview “if someone goes through one of your programmes it will be easier for investors to stomach.” Does this not go against the essence of an entrepreneurial mindset and the fostering of an innovative ecosystem?

Alexander Rusli: As a telco, we are expected to bring stability and a certain level of certainty. This is the fine balance we need to play as a telco entering this space.

Some cities have transformed their start-up ecosystems and created next generation change. If you could have a wish list to kick start such a process in Indonesia, what would be on top of the list?

Alexander Rusli: Government regulations should be start-up-friendly and also friendly to early investors. There is a need to support financing, give more access to funds and access to cheaper infrastructure.

Finally, what is the nature of the relationship with parent company Ooredoo in the running of day-to-day operations at Indosat? And are there to any expansion plans within ASEAN in mind?

Alexander Rusli: We have a sister company in Myanmar, Ooredoo Myanmar, and there is a two-way relationship where we provide support to each other particularly in this new business space.

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