We talked to Suwandi Soh, CEO and co-founder of Mekari, about management systems and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Suwandi Soh: We are doing fine. Thank you. COVID-19 brings us together as we all stay at home most of the time, even on weekends.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Mekari.
Suwandi Soh: I studied industrial engineering and the main reason is I am always fascinated by a complex system, how things work together. Industrial engineering is about that, developing and improving an integrated system of people, processes, and equipment.
After I graduated from university, I joined a large Japanese manufacturing company in Indonesia. I was so excited about how our team worked together in solving product quality problems. I then joined a consulting company with this area of focus. We implemented quality management systems in our clients, improving manufacturing performance, service quality, and so on. After few years of consulting works, in 2008, I started my own consulting company in productivity improvement, lean manufacturing, and structured change management projects.
In 2015, I started a side project with my cofounder to help small and midsize businesses (SMB) running a more efficient and effective operation, and we started with HR. HR management in SMB was very manual and unconnected one to another. We saw this as an opportunity and started to build from here. We called the company Sleekr, which has been rebranded to Mekari in 2019.
How does Mekari innovate?
Suwandi Soh: I would put our innovation efforts in 3 baskets. The first one is customer-led innovation. We improve our products or add new features based on customer feedback. We are lucky to have a lot of feedback and suggestions from our customers across industries. An old idea in one industry can be a very interesting idea for another. For example, split-shift is a common policy in F&B, and we build it because the F&B customers want it. Apparently, this split-shift feature is a new and valuable idea for an IT support company.
The second basket is product-led innovation. Our product teams have a lot of room to innovate. Usually, they get the idea from data and industry trends. One example is the recent mask scanner and temperature scanning for employee check-in because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Another good example is approval and workflow design for a purchasing process because we noticed a certain pattern of usage.
The third basket is more of top-down innovation. As each level in the organization structure has different viewing angles and time horizon, some of the longer-term innovation comes from the CXO. One recent example is Mekari Chat, it’s a communication tool designed specifically for our product ecosystem users. It’s a well-integrated communication that is so unique compared to what’s available in the market today. This is not something that our customer requested, nor a data or industry trend show. But, strategically, we think innovating in communication tools like Mekari Chat will create a powerful Mekari product suite.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Suwandi Soh: Many businesses are impacted by this pandemic, including us. In 2020, we still recorded positive growth every single month. This year, we are more optimistic that economic growth will get better with vaccines rolling out, and an overall improvement in SMB business confidence.
We have always been careful and prudent with our finance. The good thing for us is there are many widely accepted metrics and unit economics. It helps us to benchmark ourselves against the best in the industry.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Suwandi Soh: Every once in a while, we have to make difficult decisions. I consider difficult choices as something that irreversible, costs a lot of money and time. What makes this even difficult is the incomplete data to support our decision. In my opinion, no matter how good you are, you will make a bad call every few calls. The most important thing is how you can learn fast from each one. I also learned that owning up to our mistakes is another thing one should do.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Suwandi Soh: As a subscription-based business, we build close relations with our customers through personal communication and personalized solutions. Apart from that, we give routine updates through multiple communication channels, webinar engagement events, and business check-ins, to make sure our customers are updated with the latest features or information regarding our products. We use an in-app communication channel to communicate with our customers.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Suwandi Soh: No. We learned that these schemes accelerate the adoption of cloud solutions for SMBs in many developed countries like Singapore, Japan. So far, such grants are very limited in Indonesia, from what we understand.
Your final thoughts?
Suwandi Soh: In Indonesia, the economic output of one employee in small businesses is just ⅙ of those in large companies. The wide gap of productivity is a byproduct of ineffective and inefficient operation. Unlike large companies, SMBs lacking access to affordable tools and know-how to help level the playing field.
Software as a Service (SaaS) that is made possible by cloud computing will open up opportunities for SMB to improve their productivity and profitability. We are very excited to have the opportunity to lead the movement as one of the early and largest SaaS players in the country.
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