Aswin T. Utomo, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Chief of Staff Technology at Tokopedia, talks about leading and managing innovation.
[This transcript was digitally generated.]Christopher Holmes 0:02Hello, and welcome to SEO live here in ASEAN. My name is Chris Holmes, editor at large ASEAN. And I'll be your host today. As part of our leadership Live series where we talk to tech leaders across the region. I'm pleased to welcome Aswin T. Utomo, Senior Vice President of Engineering, and Chief of Staff technology at Tokopedia. So before we get started in our discussion on the innovation today, Aswin can you share a little bit about your background? And how you became a tech leader?.Aswin T. Utomo 0:38I think my journey is, pretty sure it's quite different. So the start, you know, I'm born in Indonesia, you know, I'm born and raised in Indonesia. I went to high school in Australia, been there for five years, finished my high school, then move to the, to the United States, where I went to college and UC San Diego, majoring in computer science. And I think that's, that's where it starts. I think in the end. I do you know, what drew me to technology is the ability to problem solve. I like hard challenges. I think I did what drives me. I think that's why I, I mean, I remember back in the day, when I was getting when I was in high school, what am I, my parents friend told me or computer science is something that, you know, is really hard to know, is this the future? And you know, I get Okay, let me let me let me see what will what is it all about? And I think that I think that's where it started. So I went I majored in computer science in UC San Diego, graduated, I worked in Los Angeles for a few years before deciding to go back for good to Indonesia. And I think one of the main reason why I went back is I think there's still a lot of opportunities in Indonesia, on on technology related area. And wow, I mean, ever since I'm back till now, it's been leaps and bounds. Development, the speed it has grown has been amazing. And I think that that's what drives me, I think there's a lot of opportunities, there's a lot of problem solving to be had. And when I'm in in Asia as well, you know, it's this, I want to be a management consultant, a senior management consultant at the firm focusing on technology as well. And then I started my own startup back into 20, end of end 2009, early 2010, made a lot of mistakes, bootstrapped it, I raised raise fund for the startup. And then nothing the major reasons why I joined Tokopedia is one of them is that the Massara was acquired by Tokopedia. So my me and my, my, my team joined OBEDIA. But I think what, what what keeps me in the copied is the people, the culture, and how it's very impactful to the whole community. And I think I think that's why, since 2017, until now, I'm still in Tokopedia. I think the things that the computer is doing really impact the whole Tokopedia small businesses, and I think that what really, really matters. So yeah, that's a short journey that I have. It's it's very unorthodox, I know, but it's, it's quite exciting. NowChristopher Holmes 3:39That's fantastic. I love the fact you sort of talk around those, those opportunities and the challenges, you know, the to sort of go together. So, I mean, before we get into the discussion around innovation, maybe you could just share, you know, who is Tokopedia? And what do they actually do?Aswin T. Utomo 3:56So talk Vidya. We're Indonesian based technology company, we basically we it's not just an E commerce, I think a lot of people think that Tokopedia just ecommerce, but we're not we're with we're a financial technology company, were a logistics where payments, were everything combined. And now recently we merge with go jack and a lot of and to be a, you know, a group, a go to group that focuses on a lot of things. I think, as you know, Jake is our is the right hailing company, we have gopay as part of Bucha financials as the payment company as well. So we're part of the big group, but Tokopedia itself is, is focusing on a lot of digital commerce.Christopher Holmes 4:45And maybe just give us an idea of the scale in terms of sort of your outreach across Indonesia. And number of number of transactions or the number of people you deal with on a daily basis.Aswin T. Utomo 4:56Sure. I mean, we the overall stockopedia We have about three 800 nakoma Natoma is what we say to our teams, we have 1.8 billion products listed, we have about 40 digital products, we were very comprehensive everything that, you know, that needs that provide the use cases to the NDB vision customers, consumers, you can find it OBEDIA. You know, we reached up to 99% of districts in Indonesia, we, we, we have over 14 million registered merchants. And I think what's special is, it is 6.5% There are first time entrepreneurs. And that resonates a lot to me personally, I think, even before joining Tokopedia I know that, you know, I have a friend who has a, a stay at home wife, she started a small business to help, you know, provide income for the family. And then what's what's really good is that the business grew. And with that she employs more people, about five more people to help with the business and IT that indirectly, you know, we impact the livelihood as well. I think that's, to me, that's the case. That's, that's very special as well. But yeah, I think, you know, we grew I think we've we want to support a lot of local businesses in Indonesia. Yeah. And yeah, I think that's what makes it really special.Christopher Holmes 6:29As fantastic, as fantastic. So let's get into the crux of today's discussion, I really want to talk to you about innovation, because it's one of these things that we always see, it's sort of Top of Mind from CEOs talking to the technology departments, you know, we need you to innovate. But innovation is sort of fraught with risks, there's a lot of challenges involved, it's getting the right mindset that's getting the right processes. So maybe you could just sort of share with us how innovation is managed within your organization. Sure.Aswin T. Utomo 7:07So it's like a journey. So I think we have our priorities straight from the beginning of the journey, and he has become, you know, our, like our compass from our co founders, William and Leon, back in the day, you know, we, you know, they started Tokopedia, more than 13 years ago, really, from humble beginnings. And I think that really shows on the culture that they bring to Tokopedia. And basically, they one of the DNA that we have is focused on consumers. Basically, what can you do to make the consumer life easier, and assemble, you know, an example of innovation as we think Tokopedia back in the day even before the merger with with GoJek to be the go to, they've developed the same day delivery, with the, with the motorcycle taxis, which was really the first I think it's the first in the world to do it. And that actually really changes a lot of the games. While I mean, it's, it's the first time, at least for me that I see the same day delivery, you order something and you can get it delivered within a few hours. I think that's, that's amazing that that's an innovation that really serve the DNA, the focus on consumer. And I think that's really, the innovations are centered around the needs of the customers, the sellers, the buyers, as well as the employees. So we get focused on on the important things. And I think, basically, we want to make sure that, you know, the key pillars are there, we want to understand the customer shopping objectives, we want to fulfill each step, we want to learn about the customer from the data itself. And I think that's something that we are transforming as well. I think there's a lot of data that, that we're able to, to see, and, and analyze, they can help the customer back as the product and features while to help them as well as you know, having debt consolidated to give us, you know, the best personalization based on machine learning and AI as well. And I think, yeah, it's it's, yeah, I think that's overall.Christopher Holmes 9:32So I mean, it's really interesting that you talk about innovation there around that same day delivery. And I think what I find very interesting around that is the fact that it's not just sort of the customer experience, the ordering experience, you know, which is data driven, it's on the phone, it's on your on your computer, but then it's that tying that into the back end, tying that into the warehouse to tie that into the logistics. So again, you're starting to span much more than just that digital experience. is. So, I mean, how has maybe innovation changed since the pandemic, I mean, because we saw a lot of organizations speed up their decision making process and become much more innovative as they move to digital very, very rapidly during the during the pandemic times. But has that effectively changed the way you manage innovation post post pandemic,Aswin T. Utomo 10:29there's not, in my opinion, there's not much change there. I think the way we work is different. There was a, you know, we, I said, I remember back in I think, March and 2020, in Indonesia, where I think COVID first starting to, to, to impact us, we all moved to work from home. And even the setup was, was really quick as well. But I think overall, the organization adapts, and I think it doesn't affect us in a way to the effects the innovation. I think the the organization is structured in a way that, you know, the the team that it can goes, it can go from the bottom up, as well as the top top down as well. As far as the all the executive sponsor for each of the research innovations. I'll give an example. I think we did. Myself and a lot of the technology leaders we we encourage innovation to to when when our team members, we they want to export something we never say no. And I think that's that's one way because I think, as an engineer myself, I think we're we have that curiosity, right to see what's new to see what, what's out there. That for example, I think, as you mentioned, last year, it was the metaphors this year is the all the generative AI, I think we always explore, and anything whether or not that innovation is something that we want to invest full time. It doesn't matter. But as long as we try and as long as we see what, what's possible out there. And I think how I think what's interesting, as we were seeing a lot of that comes to fruition into production as well. I think, for example, we did, we recently launched an AR version of our lipstick trial is actually quite a lot of my friends asked, told me, Hey, you know, this is really good. Can you expand it more? Because and, and the data also shows it's up in the we were seeing a lot of pickups in, in the orders the conversion and with the augmented reality feature on which, you know, that have been enabled. And I think what's interesting is those AR POCs was done by a very small team at the beginning. And, you know, having them tested out, and, you know, get the buy in from all the other leaders, I think it has been very special as well.Christopher Holmes 13:26So I mean, that brings me on to a question just in terms of sort of, if you like, direction around this innovation, because again, you talked about sort of getting guidance from your, your senior leaders sort of coming down to the technology department. But also you're talking about this idea that you can have small teams within that 10 As your technology department. So the developing proof of concepts and then sort of scaling them up. So is there this sort of top down, bottom up sort of approach around sort of actually managing innovation and getting ideas out there and bringing it together? Maybe you could just share how that that works within the organization?Aswin T. Utomo 14:01Sure. And I think this is how I think this is what makes Tokopedia very special. We just we're very, we're very loose in terms of working together. I mean, we we just know there's completely no silos within each team. Listen, the technology department we, we, we work across teams, and with different leaders. So and if you think an analogy for that for it as if you see an iceberg, right? This is on the top of something that is visible. This is something that you can say the Bau or business as usual that delivers a product, for example, digital products, we have dedicated teams, but underneath that iceberg that is unseen, is actually a team working across the other teams or within the CO pedia. And it's a very server leadership as well, I think, give you an example, some of the new the new technologies that we're, you're seeing, it's actually led by a person that is not within the technology team, per se. It's, it's, it's all of this extra curricular activities. But it has, you know, we put the structure on on it as well. And then we have the excellent executive sponsors that, you know, that support the project, giving the go ahead or not to be, you know, to be pushed even even further. They've collected the data not collected, they, they recruited fellow members in a very loose way as well, to work on it together. In fact, in myself, and and our CTO, Herrmann was surprised by by a team that, you know, have produced such an amazing POC, we were, we were surprised with what we're seeing. I cannot mention what what it is. But, but we were really surprised on how far they they've gone. And I think that's all a, you know, an extra work from there and thinks that, you know, they finish their work and add spending the extra time on it together. And that's the grassroot efforts that we've seen from the from the team, something that we're really proud of proud on,Christopher Holmes 16:24was fantastic to have that excitement within the group within the team to sort of take on those extra projects, because actually, I was gonna have a follow on question around that in terms of how do you actually manage the team in terms of sort of, you know, looking at the man hours they spend on these sort of new products or new innovation, and sort of ensure that, if you like, that they're productive around all of these new ideas.Aswin T. Utomo 16:48And I think it's there's no written rule, actually, you know, the, within the going back to the to the iceberg analogy, the the visible, one thing that we need to deliver, still gets delivered. And 100%. I think that's, that's our commitment to the company. But things that are not visible is something that actually gives them the morale as well, to explore, it fits that curiosity. And I think it's very beneficial to the company as well. If those things are actually something that it gives a, for example, all the technology team has done this POC, you know, so they know how how's it getting, how, how it needs to be done, and they may not have the use case here. And that that is perfectly okay. So the analogy that I give to the team is, hey, you've done all this good stuff, it's okay. There may not be a use case yet, you you, you put it on the shelf. And once you talk to your business leaders to the product leaders, and when they mentioned something that, oh, that actually can be done by the things that we've done. So you take out the shelf, bring the team back, and you can get up to speed really, really fast. And it brings up that that you know, going back to the new fish and you you bring step that new ways of problem solving using that. So yeah, it's very, it's quite, it's quite needed as well, in my opinion in a technology company.Christopher Holmes 18:21It's interesting, the idea of almost building up that light library of intellectual property projects that worked on may not have a use case yet, but we think there'll be one in the future. But we've got that knowledge inherent within the organization. Fantastic. As we I know, we're running out of time. And being in 2023, we've got to talk about generative AI. So maybe you mentioned earlier, what do you see are the possibilities of generative AI and its impact on Tokopedia?Aswin T. Utomo 18:57Oh, a lot. I don't know if I can talk much about it. But it's it's, we're, we're discussing it. I mean, we're, of course, I think I don't think any organization is I don't think no one is not talking about it. I think it has a big impact. We're seeing how it goes. It is actually quite big in terms of you know, the options as well. We have, I don't know. Let's see. We're exploring a lot of use cases that can be happening, they can be happening. So it is quite an exciting part. Very exciting beginning I will say we don't know if it's gonna come to fruition. This from the Tokopedia side, but it's very exciting. Yeah.Christopher Holmes 19:49Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. as well. Thank you for sharing your journey and your experience in leading innovation in Tokopedia. I'm afraid that's all We've got time for. So this concludes today's SEO as an interview. My name is Chris Holmes and I've been talking to Aswin T. Utomo, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Chief of Staff technology at Tokopedia. Any comments or questions, please reach out to me on LinkedIn