"I personally don't like the term "serial entrepreneur," actually, because starting from zero to one is really tough. It's super cliche that the early days... And starting out is always the hardest part. And so, the connotations of serial entrepreneur is the idea of building and selling or starting from zero to one, zero to one multiple times. I like the idea of compounding growth product-wise, business-wise, personal development-wise, network capital, et cetera. And which is why I strongly believe in building something that's sustainable and long-term and not just starting from scratch over and over again as a serial entrepreneur." - Bradian Muliadi
Bradian is the Co Founder & CEO of Hawksight.co, an AI Trading Assistant for retail investors to make smarter investment decisions in stocks, cryptocurrency, and forex through crowdsourced & AI-optimized trading signals. For his latest venture, the three-time startup founder is backed by a global deeptech accelerator called Entrepreneur First, but prior to this, Bradian has bootstrapped global technology businesses from Indonesia - one of which got acquired, and another scaled to profitability.
After immersing himself in the B2B startup scene in Los Angeles and graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Bradian returned to Jakarta to co-found IconReel, an influencer marketing platform that became the largest in Indonesia in three years before it got acquired by a publicly-listed Southeast Asian consumer goods company.
With a focus on scalable impact and being global from day one, Bradian then founded a social analytics software-as-a-service (SaaS) for Instagram and TikTok analytics with an all-Indonesian team that scaled to 50+ countries profitably with clients ranging from Warner Media and Boston Consulting Group, to small-to-medium businesses and solopreneurs.
Jeremy Au (00:01):
Hey, Bradian. Good to have you on the show.
Bradian Muliadi (00:03):Hi, Jeremy. Nice to be here.
Jeremy Au (00:06):
Well, it's good to see another serial founder here on this show, because there's so much I want to discuss with you, not only about your past startups, but also your current startup where you're very much giving the knowledge of the world with AI and everything else that you have, the data sources to retail investors here in Southeast Asia. But also, I think, what you've learned along the way, right, as a part-time founder. So we'll definitely go into that.
Bradian Muliadi (00:31): Sounds good. Really love to exchange insights here.
Jeremy Au (00:34):So Bradian, tell us a little bit yourself, like who you are. Tell us a bit about your professional journey for those who don't know you yet.
Bradian Muliadi (00:40):
Sure. Will do. So my name is Bradian. I'm Indonesian and a three-time founder. So the first startup... I sold the second startup I scaled to profitability. And the last startup, which I'm working on right now, ironically, is the first time that I'm building something that is venture backed.
So if I may go back in time for quite a bit, I was raised in a second tier city in Indonesia called Medan, went to high school in Singapore, took a gap year in Shanghai and ended up in Los Angeles studying business economics in UCLA. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur myself too. And being exposed to the whole tech scene in Los Angeles, but more so in the B2B side, more in the healthcare and media tech industry, that's what inspired me to come back to Southeast Asia and start something by myself or on my own.
So when I came back, I was based between Singapore and Jakarta, co-founded an influencer marketing startup with a co-founder from UCLA, grew it for three years to become the largest influencer platform in Indonesia before it got sold in 2019. And subsequently, right after that, founded a social analytics software-as-a-service for Instagram and TikTok analytics that scaled to profitability in over 50 countries.
And subsequently, right after that as well, I fell in love with the SaaS space. I really like the idea of building something that is globally scalable and having meaningful impact globally and the idea of just building once and selling a thousand times. And that's what led me to my current venture which is Hawksight, which is an AI trading assistant that helps retail investors make smarter investment decisions.
Jeremy Au (02:30):Awesome. Well, that's incredible, and going into the rodeo for the third time. Right. So before we do that, you study at UCLA and the first few jobs that you took were all really in the finance world. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (02:30):
Jeremy Au (02:47):Sinarmas Securities, L Catterton, JP Morgan, as an investment banker. So, why did you choose to do this set of jobs?
Bradian Muliadi (02:58):
Sure. So, it was a very cliche, personal roadmap. I wanted to go into consulting and banking, and for some reason, I always got the banking offers but not the consulting ones. Not sure why. And I just like the idea of immersing myself in different industries as much as possible, because I knew that the end goal was to build something in the technology space, which can fall into different industry categories too. Right. So, I really wanted to just expose myself to all their different industries and connect the dots from there to identify a market gap and opportunity.
But then if I may add onto that question a bit, how that led me to start a startup right out of college was having been in the corporate world for a while, I realized that it's not so much about knowing when you're ready or timing yourself, like, "Oh, I'm going to work two years and start my own thing." I think it's not about that, it's about when the opportunity comes by and whether you're ready or not, you just have to jump on it.
Jeremy Au (04:02):Yeah. And so, you decided to jump on this opportunity called Iconreel. Right. So how did that happen?
Bradian Muliadi (04:10):
So, that was a moment of serendipity. So, me and my co-founder, we returned to Singapore and then moved to Jakarta. We were experimenting with a few different startup ideas, one of them was online groceries, of all things. That was when Instacart, HappyFresh, HonestBee, RedMart, they were all the rave back then. So we started with that and it was a very funny pivot, like how we pivoted from online groceries to influencer marketing, which seems like there's no silver lining or connection over there.
But what really happened was in 2016, we witnessed the rise of influencer marketing in Indonesia, which was a bit more behind compared to all other countries like in the US and China or even in Singapore. And what started as a side project or what we built as an internal tool to champion influencer marketing for our or former online grocery startup, what started as a tool that in the turned into a product and we realized could be commercialized into a business model, that grew so much faster and that got product market fit so much faster than the other ideas we were exploring, one of them being online groceries. We didn't want to drop the ball, like juggling between many different things and dropping the ball on all of them, we decided to zero in and focus on, well, at least the startup that found product market fit and scale it from there.
Jeremy Au (05:39):
Wow. That's amazing. What was it like being a first time founder at that point in time? Was it scary? Was it fun? Were you just naive and you didn't feel too scary walking in? Because at that time it was like being a founder was pretty obvious from the Bay Area, right, both kind of like study in undergrad, but it wasn't that super obvious in Southeast Asia, even back in around 2015, 2016. So could you share more about that?
Bradian Muliadi (06:11):
This would be a very personal opinion, but I personally think nobody is ever read need to start their own thing or become a founder. And so, the contrarian view I had was instead of preparing myself in the corporate world or other more established technology businesses were, was that I thought I need to jump into the space ASAP and make my mistakes ASAP in the early days so that I can immerse myself in this space, know where the opportunities are, know what mistakes to avoid, and when I find product market fit or the right startup idea that's ready to scale, I would have had the startup experience, not the corporate experience necessary to scale the business.
And if I may add onto that as well, I personally don't like the term "serial entrepreneur," actually, because starting from zero to one is really tough. It's super cliche that the early days... And starting out is always the hardest part. And so, the connotations of serial entrepreneur is the idea of building and selling or starting from zero to one, zero to one multiple times. I like the idea of compounding growth product-wise, business-wise, personal development-wise, network capital, et cetera. And which is why I strongly believe in building something that's sustainable and long-term and not just starting from scratch over and over again as a serial entrepreneur. So, that's my very personal view on things.
Jeremy Au (07:41):So there you are, your first company and you kind of like grew it to acquisition. Right. So what was that experience like?
Bradian Muliadi (07:48):
Again, we took the pretty unconventional path. When we found product market fit and influencer marketing being more a B2B kind of play or roadmap, we managed to secure several enterprise clients. So we were good cashflow and profitability and growth-wise. And we did not see the urgency to raise funding, but we were very opportunistic with that. So what happened was, as we grew, first of all, we expanded into many different adjacent market from influencer marketing platform, we expanded into an influencer incubator and then also a software-as-a-service social analytics platform. And then when we realized that we want to accelerate the growth and expansion into other adjacent businesses or other markets regionally, we decided to talk to investors. And what happened was that was when we realized there was a great divide between strategic and financial investors, and they had very different views on how the business could grow. And when we had deeper discussions with strategic investors, that was when the acquisition offer came and that was when we realized that, "Hey, at a good valuation," we thought this is worth exiting.
Jeremy Au (09:02):
And what was that like? I mean after you went through that experience, I still remember selling the company, and for you, selling the company is a very rare experience and not much advice is out there. What advice would you have given yourself back then going through that acquisition process?
Bradian Muliadi (09:23):
Personally, I think focus on just building a good business, building a good team, a good product, and a good business, because if your end goal is just to sell out or your end goal is to IPO or whatever it is, things will naturally fall in place if you have a good team, product and business. So, that wasn't really the focus. And in fact, during these discussions for fundraising, or even the discussion to exit the business, that wasn't our focus, our focus was to just continue to grow the business and things just naturally fell in place for us. And with regards to how I felt, ironically... And so, this is epiphany for myself and learning more about ourselves as entrepreneurs as we built things. I realized I really like to get my hands dirty as an operator and as an entrepreneur. I like the idea of being actively involved and building a business versus passively investing, consulting or whatever it is. So at the back of my head, although we were finalizing the acquisition, at the back of my head, I was constantly thinking of, "What next? I don't want to take a break. I don't want to take a one or two month break." I wanted to jump straight to the next big thing. So, that was my mindset back then and that was when I realized, oh, the startup space is really is for me.
And I like to ask this to other co-founders as well, I like to ask, "If you had the chance to do this again, would you found another startup or would you do something else?" And the answers are usually two different extremes, it's either, "Hell no," or "hell yes." And for me, it was, "hell yes."
Jeremy Au (11:11):
So you went from "hell yes" to founding a company straight, immediately afterwards, right, which was Analisa and you built in a very different way. So, I guess, for what you can remember, you knew that you had "hell yes," but what were you bringing with you in terms of your experience to say, I want to build Analisa? And you also built it a very different way as well.
Bradian Muliadi (11:32):
Yes. Behind the scenes for Iconreel, initially, we wanted to build a software-as-a-service platform, something that we can build in Indonesia and scale globally. But what we realized was, well, the product market fit was more in the service side of things and it's not right or wrong, it's just naturally how the market and consumer behavior was, the consumer for Iconreel being these businesses. But at the back of my head, I understand, well, never to mix personal views with business, but I personally always wanted to built something that is globally scalable. And so while scaling Iconreel, I was constantly looking out for opportunities to productize certain service aspects of the social and commerce or influencer industry, and that's what led me to Analisa, to build a SaaS platform that can scale globally.
Jeremy Au (12:34):
So there you are building this global business and how were you building the business differently? So you went in saying, "I'm going to build a global business instead of a global business, and then how else were you thinking about building the company differently from your perspective back then?
Bradian Muliadi (12:49):
How I approached it differently wasn't a product of having founded something before, but it was more of adapting to a completely new business model. For example, building something that is SaaS, especially something that is more self-service SaaS versus B2B enterprise SaaS, I approached it in a way that was more lean and agile versus building an organization that was building a large platform and building a strong sales team and influencer onboarding team. That was a very different approach. The approach of building a scalable self-service SaaS business, I would say there was a very strong focus on product and localizing it in different geographies, but being very productive and efficient about it and making sure every new hire was able to make impact globally. Well, more like having scalable impact and having disproportionately larger multiplier effects and compounding effect in terms of scaling the product, scaling growth to multiple countries versus, well, in the initial target market, which was Indonesia.
Jeremy Au (14:13):What do you think you had unlearn? It sounds like there's some unlearning that you had to do, what did you have to unlearn?
Bradian Muliadi (14:20):
Well, because we were building a SaaS business that we wanted to scale quickly globally, something that needed to be unlearned was the pursuit of perfection in terms of just the Pareto Principle of not going for 100% but just going for 80% and just going to market first and scaling first, testing in different regions, let's say, in the US and UK, in India and in Brazil, localizing the product there and then localizing the growth strategies in all these different regions as well.
Personally, I think, this is not something, maybe I'm digressing a bit, not so much unlearned but learning something new, I think growing a SaaS business is not easy, but it's straightforward. At the end of the day, it boils onto just two things, product and growth. You build a really good product, keep improving on the product, and then, in terms of the growth side, just acquire as many customers as possible, upsell, retain customers. But then, all these different things, all these different tactics to push our product and push our growth, you have to localize it in all the different countries.
And the fact that you have to tackle so many countries, although you do have to focus on, identify your "beat you at market" and prioritize, the fact that you have to tackle so many and the market is so big and you have to grow that fast, you have to do it in a rather bulldozing kind of way where you cannot plan too much, you have to be more biased to action. So it's more unlearning how to move fast. Changing your perception of fast in SaaS, where the world is so flat, where distribution costs is close to zero, you have to move even faster.
Jeremy Au (16:02):Yeah. Moving fast it's a tough thing to do, and it's a tough thing to learn, and it's a tough thing to keep
doing all the time. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (16:09): Yeah. Yeah.
Jeremy Au (16:11):And this time around, you made a decision that this one you're going to build a profitability. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (16:16): Yes.
Jeremy Au (16:16):Which was a very different decision because the first one you decided to build it, not build it for acquisition, but you built it and acquisition was led, but this one, you built it for profitability.
Bradian Muliadi (16:27):
Jeremy Au (16:27):So what was the thinking behind that exit trajectory?
Bradian Muliadi (16:30):
Okay. If I may add as well, the first one, eventually it did turn profitable. But the second one, in terms of building it to profitability, to be really honest, it wasn't the end goal or intention, but it was just the natural result of the product we built. And just boiling down to economics of customer acquisition costs versus lifetime value and payback period, we realized that we can have our hunches and early theories or hypotheses on what the customer acquisition costs or the lifetime value will be, but we never know until we try, until we go to market.
The moment we went to market with that, we realized that the economics were great for a profitable business. And in terms of scaling it as fast as possible, and this would contradict what I said earlier, but we realized that even though if we push it to grow really fast inefficiently, it would really change the economics of things. In a nutshell, this business was more suitable to grow sustainably, profitably, versus blitz scaling at all cost, inefficiently, burning money and not getting the kind of retention metrics or our margins that we wanted. So in that sense, that was a data driven decision to push it for profitability and making it our North Star metric.
Jeremy Au (18:04):
Oh, that's actually really deep here, right, because you're saying something that most people don't necessarily fully get, which is, and you kept saying this a couple times now, which is if you build a great business, a lot of stuff will follow, right, the growth path, the marketing, the stuff that you need to learn, but also even your exit trajectory is going to show up in the way that you grow, especially if you have a solid business. You have to be profitable at some point of time, even if you exit or be VC backed or grow organically, you still have to have that as a milestone that you're going to hit. So, that's really true there. And there you are, and you decide to build another company, right, along the way. So, do you ever take a break? I'm just kind of curious. Or you saw something and you just went for it.
Bradian Muliadi (18:56):
This is the real, candid answer, I really enjoy the process, I really enjoy the dynamic and fast moving, fast breaking nature of the technology industry. And maybe that's why I can stop moving and I can't stop building. And that's why I didn't really want to take a break. And I don't see it as a break as well. I personally think, I'm operating in a sustainable rhythm personally and professionally in building businesses, because I really just enjoy it. So, no to breaks, but it doesn't feel like a chore as well.
Jeremy Au (19:35):Before we go into Hawksight, tell us more about what it means for you to have a sustainable rhythm that you just discussed.
Bradian Muliadi (19:43):
I think just going back to first principles, like what excites me in terms of books I read, news I read, things I talk about when I meet people, when I have coffee catchups with friends or family or whatnot, I just like the fast moving nature of the technology space and there's always something new coming up and you can apply it to all the different industries. Like when people say, "Are you in the tech space?" Or, "Why do you like tech so much?" I think it's because you can apply technology to all the different industries, whether it be, let's say, in the marketing world, in the financial world, in the real estate world. And maybe this goes back to your initial question of why I was in banking or why I wanted to be in that space specifically, or let's say, in investments, I like the idea of connecting the dots in all these different industries. And tech allows me to do that in a differentiated way, looking at things in a completely new angle and exploring market gaps.
Jeremy Au (20:55):
So I think you're kind of hinting at two things, right, which is that you're building companies that you love, and the second thing that you're hinting at is building it in a way that you like, or have a fit in, which is quite interesting, right, because that's something I've learned too along the way, is that...
At the end of the day, I think I met so many founders who don't honestly love what they're building, because they build the idea because it's something that's going to make money, it's something that makes sense, is there's a gap, but they don't really love the mission, I don't want to call it, right, the core of it. Right.
So they find different things to love about it. Right. They like the fundraising aspect of it, they like managing employees or the company building sides of it. But the core isn't there. Right. And fundamentally, then, it kind of falls apart because then that's when they feel like balance is a little bit more important because there's a bit of a trade off between doing what you really love versus the company, which is not something you fully, deeply love or have that deep purpose or mission for. Right.
And then, the second thing they talk a lot about is also the part about building in a way that allows you to have, you can say management style, but also the lifestyle. Right. What do you think about what I just said?
Bradian Muliadi (22:15):
I think it's easy for a lot of founders to go into the tech space or a specific industry with preconceived notions or strong hypotheses or ideas of how things should be. But at the end of the day, the raw truth is that nobody cares about what you think or how you think it should be. So it is a process and you have to iterate and you have to have an agile mind and be all ears.
So going back to the previous startups that I've built, yes, I went into the industry thinking how things should be, but I ended up adapting to how things were market dynamic-wise, user behavior-wise, the true economics of the industry. A lot of which I or nobody could have known without taking the dive into the industry in the first place. And that also goes back to why straight out of college, I wanted to dive straight into the startup scene because I realized both in the corporate world, well, I guess in business, in general, you never know until you try and you have to trust the process and iterate along the way. It's not about who's the smartest or who knows it all, it's about who is able to iterate their way to the natural fit of the startup in the right industry and scale it.
Jeremy Au (23:47):
Doesn't that feel like selling out? Like you're selling out your strong hypothesis to transform the industry, to adapting to market dynamics and local market players. Does it feel like selling out? Do people tell you you're selling out? How should a founder think about that feeling of like, these are my core convictions about how it should work in the future versus this is what the reality is today?
Bradian Muliadi (24:16):
Yeah. I forgot where I read this, but it really struck a chord with me. It's about being stubborn with the vision, but flexible with the execution. So yeah, you might sell out in your growth strategy, your operating framework, your strategic direction and tactics, but if you truly believe in the vision... And stubborn, it carries negative connotations, but let's say, high conviction, you have conviction with your vision, then that's not really selling out and you're still building something you truly believe in. Yeah.
Jeremy Au (24:57):
Wow. That's a great phrase, I got to start articulating that, because I think that's the crux of it, right, is like the high conviction and stubbornness still in the vision about what should be, but also flexible in the execution to get there.
Bradian Muliadi (25:12): Yeah.
Jeremy Au (25:13):
It seems like it's a tough thing for people to get though. Right? I mean, every time I hang out my friends and even myself, I find myself like it's hard to disentangle, even personally, the vision of how it should work versus how we approach it. Right. I don't know. Do you have any tips for how to think about that?
Bradian Muliadi (25:33):
Ah, that's tough. I personally think that's more an art than a science and I think that comes with experience, having the judgment and instinct to know when to trust your own voice versus listening to others. And this is one of the biggest criticisms founders get, right, being too stubborn or believing too much in themselves or the business or whatnot. And so, there's no right or wrong answer. Sometimes you have to have high conviction in what you're building, but sometimes... Not sometimes, you always have to have an open mind and listen, listen to investors, listen to customers.
Because at the end of the day, when you're building a startup, there are multiple stakeholders, there's your customers, there's your employees or your colleagues because I don't like to use the word employees, and then there's investors or partners. And the reason it's more an art than a science is, you have to balance the priorities of all these stakeholders. And that comes with experience and having the gut feeling and instinct on which one to trust. Yes, you can be data driven, but at the end of the day, being data driven is very historical looking, it's not forward thinking per se. So yeah, I guess it comes with experience, which leads back to, there's no other way to learn this than to just dive right in.
Jeremy Au (27:02):
Wow. I think there's a lot of truth to that. Right. And I always remember that whenever I was being stubborn in a high conviction... I guess, the only differentiator is whether you're right or wrong, right, so if you're right, it's high conviction, if you need to update your view to be correct, then you are stubborn. And I remember this operations leader, he always used to say something which is like, "What does the market tell us?" Right. And I was like, "What are the customers actually buying in our services?" Right. Like, "What is the customers giving us testimonials about, actually?" Right.
And I always thought that was a good phrase because I think sometimes it's a bit trite to say like customer's always right, because I don't think that's necessarily... it's too granular, it's too individual. But I think when you say what the market is telling us, it's like we're setting the zoom out a little bit more to be like, "Okay, these clusters of customers like this product," right, and "this cluster of our customers, don't like this feature," which is always a little bit... I don't know. I always remember that. I'm very grateful for him always reminding me every time he had a disagreement.
Bradian Muliadi (28:11):Constructive disagreements, you always need that.
Jeremy Au (28:15):
You are also building out, at least across these two companies as well, your leadership philosophy. Right? So you just kind of talked about it a little bit just now, which was like constructive disagreements. It's about not necessarily calling them employees. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (28:15): Yeah.
Jeremy Au (28:29):
Yeah. So how would you say like within that timeframe, your leadership philosophy change? Because when you first came out, you had never really led a company before and your first time going in and then you scaled that and then you went to your second company and then you had a bit more of a clue going in and then you scaled it out again. So how would you say your leadership philosophy scaled across these two sets of companies?
Bradian Muliadi (28:54):
So throughout the years, I'd say, personally, my leadership philosophy has become more and more open-minded because, back again to the prioritization framework, initially, when you're starting from scratch, literally from scratch, let's say no startup, no product, no investors, nothing, you are, yourself, or let's say you and your co-founder, you have certain views on how things should be. And so, you act on it. And so, you're acting very unilaterally. But then as you scale your team, your product and your product turns into a business, you have customers and then you have investors, you realize that you need to be more open-minded and listen to all the different stakeholders and all the different perspectives. And to this day, it will always be a challenge how to prioritize all those different voices.
So, back to how my leadership style has changed over time, I'd say it has become more collaborative, more open-minded and more agile. But also, having to balance that with prioritization and just shrewd execution. If you're listening to everybody, you're not satisfying anybody. And if you're trying to please everybody, it's just going to make things slow and inefficient. So firstly, listen to everybody, but secondly, process that independently and form your own judgment. But the first step is crucial, listening to everybody first before you have your own independent judgment.
Jeremy Au (30:34):
Wow. That's very true. And I think something that's you said is, I think, often underappreciated and I think I didn't really understand was, I think when you first found, you honestly only have one or two audiences, one is the customer and then the second one is your co-founder. Right.
Bradian Muliadi (30:51): Yeah. Yeah.
Jeremy Au (30:51):
And they're oftentimes in sync, right, as on everything. So, it's a pretty straightforward set of audiences to have. And I think one thing that you say was very true is like you have so many more audiences the moment you start scaling from zero to one, to one to 10, and from 10 to 100 is, like you said, the number of employees, the larger number of customers, the investors.
And one thing I often think about sometimes when I tell people about the challenge of leadership is that the requirements of leadership is not a linear requirement growth, it's a exponential piece because you're squaring the problem. Right. Instead of having two groups, now you have four groups with larger quantities. Then of those four groups, you have larger numbers of each. Right. Now you have 20 employees instead of zero. Right. Now you have 10 investors instead of zero. Right.
And then, obviously, the third thing you talk about is you still have to maintain that judgment, that quality of decision making even as you get a squaring of the number of inputs and output channels that you have to manage. Then you still have to maintain a core judgment cycle, which is tough. Right. How did you keep that core out of judgment? Because it's tough. Right? I mean, like everybody's talking to you. Right. And some people are like grow faster, some people are grow slower. Your friends are like, "Do this," your peers are, "Do that."
Bradian Muliadi (32:26): Yeah.
Jeremy Au (32:27):
Any good tricks or tips on how you maintain a call judgment? Maybe there's like some habits that you do or heuristics or approaches that you try after a day listening to everybody and you're like, "Okay, I got to make a call on this."
Bradian Muliadi (32:42):
Sure. So I have one view on it and one story on it. So, my personal view is that a feature is not a product, a product is not a business and a business is not an organization. So the moment you turn from a business to an organization and scaling and amplifying or squaring all those "problems and headaches," to scale an organization, you need to scale leadership as well. So you need to empower your teammates, your colleagues to make decisions themselves. And just have a certain framework on who should make what type of decisions, let's say, who should make final decisions in growth versus final decisions in product development or final decisions related to the commercial side of things or fundraising side of things?
So at the end of the day, the co-founders cannot be the ones finalizing or taking all the decisions. It's just not scalable, so you have to empower your colleagues to do so. Make sure information flows up and decisions flow down. Not only creating that framework, but empowering your colleagues to do so and creating very clear guidelines on who should make what decisions, that's how you scale an organization.
I have this personal ideal on how, and the keyword is "ideal," in reality, it will not be 100% like this, but again, this is just a very personal view. But the ideal organization is one where it is headless, where even without the co-founders, it can run by itself, it could make crucial decisions by itself, it can grow by itself, accelerate and explore new opportunities or grow into adjacent markets by itself. And so, I constantly chase for that ideal because that's how you scale decision making or scale an organization, that's when you know you don't just have a product, but you have a great business and it is an organization that could grow into more businesses in the future.
And my personal story on that about trusting your own instinct was there was a time when influencer marketing was trending, or just social commerce in general, and this was back in the days, the early days of Analisa and when we were still building Iconreel. So we were speaking to several investors and they were keen on investing in Iconreel with the condition that we pivoted the business model to something that was trending. And without going into the details of the business model, it was more towards something related to social commerce, social selling, affiliate marketing, things like that. And we had a hunch which was validated from internal experiments as well that that specific business model did not fit our current growth trajectory or product roadmap and we thought the economics did not make sense, we thought that that wasn't sustainable and above all, there was no defensibility. So yes, it might be cool, it might have hockey stick growth over the next one, two years, but in 3, 4, 5 years, it might just go back to zero. So that was our house view on things.
And it was a scary thing because we have these investors telling us they would put money in us, and even if we are profitable, even if we're self-sustainable money is oxygen in startups and you always want more oxygen, it can make you run faster or run longer. Right. So it was tough to say no and even tougher when you hear these investors say, "Okay, we're going to fund your competitors and they're going to compete against you. We're going to put millions of dollars in all these other startups," which they eventually did.
And this was another moment of epiphany for me, because imagine this, me sitting over coffee with these investors face-to-face, so hearing this in person, and when they said, "We're going to fund millions of dollars to competitors and compete against you. Nothing personal, this is business." for the first two seconds, maybe, I was like, "Oh no, did I make the wrong decision?" I wasn't so certain about myself. And it's always good to question yourself once in a while or even just for two seconds. But instantly, when I snap back into reality, the voice at the back of my head was, "All right, bringing on. All right, let's do this." Like, "Let's fight." And that was when I realized that I really enjoy what I'm doing and let's not use the word stubborn, I had high conviction on the strategy that we were pursuing because I wasn't scared. I was maybe scared for two seconds, but right after that, I was like, "Bring it on."
And the result of this wasn't as dramatic as the start. In the end, we ended up not clashing with each other because the social commerce industry is a huge industry and there are many adjacent markets, so we never really directly competed against one another. But our moment of redemption came one to two years later when we had casual chats with some of these investors and they said, "Oh, this business model didn't work, we ended up burning a lot of money." And then a lot of the startups either went belly up or they pivoted. And then, suddenly they were Tech in Asia and DealStreetAsia articles talking about how these business models didn't work.
So our moment of redemption came one to two years later, and I think that's a lesson for everybody or every founder is that, you might be right, but you might only know one to two years later or you might not know instantly. And so, again, that's a judgment call on whether to trust your instincts, your conviction, and persevere with your thesis, because sometimes you'll be left in that uncertainty for much longer than you anticipate because it takes a while for the business model to pan out.
Jeremy Au (38:56):Wow. What a journey and I totally get how that feels.
Bradian Muliadi (38:56):
Jeremy Au (39:01):
It has a fun fact, but I mean it's a wonderful story, because I totally know what you mean. Right. It's like, "Whew." It's crazy because you know that you have the fight and sometimes you don't know whether the way you're fighting and what you're fighting for makes sense. But you just know, right, based on operating experience, blah blah, blah, bunch of intellectual stuff, but you just know. And then you just have to go for it. Right. And then, I don't know, it's such a tough thing to explain to people like what that moment is like.
Bradian Muliadi (39:33):
Yeah. If I may add as well, that confidence also came from data and empirical evidence because we were already in the market. We knew our customers. We knew our partners. We knew our future customers or knew the people who didn't want to partner or become our customers and we knew exactly the reasons why. So we had underground information and insights, which I guess, not a lot of new entrants or let's say, some investors might not have. And this is not to discredit any other people, it's just, we all have to be aware of our edges and know our specific points of views and the biases from those points of views.
And personally, that's also why, even if we're not raising, I like to still casually catch up with investors because investors, angel investors or VCs, because they have great bird's-eye view on things as an investor. But as an operator, you have great, I'm not sure whether this is even the phrase, but a duck's-eye view, on the ground, and you need to marry both. You need to have synergies between the both of them to build a good business. Being an operator makes you a better investor and being an investor makes you a better operator. So, we believe that we had great data and insights from both views and that was how we stuck to our guns and knew what to do. It wasn't just blind faith.
Jeremy Au (41:00):
Yeah. Wow. That's amazing. Really just a great profile of courage, but not in a risky or foolish way. And so, okay. So here you are, you have all these set of experiences and then you decide to go build Hawksight, which is slightly different from everybody else in the sense that it's about targeting the kind of like retail trading space and the finance world, which is maybe kind of a little bit going back to your first love, maybe, in the finance space. But obviously, there's a lot of parallels in terms of like the data approach that you're taking, because your previous two companies were really about that data and analytics. So even though I think a lot of casual folks might be like, "Oh, this seems totally unrelated," to me as an operator, I'm like, "Oh, there's a lot of similarities in the play, actually." So I was just curious, like what drew you to tackle this problem?
Bradian Muliadi (41:51):
So before tackling that industry, I knew what type of product or business I wanted to build and that was SaaS. Again, the idea of building once, selling a thousand times and building something that is globally meaningful and having global impact, going global from day one. So with that in mind, I wanted to explore opportunities in the SaaS space. Also because I thought that there would be lots of synergies. And back to my earlier point about starting from scratch, is it's always hard. You always want to build with compounding effect over time. I wanted to explore synergies with my past experience, past resource and past businesses, which, well, all in this case, would be Analisa where I've had experience in building a SaaS product and growing a SaaS product and not starting from scratch all over again.
So while having that SaaS obsession, I decided to explore many different industries and basically what everybody was doing during the pandemic. People got bored during lockdown, people started trading, trading stocks, trading cryptocurrency. And I, together with my co-founder, his name is Enzo, amazing, super smart guy, we were basically building tools for ourselves to trade smarter during the pandemic. And that was when we realized that, "Oh, this can actually be productized and built into a SaaS product that could benefit other retail investors." Us personally, we've generated a great offer from this. And we thought that this can be shared with other retail investors globally. So yeah, that's how it started.
Jeremy Au (43:33):
When you think about this, obviously, like you said, there's been a huge boom of day traders and retail investors because they've been powered by Robinhood, obviously, that we know in the States, but lots of like day trading apps like Tiger Brokers as well as Ajaib. So there's a whole range of them like lowering the access barriers. And I think one of the big challenges and one of the big issues with Robinhood is this perspective that they're lowering access.
And in the past, in order to get access, you had to be a relatively high-information person. Right. You had to be relatively investment sophisticated to go through the hurdles of setting up the account, then the brokerage and then actually starting up, to looking at the tickers and actually making decisions. Right. So I think, the implicit gate was, everybody who's on the stock market is financially responsible for the decisions they made because they had enough information and enough spirit to cross the barriers to get into it.
And I think the big issue that we have is, and a lot the profiles at the Atlantic and all these New Yorker is about the day trading apps causing people like college students and people who are relatively low-information than the standard crowd, for example, yourself and myself who have business and at least like some experience in the finance and adjacent world. And now, people are just kind of like self educating themselves. So what do you think about that?
Bradian Muliadi (45:14):
Sure. So, actually, that is a great segue into our core hypothesis. So, despite the explosion of retail investors worldwide, over 97% of retail investors still trade based on gut feeling and imperfect information. And the existing stock analysis tools out there don't really help because they're still highly manual and highly technical, hence limiting their adjustable market to the technical or advanced traders only. And the solutions to those are also not very helpful either because they are usually, well, in our personal opinion, robo-advisors that are passive black box systems that don't actually help retail investors succeed in investing. They just assume retail investors don't know how to trade or don't know how to invest and you just passively put money in there and it will passively generate returns for you.
And so, this is the unique insight we have, our conspiracy against the world, our core thesis, we believe there is huge latent demand for retail investors who want to trade actively and independently, but they just don't know how to, or don't have the time to. And so, that is why Hawksight, what we built is an AI trading assistant to help make it easier for these retail investors to make smarter investment decisions with actionable data driven insights. And that is the market gap that we are tackling.
Jeremy Au (46:52):So there's no way to put a genie back the bottle, right, which is the fact that we've made the world much easier to invest in the stock market, right, which is driving a lot of stocks in individual market
movements. And obviously, there's a bell curve of performance, right, by retail traders and retail investors. Right. There's a bunch of people who are going to make a ton of that they never knew they could make. And there's a bunch of people who are sometimes lucky, sometimes unlucky, sometimes sophisticated, sometimes unsophisticated. And then there's the other end, which are unsophisticated and going to lose money because they don't have the time, information or the networks to really make the right call. Right.
So there you are and this bell curve. And what I really love about what you're doing is these day trading apps have allowed, to some extent, a greater level, move the barrier such that now everybody in that bell curve can get to invest, whereas in the past, only, on average, the upper-middle and the top could really access it.
But your thesis is that you want to move everybody to the right, you want people who are low information to some information and people with some information to more information. And so, hopefully you improve the investment outcomes, obviously, for them as a portfolio. When you think about that, what have you noticed is like the biggest gaps of knowledge? Right. Because you're obviously doing a bunch of data and so forth, but what would you say are the biggest gaps of knowledge for these retail investors to be able to make those smarter investment decisions?
Bradian Muliadi (48:26):
I'd say the misconception is that people don't know enough or they lack specific knowledge or skill sets. But actually, the case is that everybody has gaps in knowledge, everybody from the big guys in Wall Street to the regular retail investors like us. But everybody has specific, well, their own insights and information to act on, but maybe they don't know how to process that information, analyze it, or create trading strategies based on the information or knowledge that they know.
And that is the core thesis of Hawksight and also, the misconception about Hawksight as an AI trading assistant. It's not that we claim to have the most profitable strategy or give you profitable trade ideas is that we make it easier for any retail investors to create their own strategy, discover their own strategies. And that's why we call it... Well, this is in our roadmap, to build the world's largest platform for crowdsourced trading signals, because we believe anybody can have core insight that could generate alpha or profitable traits for themselves.
And if I may add onto that about shifting the bell curve as well, we believe that there is a generational shift that we are surfing or riding on right now, and this is the shift from passive investing to active trading. And this is the result of low trading fees or free trading fees, the rise of the Robinhoods of this generation in every single country and the active participation of retail investors, and also the advent of AI that makes information more accessible and actionable insights more accessible for everyday retail investors to act on.
But another misconception about this is that just because it's out there doesn't mean it's accessible, just because you have platforms that provide powerful insights... If it is not digestible or easy to consume or understandable for these retail investors, you haven't democratized data driven investments because yes, it's there, yes, it's all on a website, yes, anybody could access, but if it is not understandable and usable by these retail investors, you haven't empowered them, they still don't understand how to. And that's why we are lowering the barrier for that and providing preemptive insights to these investors and making it easy to consume but also easy to create these trading strategies.
Jeremy Au (51:10):
Wow. That's super amazing. And I love the differentiation between the crowdsource dynamic versus the AI, and then the question about learning acceleration, I think, fundamentally, versus gaps in knowledge. Right. So it's really about the process that you're accelerating here. Well, we're coming on time here, but Bradian, could you share with us a time when you were brave, when there was something that was challenging and tough that you overcame?
Bradian Muliadi (51:39):
Well, to answer this question, I'll share about a common myth about Southeast Asian startups and it's the idea that you can can't or shouldn't build a global business from Southeast Asia, which I so strongly disagree on. And I think founders should be more brave and more bold in their ambitions in building something global from Southeast Asia. The world is so flat at now and you have all the infrastructure needed to build something global from day one in Southeast Asia, the payment systems, the social platforms, the distribution channels.
And too many people try to build solutions looking for a problem, so that's a product issue and also just a mindset issue, the mindset of not being brave enough to want to go into markets that we never thought we could get into, to Brazil, to Russia, to all these countries that speak different languages and have different cultures. So, I think that's the main message I want to give in terms of being brave. It's not necessarily in facing adversity, but also just being super ambitious before there's even adversity, like running to the spike, running to the problems, running to headaches, but headaches that come from dreaming too big.
Jeremy Au (53:05):
Wow. That's amazing. I love that bravery piece because I think so many founders are scared and terrified about building for the global stage. Right. It's a tough one to believe since historically there hasn't been too many, but we're all about building the future. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (53:23): Yeah.
Jeremy Au (53:26):
So, Bradian, thank you so much for sharing. I'd love to share like the three things that really stood out to me based on what we chatted about. I mean, the first one, thank you so much, was just sharing your experience as a serial founder who has experimented with different approaches. Right. From building it, obviously, towards acquisition, building it towards profitability and sustainability, and then, third, in a more VC backed approach. But I love the core of it, which is building a great business and I tell people that all the time as well, it's like, we spend all this time talking about fundraising, but how do we build a great business first? Right? And similarly, you start thinking about acquisition, how do you build great a business?
Of course, the second thing I really enjoyed was I think this whole aspect around obviously Hawksight and your approach to data information and acknowledging that there's a bell curve of traders in terms of their knowledge and how that used to be correlative of market access. And I also love your point of view, which is that everybody has gaps in their market information. It's really about the rate of learning and you're solving that, not just with AI, but also with the crowdsource and public and, to some extent, private market signals and ability to test those strategies. Right?
Bradian Muliadi (54:45):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeremy Au (54:46):
And lastly, thank you so much for sharing, I think, your honest take on leadership and the squaring or cubing of the leadership demands on an input and output basis, but also how you maintain that sit of judgment, instead of... What is it you said? ... stubborn vision, flexible execution, but having the high conviction approach to use that mixture of data and listening to the team and still making that judgment call at the day, which is, I think, really shows how remarkable you are as a serial founder because those are the same dynamics I spend lot time thinking about and that you have articulated so clearly and crisply.
Bradian Muliadi (55:30):Likewise, thank you, Jeremy. Thank you. Really appreciate it.