The starting point of an entrepreneur’s journey should always be seeking to solve and/or add value to an existing problem, and these could be problems that exist in your classroom, your community, at home or even in your current job. Thus, if you want to pursue this path, become a problem seeker, a problem solver, and an innovator.
What made you decide to pursue further education in entrepreneurship?
I previously worked as an engineer in an oil-related MNC. At that time, the oil industry was booming. However, if you look at the top 10 Fortune 500 companies now, they are no longer oil companies but technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. Thus, I decided to veer in this new territory. I wanted to learn new skills, to develop myself and stay relevant. I also wanted to expand my network and mingle with entrepreneurs, and meet people who are passionate about entrepreneurship.
Did further education in entrepreneurship lead to any change in your mindset?
It has opened my mind to entrepreneurship. I don’t think entrepreneurship is limited to those who want to start a start-up. It is a mindset. I learned that entrepreneurs should actively look for solutions to existing problems. They should add value and see things from a different perspective whether for themselves or the organisation.
As an engineer by training – I learned the science and theories about machines. I was not very apt to business. After attending this course, I understood that entrepreneurship is more than just making money, it is also about creating value. So I asked myself how I could add value to the community.
Would you see yourself as an entrepreneur?
Yes. Since elementary school, I started selling candies and chocolates. My sales stint continued to high school, and in college I created something called smart exhaust which is a catalytic converter. I was in partnership with a couple of car dealers for the smart exhaust. Selling things in school helped me build my confidence which led me to start Habibi Garden, which involves precision farming where we create products to optimise cultivation.
What are some of the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
The common challenge is not having enough funds. To overcome it, I talked to my family and colleagues, and they helped to chip in. Besides that, I also joined competitions and managed to win some grants.
Another challenge is the lack of talents who believe in our vision. Since I am the CEO, there is a need to take care of the company, and that includes hiring talents to grow the company. Hiring was difficult as it was hard to find people who are able to see our vision and willing to take the plunge. We overcame this by hiring through word of mouth and getting current employees to recommend people.
In your opinion, is entrepreneurship an art or science?
In my case where I’m dealing with harvest business, it leans towards science, but farmers use my product, and there’s art as we have to convince conventional farmers to use our technology. So in conclusion, I would say entrepreneurship is both art and science.
One assumption is that multinational companies often stifle creativeness and innovation. Do you think this is true?
I think it depends on the MNC itself. I guess if we are talking about the giants like Apple, Amazon, etc., these assumptions may be inaccurate. But from my personal experience, the company culture can halt your creativity and innovation because the standard operating procedure can be daunting. Everything is a routine, and you repeat it daily. You are like a small part of a machine. On the other hand, in a start-up, everything is lean; it’s a small team. One person needs to handle a lot of different things; in that case, that person becomes an engine of the machine.
I understand that you are the CEO of Habibi Garden, could you tell us more about it?
Habibi Garden is based in Jakarta. We deal with IoT (Internet of Things) precision farming that allows farmers to ‘talk’ to their crops. Through the IoT sensors, farmers can understand their crops better and decide based on data instead of intuition. In doing so, we can boost the farmer’s productivity by up to 200%.
Are you able to walk us through your thought process and how the company came to be?
I grew up in a farming environment, so I know the fundamental problems that most farmers faced. Most of them managed their farms by intuition instead of science, and this led to lesser crop yield or even crop failure. I wanted to do something about it. I met my co-founder, and we found a viable product of precision farming that is frequently used in the West for industrial agriculture. We are now testing the project and piloting it to small-medium conventional farmers. These farmers see a more significant improvement in their yield and are happy. Now we have around 1,300 farmers using our system.
How does the business work? Do you sell or rent the system?
Initially, we tried to sell the system to small-medium farmers. However, they did not have enough purchasing power to buy it. Next, we tried renting, public sharing and even giving away the system for free. But because this system comes at low-cost to the farmers, they take it for granted and do not take care of it. These business models were not sustainable.
Now, we bring financial institutions to back the farmers – we sell our systems to financial institutions (who invested in agriculture) who in turn will feel less insecure because their investment has backing from concrete data (which we provide). This system that we provide reduces risk and uncertainty for the investors while farmers are also kept happy because they understand their crops better and have a better yield. In addition, when a farmer harvests his crops, we also receive a part of the profit which makes our business model more sustainable.
Can you tell us about Singapore-based FarmX?
During my studies in Singapore, I had the opportunity to bring my products here. But in Singapore, there is not much farming other than in Kranji. Upon understanding the environment in Singapore, I adjusted the system to fit urban farming conditions.
There are a lot of people living in HDB (public housing) who grow greens in their mini gardens. As the water in Singapore is expensive, farmers need to manage their daily quota. Thus, we adjusted the system to monitor the soil moisture conditions so that urban farmers can remotely control irrigation from an application. We are planning to tap into the urban farming market with this system, and Singapore is our starting point.
Do you have any examples of how your entrepreneurial skills have helped your business?
In my opinion, the skill that helps one to shape one’s business is the willingness to listen and learn. I came from an engineering background, and I know nothing about professional farming. There was a need for me to learn about the system from scratch. Besides that, once we provide our services to the farmers, it is essential to acknowledge and improve from their feedback. It is important to not just focus on the product but also the customers.
What traits do you think are crucial for entrepreneurs to have? Do you think one can cultivate these traits? If yes, how so?
Passion, the ability to listen and learn, and risk-taking. I think some people are born with these traits, but I also believe that you can learn all these things. For example, you can join Toastmaster Club to improve your confidence, attend web seminars, read books, learn from mentors, etc. to upgrade yourself. Everyone can do it.
What are some of the rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur?
There is a sort of freedom in pursuing your narratives. You can push yourself to accomplish your vision and make what you envision materialise. Another aspect is the opportunity to learn and gain knowledge. You take on numerous roles – marketer, book-keeper, etc. to keep your start-up lean. The most rewarding aspect being an entrepreneur is to see your customers’ smiling faces. That is when you know your product has positively impacted their lives.
Dian graduated with a Master of Science in Technopreneurship and Innovation from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Dian is the Founder and CEO of Habibi Garden, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Habibi Garden deals with IoT precision farming that helps farmers to communicate with their plants to improve productivity, reduce costs and minimise the possibility of crops failure. He also founded FarmX, based in Singapore, to tap into the urban farming market.