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Razi Thalib on love, marriage, and Setipe.com

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Local boy Razi Thalib is on a mission to save the single men and women of Indonesia.

Not just another Tinder, Setipe.com focuses on serious users who are looking for life partners and marriages. We caught up with Setipe.com founder, Razi Thalib, at his office in Jakarta.

Tell us about your childhood and younger years

Razi: I was born in Jakarta but moved around a lot when I was a kid because my father was a diplomat. As a child, I lived in San Francisco and Saudi Arabia. Because of this constant moving, my parents thought it would be better for me to be home schooled. so that’s what my parents did when I was 15, enabling me to cut two years of formal schooling into one.

So at 16, I was ready to enter university in Australia. Nowadays people don’t really have to physically enter into a university. Entering a university is like waiting for a TV eipisode every week when you could download the whole series at once. That’s how readily available information is right now. Having said that, I am not saying that home schooling or self study is the best way to go, as you will miss out on the social interaction which is also necessary.

Your educational and working experience before Setipe.com?

Razi: Initially I studied at University of Technology in Sydney majoring in business studies. But razi-thalib-setipe-indonesiabecause of financial difficulties at the time, I had to defer the course and started looking around for jobs in Sydney. Around this time, I also realized that studying business was not what I really wanted to do.

So when I returned to university, I decided to study Information Technology at Charles Sturt. In those days, I did a few odd jobs from tele-survey, to stocking supermarket shelves, to fulfillment where you create and physically deliver paper-based newsletters back in the days before email.

My first real job was with a company called RSVP (surprise ! an online dating company in Australia) where I was hired as a technical and customer support. After a few years I moved up the ranks and was managing a team of 17 people when Fairfax Digital bought RSVP.

At Fairfax, my first real opportunity to work in the front lines came when I got the job as a Product Manager. In 2011 after I ‘d come back home to Indonesia, Nadiem Makarim (Gojek founder), who at the time was the co-founder at Zalora Indonesia, asked me to join him. I looked at it as an opportunity to get a paid MBA and took the offer at Zalora.

Did you always know you were going to be an entrepreneur?

Razi: Not at all. I’ve always thought the internet to be fascinating, and I experienced it as a user back in the early days when Hotmail and Yahoo were just starting, but I never set myself the goal of starting an online based technology company. In fact, my career aspirations were constantly changing over the years.

For example in my teens, I was very interested in the environmental studies but never pursued it as a career. But I always knew I wanted to do something that has a social impact component, and with Setipe, it’s exactly what I did.

Why online dating?

Razi: At around 2010, I realized that many people in Indonesian social media were complaining about being single. And I looked at the online dating business as something I’ve done before (with Fairfax) so that’s when the idea of starting one started to form. I did my own research into the online dating world in Indonesia by surveying dozens of people, and came to the conclusion that there was a need.

In Indonesia, marriage is a big thing as it’s an institution between two families. People here have a big desire to get married, to find love and a relationship, so I knew the market potential was huge and there was a big demand to find help so there is a real need to be solved.

Secondly, online dating is a lot of fun because people light up when I tell them what I wanted to do. And that was the validation I needed to start Setipe.

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Tell us about the early days at Setipe. What have you learned from the experience?

Razi: When I first started, my principle was that before taking on investor funds, I wanted to have a launched product to showcase. So I used my savings to take us to launch. I think the most critical thing when you’re just starting off is to have a good co-founder.

The ideal situation is to have a product founder who has the vision, and a tech founder who executes on the vision through engineering. Also as a startup founder, you’re going to have to tackle everything and solve all the problems by yourself especially in the initial phase. You need to evolve constantly and solve problems every single day at the goal, strategic, and execution level.

Is online dating good business?

Razi: If you think about it, it’s not a good business model. The faster you match someone, the faster you will lose them as a customer. Also we  are only serving a very niche segment of the population. For example we can’t serve married or under-aged people, and so if you look at the potential market size, it will never be as big as ecommerce, fintech, or other startups. So if I looked at this purely from a business standpoint, I would have stopped long ago.

What keeps you going?

Razi: Like I said, online dating is not the best business out there, but the ride in the last few years has been fun and interesting. Not only do I get to talk about love and romance everyday, I am invited to universities to talk about adult romantic relationships to psychology students. But the biggest factor that keeps me going is the social impact and religious element.

When you help someone find the right life partner, not only will it lead to a happier life, family, and future generations for those concerned, but the impact also vibrates through to eternity according to my faith. I might not be as financially successfully as I could be, but those things drive me to push on.

Tell us about Setipe, and how do you differentiate yourself from other dating platforms?

Razi: Firstly, I don’t see other dating platforms like Tinder as competitors, I see them as enablers. They pioneered online dating in Indonesia because they educated and introduced people to the world of online dating. The biggest difference between Setipe and them is that, to sign up with Setipe, you first need to answer 100 profile questions about yourself.

Members are not able to search for or swipe others, instead we provide you with the matches based on our algorithm and the answers you’ve given.  As such, we attract people who tend to be more serious about relationships and are seriously thinking of settling down.

Tell us more about these signup questions.

Razi: There are 5 types of categories: demographics, preferences, personality, compatibility, and social economic. We have tailored these questions to fit the Indonesian culture, and this remains our advantage over other Western-based dating platforms. Based on your answers, we will then show some potential matches using an algorithm developed by our in-house psychologists.

What’s interesting is that the list of questions serves as an educational process and self-discovery tool for users in itself because they have been curated to focus on what aspects are important in long term relationships.

Apart from these questions, what other criteria do you use to match people?

Razi: At this stage we are only using these questions. In the future however, we’re going to look into matching people based on their attractiveness. For example we could match people based on how similar they look to each other. There have been studies that show people are attracted to those who look similar to themselves.

We could also look into how attractive one looks relative to another. For this we could use data on how long and how many times a profile is being looked at compared to others.

Have any couples at Setipe ended up getting married?

Yes up to this point we have received 138 wedding invitations. and those are just the ones who informed us.

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Ideal employee in your eyes?

Razi: The hardest thing about building a startup, especially in Indonesia, is that there is no blueprint to follow. Online dating is a relatively new concept here, so it’s difficult to find people who have had specific work experience.

The qualities I am looking for are flexibility to adapt and learn, how critical they are in facing situations that arise, and those who can think on their feet to make things happen.  I am looking for people who share the passion and the vision, not just those looking for a paycheck.

Currently Indonesia is lacking people with these qualities and we probably have to attract those Indonesians who are abroad to find that kind of talent.

What’s the future of online dating in Indonesia?

Razi: We could study the experience in India where despite advances in technology, traditional matchmaking businesses are still the ones thriving. But social norms could change in the future and we can see a gradual shift into online dating even in India.

We have positioned ourselves not just as an online dating site, but as a platform for people who are seriously looking to get married. We will gradually see more and more people warming up to our concept. We have even had mothers coming in to our office with photos of their children requesting us to find them partners.

Any plans to launch into new products or other markets?

Razi: It may make sense for us to launch in other conservative countries like Saudi Arabia or Malaysia in the future. In terms of new products, we have a few things in the pipeline. A “marriage manual” that provides couples on Setipe specific tips on how to make their marriage happier, TV shows on romance and dating, as well as running events for singles.

If you could turn back time, what would you do differently?

Razi: It would be to learn faster, become aware of problems faster, and fixing them faster.

Who inspires you?

Razi: There is no one person that inspires me, it is a combination of all people I’ve met in my entire life. Everybody in my team has inspired me in different ways. I’m a history buff, and I could pick various figures from history and each one would inspire me in different ways.

Also if you are not inspired by those who you work closely with each day, then you will have a problem growing your business.

Advice for aspiring young entrepreneurs?

Razi: A lot of people want to become an entrepreneur because they hate their job. Don’t become an entrepreneur if that is your only reason. Become an entrepreneur for a purpose. There is a purpose in everything we do, even when you are working in a job you hate.

My second advice is, always look for the positive in every bad thing that happens and just keep going. Your success is totally dependent on your persistence. Fall in love with your industry and don’t quit before the last drop of blood.

And finally, if you found someone, would you leave the industry?

Razi: No, because I’m enjoying it too much !

Visit Setipe at https://setipe.com/homepage

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