Steven Tannason on Google vs. ByteDance Culture, Indonesia Zero to One & Audacity as Founder - E54

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"I think the biggest issues in the world can only be solved if a lot of people who are smart and ambitious work on these problems and dedicate their whole entire lives and attention and heart into it." - Steven Tannason

Steven is co-founder and CEO of Aman, digital platform for employee benefts in Indonesia, empowering employers to conveniently find and manage health insurance for their employees. Prior to starting Aman, Steven lived in Beijing, building and leading business development team for ByteDance in Southeast Asia. Before that, he was based in Singapore for 4+ years, working on product partnerships for Google, helping to launch new products and features for Google Maps across the region.

You can find our community discussions on the podcast episode at


Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Hey, good to have you on board, Steven.

Steven Tannason: [00:00:02] Hey Jeremy, it's good to be here. I really love what you're doing with your podcast and I think it's such an amazing chance to tell people the amazing stories of different conversations. And yeah, super glad to be here.

Jeremy Au: [00:00:15] Going to be a ton of fun to share about your journey, because you have a very unique insight on a topic and set of topics that ton of people are asking. So before we jump right into it, why don't we just hear about what your personal journey has been?

Steven Tannason: [00:00:29] Sounds good, Jeremy. Yeah, too kind of you by the way. So Steven here, I'm Indonesian, so I'm in Jakarta right now. I grew up in Jakarta until high school and then I went to Australia to do my undergrad degree where I studied humanities, which is not super common, right, I think for us Asians to do social science, humanities. But I do that because I've always loved the media. So I grew up throughout my high school, junior high, and I grew up wanting to be a journalist, actually. I've actually grown up writing a few publications, like for the Jakarta Post, like the newspaper here. I love the media. I love writing because I just felt that with the media, you can potentially create such impacts on the world, like create positive impacts on the world, influence people to hopefully become better by putting your ideas and perspectives out there.

So yeah, I grew up in Jakarta and then I moved to Melbourne to do my undergrad degree for my humanities studies. And I did that for three years, after which I actually moved to Hong Kong. And I know that people may find it a weird to move to Hong Kong to do your postgrad degree. But I did that because again, back to the passion of the media, where I love television and I knew that a lot of the TV stations, so the Bloombergs, CNN of the world, have their base in Hong Kong. And so I wanted to move there so that I can maybe intern and work in one of those TV and media companies. So did that for half a year actually because my program then, we did half a year in your home uni and then you had to do half a year in another country.

So I then packed my bags and then moved to Beijing in 2014, early 2014. Spent half a year there, after which I moved to Singapore, your amazing home country, which I really love. So spend four years there working on product partnerships mostly, with Google. But before that, I actually started my career in the advertising arm of Google. And then after that, after spending four plus years, I moved to Beijing again, joined a company called ByteDance, which we know as our favorite application TikTok now, to basically lead and build their Southeast Asia Business Development Team. So looking after most of the telecom and content partnerships across the region. And by the end of 2019, by early last year, I've spent around 10 years living outside Indo, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing. And I thought it was a good time for me to just come back to Jakarta, to my home country, and try to do something new.

So for me, it was both professional and also personal, where professional, I feel that I've spent the last five years working large corporates, right? Google was a huge company, ByteDance is a huge company as well. And thought it's a good time to explore what I want to do next in my life. And for me personally as well, I've been wanting to come back to Indonesia to contribute a lot more to the country. And yeah, so here I am in Jakarta from the past year or so, working on my own startup in the health insurance space.

Jeremy Au: [00:03:19] Amazing. How was it like first getting started in technology? What made you choose this industry?

Steven Tannason: [00:03:27] Couple of things. I would say number one, I still remember to this day, the day that I got my offer at Google. It was simply one of the most magical days of my life, right? Because it was 2014, I was living in Beijing then. I remember I get the email from my then recruiter, his name is Rishi. And I was just super happy, elated because it's Google, I've been looking up to the company. And I think to date, I still believe that the company is such an amazing company that it's really creating lots of impacts and really making the world a better place. Right? So yeah, I remember when I got the offer, I was super excited because I always loved, as I mentioned earlier, media, advertising, communications. A bunch of the internship I did before then was around advertising NPR space. And at that time, I felt that, you see a lot of the trends of print, advertising, moving to digital advertising.

And I think that it's a good moment to just jump on one off the biggest trend in the search engine marketing and the display advertising, and Google was definitely one of the best places to do so. So I think looking back now, I didn't want to work in tech companies since I was young, but I felt that what has happened over the last few years was really an accumulation of lots of serendipity and also just me following my gut feel and also being at the right place at the right time. I try to do what really makes me happy and what interests me most.

Jeremy Au: [00:04:45] Amazing to hear transition from what you studied to technology. Yeah, it's interesting. What resonated with you? What gave Google that halo in your eye?

Steven Tannason: [00:04:57] For sure. I think that number one, I would say that having worked there, it's the culture of the company as well. I would say that in my four plus years there, I've always been amazed by the company culture that they have been building over the many years. Right? So I think that definitely put a lot of efforts in making sure that the people, the employees are able to grow professionally, but also personally as well. And I feel that it's not just in the professional growth sense, where you help the employees to grow their career throughout the career ladder, but also in a personal sense where you really want to help the employees to grow in a more, like in terms of the employee's wellbeing as well. So I think that's one, in terms of the culture as well.

And I think the second one is also, it's just amazing to see how a company has been able to produce so many products that's been used by so many people worldwide. Right? So as mentioned earlier, I started off my career in online advertising at Google. And then I did most of my years at Google working on product partnerships for Google Maps, which was super amazing because as you know, Google Maps is largely used by so many people worldwide, more than a billion people. But at the same time, Google Maps is unique because mapping products, it's more than just a pure software product, but it's a combination of the online, the offline as well and where the content and the data are such integral part of the product. Right? Which I think is super unique and interesting as well.

Having worked in Southeast Asia for the product where other times, a lot of the challenges are around the data availability. So for example, those of us like me, who grew up in Jakarta, we know of the concept of Kopaja or mikrolet, which are like the mini buses that you see here, right, that can just stop anywhere, that can depart anytime, arrive any time. And because of those market ones, so our team had to really find creative and innovative solutions to do our work. I think it was very gratifying as well, Jeremy, to spend time working on these products, making the products better for our region. And I think when you meet, say partners, clients, or even with friends in general, I think just them telling me and telling our team that they have found the product to be useful in their daily lives, like getting from home to office and so forth. I think it was a deeply, an immensely gratifying experience.

Jeremy Au: [00:07:08] What was your first day like? Were you scared? Were you nervous?

Steven Tannason: [00:07:13] For sure, man. I was scared. Right? I remember, I moved to Singapore. It was my first time living there. I was in Beijing before, and then I spent a couple of weeks in Jakarta and then just packed my bags and move to Singapore. I stayed at Tanjong Pagar then. Our office was at Asia Square. So yeah, I think I was definitely nervous because it was first of all, my first job. Right? So I think that first job is always nerve-racking for a lot of people. But I would say that what stood out to me today, it's the diversity of the people. Because at that time, my team was handling the Southeast Asia team for the online advertising business.

And when I went there, I remembered just meeting people from all over the region. Right? So Indonesians, Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysians, and so forth. It was, in a weird sense, like a very warming thing, because for us, a lot of people like myself, we came from outside Singapore, and then we moved to Singapore to work at Google. I think there was that sense of like friendships and camaraderie as well, where a lot of people are supporting each other a lot. So I really appreciated it. And I think that notion of diversity has been sticking with me for a long time since then, until now, where I just leave that with a lot of people who come from different backgrounds, different perspectives. I think it will just lead to a lot more holistic work output and effort at the end of the day.

Jeremy Au: [00:08:37] I'm curious, did you face any particular challenges or obstacles joining a company like Google and later ByteDance?

Steven Tannason: [00:08:44] Yes, Jeremy. So I think one thing I would say is that, not to say that there's anything bad about the roles because I think there was such an amazing roles that I really had a chance to learn a lot about. So I grew so much as a person as well during my times at Google and ByteDance. But I think with every work, with every role, there's always some set of challenges and obstacles, right? I would say that my first job, so I did sales for Google's advertising business. And sales by itself, it's not an easy thing to do. I think maybe, even me as a founder now, comparing all the different things that we do as a company, so the product side, sales, marketing, partnership and so forth, I would say that sales is probably the most difficult thing because it's just that a lot of things are beyond your control. Right?

And I think that it applies a lot as well in my first job where my job was to basically call a lot of the clients that Google already had for their advertising business and then work with them to basically maximize their Google AdWords investments. And then eventually, also helped them to adopt new features and new products that would be useful for them. It was a challenging one because there was just so many rejections, day by day, hour by hour. I would call a bunch of people every single day and then a lot of them would say that they're not interested. A lot of them would just ignore you. So I think that it was challenging because out of school, you thought that new career, you're invincible. But I think with your first job, and then you're just getting smacked where you're getting so many rejections. It didn't feel good. Right?

But at the same time, I would also say that it has really helped me to become who I am today. It has helped me to become a lot more resilient. It's helped me to become a lot more anti-fragile, where I think that these are the traits that has really helped me along the way. So with my next job at Google, with the partnerships team and also with ByteDance, and now especially important for me in building my own company.

I would say that the other second set of challenge with a couple of years ago, so around four plus years, after four plus years of working in my professional career where I was basically working a lot, a lot of hours. And then I think that I was at a point where I had a work burnout. Right? And I was just thinking a lot about, it was like maybe quarter life crisis as well, where I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to do with my life, like I think I should do next in life and so forth.

That is an important one to me, because I think during that time, I did really introspect a lot. I reflected a lot on my personal identity, what I wanted to with the rest of my existence. And it was also during that time that I truly realized the importance of mental health. Right? So during that time, I've actually had some professional help that really helped me a lot to recalibrate, to really balance my professional and personal aspirations. And I think mental health is something that we don't really talk as much here, especially amongst like us, younger people, who work in tech because we want to really appear to be strong and invincible. But I think it's just a sign of strength to be able to admit that sometimes you are tired or you just maybe need someone to tell you that it'll be okay.

Jeremy Au: [00:11:51] Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I think it's underrated how stressful it is, honestly. People have to just overcoming and improving, let alone dealing with the mental stress of all that change. Right? I think one thing that's interesting of course is that, from your experience, you've worked at both Google and ByteDance, in Southeast Asia, right? And I would love to hear what you find are the major differences between those two company cultures.

Steven Tannason: [00:12:21] I think that maybe it's not doable comparison, because Google is a much more mature company, whereas ByteDance is a large company, but also fairly young, right, like seven plus years or so. So I think the stage of the company is quite different. That would contribute a lot to the differences in how the company and the product and the teams are run. But I would say that with ByteDance actually, I feel that there's a very international sense of culture in the sense that I think that, for example, for my team that I was working with, I'm Indonesia and I was based in Beijing, but also I work a lot with people from all over the world, right? So from India, from Americas, from Europe and so forth.

And so I think that blend of culture really reminded me of how my experience was with my first job at Google. So I think that sense of culture and the team set up with the diversity has not really a hugely different. That's one. I think the other one that really stood out to me, Jeremy is maybe the whole Chinese, the work ethic in the Chinese tech ecosystem. Right? So I had the chance to live in Beijing, which is super fascinating. Have you heard of the term 996? I'm sure you have.

Jeremy Au: [00:13:24] Oh yeah. Yep.

Steven Tannason: [00:13:27] 九九六 (jiu jiu liu), which means for those who haven't heard yet, so it basically means you work from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM, six days a week. And I think it applies to a lot of the Chinese tech companies, Chinese tech startups, founders, execs, Chinese tech workers and ecosystem in general. I don't endorse hustle culture at all. I think that there has to be a balance between resting as well. But I think that one thing that really stood out to me is that it's important to be able to find what really excites you and what really keeps you going everyday, like it doesn't feel like work to you anymore. But yes, I think going back to that, I think the work culture is something that was really interesting and I think it taught me a lot as well about the work ethic of the Chinese tech ecosystem.

Jeremy Au: [00:14:09] Yeah. We both went to Tsinghua University for a stint and both got to enjoy Beijing. And I think what's funny is that when I think we were both there in Tsinghua, in Beijing, I think we saw obviously, and we all knew about the rapid growth of China. And it's just that we always saw it as a domestic economy. And I think since we were both at Tsinghua University, we've really seen all these big tech, basically come out from China and set up offices and regional products all Southeast Asia, right? So it was interesting to see that.

Steven Tannason: [00:14:44] For sure. Yeah. So I would say that during my time at ByteDance, I was very fortunate, right Jeremy? Because I think as a context as well, the reason why I was so excited about moving to ByteDance was the whole Beijing experience. So it was 2018, I've spent around four plus years with Google in Singapore. And I thought that probably it's a good time to just explore another city, another place to journey in. So essentially, I was thinking about the whole shift, as you mentioned, where a lot of the tech companies and tech ecosystem are really slowly shifting from purely the West and America and then moving to the East, right? Especially the Chinese companies where you see Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, and now ByteDance of course, getting a lot more prominence all over the world, especially here in Southeast Asia as well.

So I thought that it's a good time to just maybe move to China and then explore what's there and learn a lot from the ecosystem, like meet a lot of amazing and smart people. And I was very fortunate because, as we mentioned, I've worked with Google and ByteDance, so a very American company, but also like one international Beijing based company.

I would say that I'm very fortunate that I've a chance to work in a region that's close to my heart, which is Southeast Asia. So during my time at ByteDance, I spent around half of the time in Beijing, but half of the time just traveling across the region here in SEA, so in Indonesia, in Thailand, in Philippines, Vietnam, which is super fascinating to see all the different offices are being set up, teams being hired here, and then just working with different partners across the region. So for example, in my case, I work a lot with the Telco partners. So a lot of the companies we work with are like the Singtel associates of the world. Right? And essentially, it was super interesting to see how this fairly new product, TikTok, is being perceived by so many of the businesses and partners and the impact it has had as well on the creation and formation of the culture here in the region.

Jeremy Au: [00:16:44] It's quite surprising because I think most people have historically looked at Chinese big tech companies, even when they're outside China now, which I think we've all started to put our heads around and accept as a reality. But it's also interesting that there's a lot of stereotypes that the Chinese big tech companies are not very international, they're not very representative. So it's interesting to see that rapid localization and nimbleness of these companies from China basically becoming the Chinese equivalent of American MNCs, right, multinational corporations.

Steven Tannason: [00:17:20] That's right. Yeah, maybe just a side story as well, Jeremy. So just as a context, I'm not proud of this, but I don't speak Chinese well, I don't speak Mandarin well. So throughout my times at ByteDance, I think that I maybe didn't speak more than a couple of lines in Mandarin. All of my work meeting or work email and all are in English. And yeah, it was okay because our team was fairly international and I think a lot of people made an effort to make sure that people who didn't come from the Chinese office, they would be able to fit well with the flow of the meeting and all.

So, yeah, I agree with you, having come back to Jakarta as well, I think that I also feel that a lot of the people here in Indonesia, those who are working on startups, those who are building companies as well, I think whereas in the past, people used to see just the American companies, like Google Facebook of the world as being the role model. But I think a lot of them are increasingly looking at the hybrid of the American and the Chinese role models, right? Where they would take the best elements of the American companies, but also now taking on how the Chinese companies are doing things very differently and uniquely in terms of their business model, GTM and so forth. So I think that at least for us here in SEA, we're very fortunate because we get to see the best of both worlds, which I think is amazing.

Jeremy Au: [00:18:35] Let's talk more about it. What is the best of both worlds for a US and Chinese feature? So let's start at the US side, what's the best features of a US in a business model approach?

Steven Tannason: [00:18:47] I think that maybe, this is with one I've worked for. Right? And I can't tell for everyone, because I haven't worked for a lot of course. But I would say that maybe one, at least with Google, I felt that there was a lot of focus on making sure that a lot of the products and features are being designed and built with the most thoughtful consideration in mind. It's also maybe a factor of the company being big and mature product as well. So I think, quote unquote, from my perspective, there is that sense of perfectionism being put in place as well, to make sure that you deliver the best journey for the user. So I think that's one, that's one of the attributes I would say from the American tech companies.

I would also see maybe the other one that really stood out to me, as I mentioned from Google, is the emphasis on building the corporate culture, which I ultimately believe that tech companies especially, people are everything, that a company is only as good as the people who are working at the company. So I think it's especially important for a company to be able to spend time in choosing the right people, to join the company in making sure that they are groomed properly, they are being trained properly, that they share the right mindset and shared philosophy and they work well together. So it's something that really stuck out to me and I think it's something that really, really helps me as well as I'm working on my own thing right now.

Jeremy Au: [00:20:01] And in contrast, what do you think are the best features of Chinese culture?

Steven Tannason: [00:20:06] I think it's the speed. I think it's the speed and just the execution, right? Where I think as you see, I think we all see on the news on how a lot of the Chinese companies are moving so fast, like shipping products so fast. I think that there's just a sense of urgency to build and ship things out. So I think that's good because as you know, the Chinese tech ecosystem is incredibly competitive, right? I think a lot of the founders love startups there. They feel that if they don't work hard enough today, like tonight, then someone else might be eating their lunch tomorrow. So I think that sense of, I know you call it like kiasu in Singapore, that sense of kiasuness is existent in the Chinese tech culture.

So I think in a way it's good because it makes sure that the product improves a lot and that it really delivers a lot of innovations and new use cases as well for the Chinese users. For example, a few Chinese users who have been so used to how the Chinese apps work in China, that they feel that they're almost being spoiled and pampered because that level of convenience would be difficult to get by in basically any ecosystems outside China. For example, in the times that I live in Beijing, with the prevalence of the eWallet there, I've only maybe used my physical wallet three times in the year and the rest are all via like the Alipay, which I paid of the world. And my friends basically don't go shopping at shopping malls anymore. It was just them tapping a few clicks on the smartphone, getting goods delivered from Alibaba, Taobao and so forth. And it was super fascinating because when I was with ByteDance's office, you would see that during lunchtime and lunch break, the post office would be full of people, queuing to pick up their mail packages from there.

Jeremy Au: [00:21:49] How should we think about it from a Southeast Asia perspective, right? How do we hybridize the best of both worlds, right? Because it often feels like we have to choose, right? And it's like US versus China, right? On one corner, America. On another side, China. Right? How do we think about hybridizing it, especially in the Indonesia context, from the founder's perspective?

Steven Tannason: [00:22:11] Yeah. That's a great question, Jeremy. I don't actually know if there's any specific guide book to do that, but I think it's a misconception. With people who are working on tech companies, who are building companies, I feel that people often feel that they should have the answer right from the beginning. But I do think that oftentimes, whether you're working for a big tech company shipping out a new product, working on a product launch or whether you're building your own company, I feel that it's always a constant iteration, right, where you just have to try different things and see which ones would work. Although I would say though, I think that one thing that I really found helpful, Jeremy, is just by talking to a lot of people and by learning from them.

Like for example, in my own context of building my own company, I've spoken to other companies from outside Indonesia. So some in India, some in Brazil, who are building companies that are equivalent to mine as well. I think it's been super helpful to speak with them and get their perspective and learn from them. Right? So exchanging notes and learn from what worked for their case and what we can potentially use in our context as well. Learning from people and hearing from their experience has been super helpful. But beyond that, yeah, I don't know if there is any specific guide book just because I think that it's changing so fast as well, where even I think that if you see with the Chinese tech companies, I think that the way ByteDance operates now would be quite different from the time that I joined right, in 2018. Just because the company has evolved to covering a lot more products, it's definitely much more popular as well around the world. So yeah, I'm sorry, I can't be more useful on that.

Jeremy Au: [00:23:44] Yeah. I think no one's useful on it because we're all trying to figure it out right now. One aspect as well is like, you're chosen to work across Southeast Asia as a focus. Obviously Indonesia is a hot topic, right? Everyone's like, okay, Indonesia has all the startups, there's so much growth, there's 200 million people, so everybody has two armpits. So that's 600 sticks of deodorant. How are you thinking about Indonesia and why you chose to build a business in Indonesia?

Steven Tannason: [00:24:13] So for me, it's personal as well, right Jeremy? Where I grew up in Jakarta, all my family and many of my friends are in Indonesia. So I think that it's still a country that's really close to my heart. For our context, for me and my co-founder, so my co-founder, Kan, he's Vietnamese, but he spent around five plus years in Jakarta as well. So basically for us, the notion of like building health insurance startup in Indonesia, it's something that's personal to us as well, because both of us have seen people who we care about having to go expensive and difficult medical treatments without sufficient insurance coverage.

And so for us, we feel that having grown up in emerging markets, me in Indo, him in Vietnam, we feel that the whole notion of financial literacy and financial safety net are super important to be able to help people here to basically live better lives. Right? So that's personal for me, but I think I agree with you. So for Indonesia overall, I think that there's a lot of exciting stuff going on and happening. Although, I sometimes hope that there will be a lot more zero to one innovations happening in the market. Right?

Which I think that maybe the stuff that would really create positive, tangible impacts on the space, one of them being the notion of mental health, which I spoke about earlier, which I think is super important, especially during this time and during the pandemic where a lot of people may still need it a lot, especially because of the whole stigma towards the issue here in the country. I do hope that there'll be a lot more innovations around these big, hairy problems that are difficult and may seem to be complex and difficult to tackle.

Jeremy Au: [00:25:45] That's a really interesting combination, obviously of both the personal motivation as well as the professional take on a market. How would you say the Indonesia startup ecosystem is different from say other Southeast Asia countries or even China's ecosystem from your perspective?

Steven Tannason: [00:26:06] One of the difference I would say is that I think that a lot of the Chinese tech startups are probably a lot more focused on core engineering, computer science, software engineering, like innovation. I think the founders and the companies tend to be focused on that, a lot more than the ones I've seen, I think here in Indonesia. When I think of the Indonesian startups and companies are focused a lot more on the core-lite business and like GTM side. Right? Where I think it's also a factor that a lot of the Indonesian companies are probably modeling after what has been done in China and in India, now we are seeing a lot as well. I'm not sure if it's a fair comparison, but I would say that maybe, like what we're seeing in China, is more of zero to one. And I think what we're seeing here is probably like an incremental improvement and customization and localization of what has been done in some markets that are slightly ahead of ours.

Jeremy Au: [00:27:00] Yeah. I think there's also function of time. Right? It feels like the Indonesia ecosystem started quite a few years after China and obviously hasn't had the same benefits as Singapore's massive priming the pump approach with funding a lot of government subsidies into the tech scene via VC support. So definitely fascinating to see the Indonesia ecosystem really take off, this on the back of the market size and the opportunity there as well.

Steven Tannason: [00:27:30] That's right. Also, although I feel that maybe, a huge factor I would say that I really hope it would improve a lot over the next few years. It's like on two things, right? One is around the education and also two, around on how do we enable better situations for people to be able to take risks and start building companies, creating new things. I think education is a big one because as you know, I think for education wise, there's a lot that we can improve as a society, right? Compared to Singapore and China obviously, with the next few years, if we improve a lot on the education, putting of emphasis on STEM and so forth. And also, I think they would help a lot in terms of grooming the talent and really increasing the talent pool that's available in the market, especially for technical and engineering roles.

And I think the second one also, I've also spoken with a lot of Indonesians, especially engineers who are very bright and talented. But I think a lot of them are just not comfortable of taking the risk in terms of building companies, of starting up. Maybe it's a few different factors. Maybe it's one, like financial situation where they're not comfortable making that yet. Maybe it's also that second, I think, as a society maybe, it's not fully the norm yet to leave your relatively high paying job at big corporates and then doing your own thing. But I hope that will change because I do think that, like a lot of the biggest problems in the countries and because issues, I think they can only be solved if a lot of people who are smart and ambitious work on these problems and dedicate their whole entire lives and attention and heart into it.

Jeremy Au: [00:29:11] Yeah. There's a lot of opportunities to improve. And I think it's very heartening to see a ton of startup founders really fill in the gap here and explore education and different ways to educate peers and mentor people as well. So I think it's only a function of time and I'm sure that Indonesia is going to become maybe the largest startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia just by sheer weight of population at a minimum. But I think also, like you said, the entrepreneurial hustle is there as well.

Steven Tannason: [00:29:42] That's right. Agreed Jeremy.

Jeremy Au: [00:29:44] I'm curious as well, you've had this interesting dynamic where you chose to join On Deck, which we're both part of, which is a fellowship for founders who are interested in exploring new ideas. But you also use that time to also actually build out a startup in the middle of a pandemic in Indonesia. So I was just curious, what was that experience like choosing to found something in a crappy year like 2020?

Steven Tannason: [00:30:10] Yeah. God Jeremy, it's so difficult, right? I'm not going to lie. I think it's one of the most difficult things, or probably the most difficult thing I've done in my entire life. So yeah, it's challenging, especially because for us, we operate in B2B space. So it's difficult to meet people. We are still in the lockdown here in Jakarta. So we are recording this in the end of January, and like most people, are still doing Zoom and Hangouts meeting until now. Right? And we are still kind of in a quasi-lockdown. It's challenging. But I would say though, I think that it's actually for us and for me as a person, it's a good thing because it has... Like the notion of constraints, I think people don't like to talk about it because they think that these are bad, but I feel that these concept of constraints are very helpful because it really helped us to become a lot more resourceful, a lot more creative, a lot more innovative, lot more resilient and a lot more anti-fragile in our company forming phase as well.

So in our zero at one stage, I think that it's important to have all of these attributes, which I think that will be very, very difficult to nurture in a very good environment. So I think it's good in that sense that it's something that will really stick with us for a long time, forever essentially. So for me as a person, it's been a tough year for all of us. And I think for me, it's really taught me a lot more about the importance of mental health, mental wellness. It has really helped me to become a lot more disciplined about practicing a few self-care practices throughout the day. For example, I try to do meditation on a regular basis, I try to do journaling and so forth just because I think that building a company is such a difficult thing. I think these are super important to make sure that you can run throughout the whole marathon, journey essentially.

And two, On Deck, agree. I think On Deck is an amazing community. So I joined it because I actually applied a couple of batches ago, but I think because of the whole queue, so I only got in this December batch. But I love it because of the community. For example, in my case, I've spoken to a bunch of amazing people, including yourself Jeremy, and people who have worked in the healthcare, insurance, Fintech space, all over the world. Right? So in US, in Africa. And I think it's helpful in really being able to stitch all these amazing lessons and inspiration together and inform if there is anything that we can do to improve our company, our product and so forth.

I love it because I think the On Deck community, it comes to me as a very warm and a very giving community, where people wouldn't hesitate to just offer their help. And yeah, I think it's something that I really hope we can really replicate all across the world. Right? Because right now, as you know, On Deck is focused a lot more on US, and there's a bunch of European fellow as well. But I hope that this, we'll see more of these in our part of the world. I think going back to what I mentioned earlier, Jeremy, about people not having the right opportunity to build their own companies, I think programs like On Deck is an important catalyst to help people in Indonesia especially to be able to meet co-founders, brainstorm ideas and just basically being exposed to people who think the same way as them, right? Like those who want to build companies.

Oftentimes, I would say the building companies, the very early zero to one stage is the most difficult. I think finding an idea is super difficult. I would say that even before that, the stage where people like myself, like people who are working in big companies, big corporates, I think just being able to take the first step and telling yourself, "Okay, I'm just going to not work at Google, Facebook anymore. Just going to make sure that I fulfill my dream and aspiration of becoming a founder, working on this problem that I care about." I think it's a huge step. I think oftentimes unfortunately, I feel that it's something that people don't really put enough intention about. I've seen too many people going about their careers in a very take it for granted kind of way, right? Whereas I think that they could be a lot more thoughtful and mindful about how they want their career to evolve, let's say in five years, in 10 years, in a couple of decades and so forth.

Jeremy Au: [00:34:24] Yeah. So true. For those people who are thinking through their career, what support or resources would you recommend for them to check out?

Steven Tannason: [00:34:34] Yeah, for sure. I'm happy to chat with anyone, all your amazing audience who are looking to pursue a similar career for myself. So those who are working in big companies, who are thinking of moving out and doing their own thing. I'm also happy to speak with people who care a lot about finding their life's work. Right? This is a cliche term that I really like to use, life's work, which basically I define as the work that you do throughout your entire life that doesn't really feel like work anymore, Jeremy, just because you love it so much that you feel so much passion and belonging to it. I think that's important. I think being able to find out what your life's work is, is very important to your baseline happiness and basically how you live your lives.

I would say that the other one that I would really recommend to a lot of people is a book. I've also given it as a gift several times as well, which is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which is a book chronicling his experience as a prisoner in the Nazi camp during World War II. And I think it's super important for people to read throughout their career because I think it taught me so much about the value of resilience. I love the phrase that they have in the book, which is those who have a why to live, can bear with almost any how. I think it's important. It's really helping a lot. Going back to my story of my work burnout, that book is the one book that really helped me a lot during those times. And I would refer to the book again right now, as I'm having difficult moments, just to remind me on the importance on the why to live.

Jeremy Au: [00:35:58] Yeah. I really love that book as well. I remember that really impacting me when I read that in secondary school. Looking back, I should reread it again and think through and see how I would read it differently at this age, I guess, because books can really unfold and mean different things at different stages of your life. Right? Yeah. That's a great book. I highly recommend it as well.

Steven Tannason: [00:36:25] Yeah. I love that. Jeremy. I agree with you because I feel that oftentimes, there should be a few books in our lives that we will tell ourselves "Okay, I'm going to read it again," like say in five years, in 10 years, right? I don't think that there is a constant me. I think that us as a person, as a self, is always evolving second by second, day by day, year by year of course. So I think that being able to reflect on how even the same sentence mean to you now as opposed to say three years ago, I think it's super important. Not just to understand the content of the book, but also to understand you as a person as well.

Jeremy Au: [00:36:59] I love it. I think we can go into a full out therapy session in this conversation. Well, we have to move on with the last question because we're coming up on time here. But I guess the last question here is, if you could go back in time, 10 years, similar to what we just discussed about, about being a different person, what advice would you give yourself?

Steven Tannason: [00:37:18] Yeah. I would say that "Steve, you should be a lot more courageous." Just have the audacity to go after your dreams, go after you want faster. I think that that's probably related to the notion of having more self-confidence as well, because I think oftentimes, also see in younger people who really doubt themselves from time to time. Right? But I think that oftentimes, these are very much self-fulfilling prophecy. So I love this because my primary school English teacher would say this to us almost every day. So she would say, "If you think you can, you can." So yeah, audience, if you think you can, you can. Otherwise, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jeremy Au: [00:37:58] Amazing. I love that. I wish we had more people like your teacher in our lives everywhere, as our boss and as our friend. Right? Because most people are like, "You can't do it," or "You shouldn't do it." Right?

Steven Tannason: [00:38:14] That's right, yeah. Which I think is important Jeremy, because I think oftentimes, and I think this is important because even reflection to myself, right? I think oftentimes, when people ask us for advice, I think we are probably too quick to pass our judgment, our assessment of the situation, right? Like okay, maybe this is too challenging, maybe you should stop it, maybe this is impossible to do. But I think what I've learned over the years is that there's no reality, right? You make your own reality and perspectives. And whenever you give advice that give a definite answer of yes or no, I think you're just like at the end of the day, probably putting more harm to the other person because ultimately, you are restricting what the person wants to do with his life.

Jeremy Au: [00:38:55] Awesome. Well, this has been an absolute blast, having this conversation with you, Steven. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Steven Tannason: [00:39:02] It's been so fun Jeremy. Thank you so much for having me and I love what you guys are doing. Keep doing the good work. I think Southeast Asia really needs more like this to really, I think, tell different perspectives and stories. Right? And I think it's been good to have these raw conversation as well, because oftentimes, these below the line conversations are what really impacts people.

Jeremy Au: [00:39:22] Yeah. And for those who want to continue a conversation, go to, and we actually have launched a new community for people to discuss these episodes and have other conversations about leadership.

Steven Tannason: [00:39:34] Thank you, Jeremy.

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