Founded in 2014 by brothers Winston Utomo and William Utomo, IDN Media has built its success on the back of Indonesia’s growing digital-savvy millennials and Generation Z (Gen Z). The company claims to have over 50 million monthly unique users on its platform, making the company the fourth-biggest online media outlet in the country. While media business competition is tough nowadays, the company says it booked a positive bottom line in 2018. In January, IDN raised an undisclosed amount in its Serie C funding round led by EV Growth (a joint venture of East Venture, Sinar Mas, and Yahoo Japan), with participation from Charoen’s True Digital & Media Platform, and Line Ventures. Winston says the fresh money will be used to finance IDN’s so-called hyper-local strategy.
“Our big plan for this year is hyper-local. We see that 90% of Indonesians don’t live in Jakarta, but 90% of the content is about Jakarta. By simple math it makes sense to grow our audience out-side Jakarta,” says Winston, adding that proximity and relevance are among the top-three reasons why content is read or even goes viral.
IDN is taking fast action. So far it has launched local services in regions with high Internet pen-etration and a high concentration of millennials and Gen Z members such as East Java, South Sulawesi and Bali. It is also conducting beta trials in other regions like West Java, North Sumatra and East Kalimantan. Winston says his target is to have IDN in 25 regions by the end of this year.
“Take East Java for example. With an estimated 39-million population and Internet penetra-tion of 65%. Millennials and Gen Z probably account for half the population, and if we get 50% of the market that’s already 9 million unique monthly users and that’s just in East Java. So, to achieve our vision to be the voice of the millennials and Gen Z we have to go lo-cal,” Winston says.
Winston adds that it is more cost-effective to go after millennials and Gen Z members outside Jakarta. He says younger audiences tend to have less loyalty to specific media, so it is easier to convert them rather than older audiences. In the regions IDN will also maintain a lean organization with around five permanent staff and relying more on community-generated content, but Winston is also aware that finding quality talent is likely to be a challenge. Another challenge is to adapt to the different culture and uniqueness of each region.
IDN’s competitors have actually started going local as well. Detik.com began a few years back and Tribun has also managed to scale up from local content. However, Winston says what differentiates IDN is that it specifically targets millennials and Gen Z members, who he says are more visual and interactive. Winston is also aware that the audiences they target consum content through multiple platforms, including social media. The content is adjusted to match the characteristics of different social media outlets, so that the feed in Twitter is different from Instagram, and content on the Instagram feed is different from Instagram stories.
“That is why we have a strategic investment from Line. They have very young users,” Winston says.
Another strategy that the company has adopted is to go with different brandings to relate to different young audiences. While IDN Times provide news, IDN also has other brands like PopBela, which caters to a younger female audience, PopMama for young moms, or Yummy, which matches with those who dig food and cooking.Going forward, Winston has even bigger dreams to go beyond online news media, opening up opportunities to expand to other verticals, including through mergers and acquisition. He says one of the verticals he is currently interested in is esports, or video gaming.
“Media has vast definition. Cinema is media, a song that we listen to is media, and so are the games we play. Our dream is to go there starting with online media, but we do plan to enter other verticals,” he says.
Looking back, Winston says he never thought that the business that he started as a side earner would be this successful. Winston started IDN when he was working with Google in Singapore. Setting aside his paycheck to run the business, Winston went back and forth to Surabaya on weekends once every two weeks carrying cash to pay the salaries of its three part-time staffers – the company currently has over 200 employees – just to save the $35 bank transfer fee. He remembers Google providing free afternoon meals so he could also save on dinner. Winston also recalls that finding an investor wasn’t easy either. The first investment came from East Venture in July 2015.
“It was William who met Willson (Cuaca), he asked us to send a pitch deck. Seems he was interested because then he asked us to meet at Kopi Tiam. I heard from another founder that if he asked to meet at Kopi Tiam he was likely to make an offer and he did,” Winston says.
But then Winston says he learned a lesson he’ll never forget. Focusing mostly on products, Winston didn’t focus on the finance side. In March 2016, IDN ran out of capital. He remembers that to cover expenses he had to juggle credit cards. IDN obtained a lifeline when in September it raised its Series A from North Base Media, GDP Venture, East Ventures, and MNM Creative.
“I learned the most important les-son, that as a company grows the role of the CEO shifts from product chief to company chief. At the beginning one has to be the best product person, but as the company grows one should be able to delegate and create SOPs. I learned that a business has to be realistic, if we have no revenue there’s no way we can run the business. No matter how good your idea is, you have to be able to monetize,” he says, although he adds that he still interviews 95% of all new employees himself to ensure that the recruits have the same quality and the vision he has.