Michael Gani is the founder of Arsitag.com – a marketplace that allows people to find architects, contractors, and building suppliers.
How did the idea for Arsitag first come about?
Michael: Building a new home or renovating a building is a meticulous process and expensive. It might even be one’s biggest investment in one’s life. The idea for Arsitag was born as a result of personal experience struggling to find construction vendors such as architects, interior designers, contractors and product suppliers.
According to a Kompas news article, construction spending is ranked 4th or 10.38% of Indonesia’s GDP output in 2017. Yet, there are so few options available when searching for construction vendors, and certainly a lack of information transparency in this hugely profitable market. Traditionally, architects, interior designers, or contractors rely on their past customers’ referrals by word of mouth to get exposure, which is unpredictable and not effective in terms of scalability. It is obvious that there was a missing link between the customers and the service providers.
We strongly believe technology can help home owners make a better informed decision about their project, and at the same time allow the young-and-uprising professionals to showcase themselves. Hence on April 2016, Michael Gani, Steven Gomedi, and Edward Harjanto launched Arsitag.com which is the first digital platform for Indonesia’s construction professionals to build their very own portfolios. Now with Arsitag.com, everyone from all over the country regardless of their friends and family network has the same access to connect with thousands of construction professionals to build their dream home.
Hiring an architect is a long thought-out and long-winded process and there are working contracts to be signed by both parties. Is Arsitag involved in every step of this process?
Michael: Our mission is to help home owners find the most suitable vendors for their projects. We achieve this goal by providing a platform for people to find inspirations over 30,000 design ideas and to connect with more than 1,500 trusted professionals for free. Similar to a search engine, Arsitag.com helps people discover the vendors but we are not involved in the actual building process. Home owners discuss the projects and interact directly with the professionals or suppliers. As for monetization, we offer advertising and premium listing package for the suppliers to boost their brand awareness, product impression, and promotion campaign throughout our site.
You received seed funding early on. How have these funds helped in you establishing and expanding the business ?
Michael: The seed funding is not only a crucial building block in what makes Arsitag.com what it is today, but also provides proof of the promising potential in home and construction technology in South East Asia. The fund was used to develop the underlying technology and user experience to create Indonesian’s first and largest digital platform for architects, interior designers, contractors, and product suppliers.
What is the biggest challenge facing Arsitag right now?
Michael: Our biggest challenge would be lack of high resolution photos on past projects, especially with contractors and builders. Prior to Arsitag.com, there was no immediate need for the professionals to have high quality portfolios because they rely on words of mouth referrals. Some may have their past projects’ photos taken casually by a phone camera which is not the best way to present one’s work. However, that was the past. Fortunately right now we are witnessing a positive change in behavior and the professionals have already started building their new and upcoming portfolios properly with high attention to detail, which is amazing.
Tell us how the business is going at this stage, and what are your plans in the near future? Any plans to expand this outside of Indonesia?
Michael: We are grateful that Arsitag.com has been growing at a steady positive growth organically. Over 200 new vendors joined our platform on average each month, helping more than 200,000 home owners every month. We are currently developing a new process to automate some of our content curation process and big data analysis to provide homeowner with even more relevant results for their queries. In parallel, we are also acquiring more product suppliers and manufacturers which will add thousands of various items ranging from raw materials to finished goods. This way, Arsitag.com has a complete ecosystem where home owners are able to find design inspirations, connect with the service provider, and purchase their project’s materials or goods.
And to answer your question about expanding, yes absolutely, Arsitag.com is a digital platform which has no location restriction. In fact, we are already seeing recurring visitors from all around the world such as Japan, United States, Taiwan, Singapore, and India.
Michael, tell us a bit about yourself.
Michael: I was born in 1988 and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. Since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by science especially embedded systems and robotics. As hobbies, I like reading biographies, listening to acoustic music, and playing basketball – Go Boston Celtics!
After graduating from high school in 2006, I went abroad to the United States pursuing my Bachelor of Science degree from University of California at Berkeley in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS).
My keen interest on hardware and software engineering has led me to contribute into research in tele-immersion while still studying at UC Berkeley. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2011, I joined Apple Inc as RF System Integration Engineer for three and a half years working on various iOS products such as iPod, iPad 3, iPhone 6, and so on. A highlight of my career at Apple is that I was trusted as the lead engineer to design and build the first foundation for ApplePay (NFC) validation software which is still being used today.
It is genuinely a humbling and priceless experiences what I’ve learnt at UC Berkeley and Apple Inc. Although there are still a million of exciting things to learn explore out there, family is the most important part of my life. In 2014, I decided to leave Apple and come back to Indonesia to start a family and a new journey – Arsitag.com. In 2017, my wife and I were blessed with our first child, Allison.
Apart from leaving the corporate life to start a family, what made you decide to jump into entrepreneurship?
Michael: I am not an architect by trade but my parents are both civil engineers. So I am familiar with the construction industry and building process since early on. Being at the epicenter of Silicon Valley and working with extremely talented and creative minds from all around the world definitely shaped my attitude towards entrepreneurship. At Apple, I experienced first-hand how technology embrace and empower people’s lives. It is the same mentality and attitude that I try to bring into Arsitag.com by helping home owners to find the vendors through technology.
In hindsight, what regrets do you have in this entrepreneurial journey, and what would you have done differently?
Michael: As a start-up, we try different things which are likely to fail. For instance, we have tried various monetization models such as project commission fee which turned out to be unscalable. We have also tried providing interior design package for subsidized housings which also didn’t work out as well as we had hoped for. However, I try not to think about mistakes as regrets but rather as a guide for a better future. Those failed experiments were very important because they cleared up our path out of distractions and let us focus on things that work. I genuinely believe that failures are part of the journey to success.
What business plans or other plans do you have in store for the future?
Michael: We are currently developing a machine learning technology which will hopefully provide a better and more effective recommendation result for our users. Additionally, we are also looking into a marketplace where home owners can purchase materials or finished products directly on our site. The potential in home technology is huge and we have just begun to scratch the surface.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Michael: Be a problem solver. I have met some people who started a company just for the sake of being an entrepreneur and to look cool or exciting. That is not the right foundation to build a lasting and meaningful company. Always begin with a clear sense of purpose of why you are putting all your efforts and time to build a product or service. And of course, have fun!