Quit Whining About Foreign Products, Make Your Own Products Great

3 mins read
January 7, 2014

There’s a tendency for local software engineers or software companies to create Indonesian versions of existing online services or social networks. While there are merits of launching similar services with local touches, in most cases, these would end up being outright clones with barely any unique selling point aside from being locally developed. I’m sick of hearing people whining about foreign products “stealing” revenue. It’s your own damn fault that people use foreign products because you didn’t come up with great ones yourself.

According to developer evangelist Deddy Avianto, local software developers generally have the skills and the abilities to create world class applications but due to lack of experience and guidance, they often end up creating little more than clones. This is an opportunity that he himself has taken advantage of, having been in the mobile industry for about a decade.

Avianto formed HoRepublik in 2013 to formalize his existing network of software developers, designers, and people with ideas and help them to build useful and meaningful products. This year, he is focusing on creating platforms. Platforms that enable Indonesian creators to easily execute their ideas, engage local partners, and use existing services as distribution channels.

Klik Indonesia
Recently, a movement to get Indonesians to use Indonesian services came to prominence through various ads on traditional as well as digital media. Klik Indonesia, launched in December 2012, wants consumers to reduce the use of foreign services and favor local ones.

Klik Indonesia claimed that the country is spending around USD 150 million a year in bandwidth to various overseas internet providers for the use of around 250Gbps in international connections with only 30% of the cost being used to push Indonesian content overseas, the rest of which is spent on foreign content consumption.

Additionally, Klik Indonesia argued that foreign internet companies such as Yahoo and Google only set up marketing operations in the country because their focus is on sales and marketing but not in improving the local infrastructure.

“It’s evidence that they only see Indonesia as a market. We’ve been turned into objects, our economy siphoned. We just don’t realize it”, said the movement’s head, Henry Kasyfi Soemartono, in 2012.

While they have no problem with the people being socially active on the internet, they lament the fact that Indonesians weren’t using Indonesian services.

Leverage vs compete
This concern regarding the use of foreign services seems misplaced though. Rather than getting people to build local versions of foreign online services and having to compete with companies that are far better funded and with greater resources, why not build services that complement these foreign products or use them as leverage?

The issue with insisting on using local social networks is that the already International services provides Indonesians with access to potential foreign relations, resources, and markets, which allow them to be seen and recognized. Unless the aim is to embrace a fully Indonesian market –itself is a valid goal since not all products have to go global or be built with global ambitions– there’s little sense in creating another Twitter or Facebook for example.

Unlike the Chinese, Indonesians aren’t that averse to foreign online services and the middle and upper class will revolt if the government moves to ban them the way the Chinese government bans the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s services. Indonesians have much lower language barrier towards English as the Chinese do and as reported by The New York Times in 2010, the middle and upper class consumer segments have little trouble in picking up English, perhaps even overeagerly.

There are areas which local products can certainly embrace. Financial services for example, is one field that is ripe for local products to enter because foreign services such as Mint, PayPal, and Square are certainly not in the best position to embed themselves locally due to various factors.

PicMix is one Indonesian app that has managed to go global by taking an opportunity in an untapped market but it’s perhaps an outlier as Indonesian apps or services that have managed to hit the international scene are extremely rare.

Build better products
Johar Alam Rangkuti, long time Indonesian Internet advocate and owner and operator of IDC3, the country’s most prominent data center, argued on Twitter in December last year that the government and local companies should worry less about foreign companies dominating the local market and focus on creating more compelling local products and services that will attract consumers.

Consumers will gravitate towards well made and well maintained products and services regardless of origin. There are hundreds of American or other foreign Internet products that fail to gain traction in this country for various reasons. Just because they’re foreign doesn’t mean they’ll be accepted. Photo sharing app PicMix, events activities platform Wooz.in, and football app Soccer Ticker have proven that Indonesian products can go global if they capture the right ideas.

Rather than focusing on reducing the use of foreign products or punishing foreign companies, it’s far better and more effective to create, build, and promote well made local products. Great products can sell themselves with minimal promotion and people will happily embrace them.

[header image from Flickr/Marcel Tarnogosky]

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