Sam Darmento is 24 and hails from Jakarta. He studied computer science at a good university that was near his house, and upon graduation, worked at Bhinneka.com, one of the largest e-commerce companies in Indonesia. He had a great life back home, he loved his job, and he felt like he was learning a lot from his bosses. Yet, at the same time, Sam had an itch. It was an itch he badly wanted to scratch, an itch that had started when he was young.
That itch was Japan.
“I’ve always been infatuated with Japanese culture, both traditional and pop culture. I was 15 when I first fell in love with Japan. It started by me coming across anything Japanese in Indonesia, be it anime or music or even TV shows about Japan. Soon after that, I enrolled in a Japanese course so I could start learning Japanese. The class didn’t have many students, so it was constantly on and off. In 2007, I travelled to Japan with my family. Back then, I didn’t take many photos because I had a dream of coming back to Japan. I would take more photos when I came back!
I told my parents I wanted to stay in Japan, but they said no. They said that I wasn’t grown up enough to stay in Japan alone. I kept persuading them, and my mom said, wait until you’ve graduated high school. So after I graduated high school, I asked them again, and this time, they said, wait until you graduate university. After I graduated, I asked again, and again! They told me to wait until I had a year of working experience in Jakarta. And finally, after a year of working, I thought it was time to come to Japan. That’s why I quit my previous company, not because I didn’t love the company, because it was great, but it was because I decided it was time for my dream to start. So here I am!”
Yup. You guessed it. Sam finally made his way to Tokyo! Sam and I met up in a little izakaya, surrounded by Japanese salarymen who got progressively rowdier (and happier) as the night went along. I had met Sam last year when I first moved to Tokyo, when we went on a hike together. At that point of time, he was studying Japanese, while now he’s started working in a digital marketing company.
I found Sam very interesting because in spite of his young age, he has a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. A lot of 24-year-olds are more interested in swiping right or left on Tinder, drinking or having fun. (Nothing wrong with that, by the way! ) But Sam’s always on the lookout for his next project. He’s always working on something, and his brain is always trying to figure out what’s the next big thing. I wanted to know why he had such a strong urge to create something.
“By creating something of my own, I get to express my idea to the fullest. It’s not just my idea, but also my philosophy and my way of doing things. I love creating things from zero to one. It’s like that Peter Thiel book. If you work with someone, eventually you will have to obey what they say, and you have to do what they want you to do. I always have ideas, and then I jot down my business ideas on my notepad. But at this moment, I don’t have the capital to do it. Not only capital in terms of money, but in terms of skills and connections. That’s why I’m now working full time at a digital marketing company to pave up my skills, and to learn more about human resources. I realize that people are at the center of business. The center of a company. I don’t think I’m good enough yet. I’m not at the level where I can manage a bunch of people without hurting the company.”
Last year, Sam and his partner Linus had started a snack subscription company called Kuubox. While it is now no longer operating, he learned a great deal from it.
“The reason I started Kuubox was because I didn’t want to do arubaito (part time job). Everyone else I know seems to be doing arubaito, and if they weren’t, it seemed like they didn’t have enough experience in Japan. My partner Linus was in charge of brand design, operations and finance. He knew how to make financial projections and do bookkeeping. I learned a lot from him. See, there are a lot of things you learn when you do what you want to do. It’s not just about learning to do an exact thing, for example making candy or making clothes. With entrepreneurship, you learn everything that goes behind it, which includes the business, the marketing and the PR. Essentially, I discovered that my passion, my ikigai (sense of purpose) is in marketing and advertising. I like to market underestimated ideas. If you see potential in something, why not market it and try to make it really big? In the digital marketing company I work with now, I find it interesting because the clients I work with have so much potential to grow. They have so many interesting points, different ways of doing business, different styles of doing things. So it’s easy to learn from them.”
“Everything doesn’t go as well as you expected.”
What did he learn from Kuubox?
“Number one, everything doesn’t go as well as you expected. We made these financial projections, that in 6 months we would be able to rent our own office and in a year we would make our business trip to Singapore. In the end, we didn’t even sell much.” He laughs as he reminisces this point.
“But what’s interesting, nevertheless, which brings me to my second takeaway, is that I learned a lot in logistics. We wanted to order all our snacks, pack it in one place and we would ask the JP Post guy to come and get the items from us. But it turns out they have a minimum limit, and we couldn’t meet those minimum requirements. In the end, we did everything manually. We went to the snack shop to buy our things in bulk, we bought boxes from Amazon, we printed the packaging in a stationery shop and then brought the boxes to the post office to send them overseas. It was hell!
My third key takeaway was that I learned how to embrace failure. I have failed before, in university. I had really expected my thesis to get an A but I got a B instead.”
Hmmmn. I didn’t write a thesis in university, but I do recall failing a few subjects in university. I would have been quite pleased to get a B but Sam seemed really gutted that he hadn’t gotten his A. I wondered what a ‘B’ meant to him.
“A B means I’m not good enough. I had set my goal to an A, but in the end it was a B. We had put in so much effort into the thesis. There were 3 of us in a team. We made a karaoke game, and even paid someone to make the design for us. I did the UI and gameplay as well as the thesis writing. We got a B because we couldn’t answer specific questions by the professor. He kept testing us on the fundamentals of the game programming, which I didn’t do. It was really difficult for me and I couldn’t answer it. In the end, I was consoled because my final GPA in university was still quite good.”
At this point, Sam asks me what my university GPA was. I quickly change the subject and ask him for more key takeaways.
“If things are not failing, you’re not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk
“Right after that, I read the Elon Musk book where I learned he experienced lots of failure. So many failures that most people would have already given up. I really like this quote from him. ‘Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you’re not innovating enough.’ So that really struck me. Like, what a kid I am! I’m not innovating. I don’t have enough failure. I have to take more risks to fail more.”
So what’s next for this budding entrepreneur? At the moment, he’s currently working on his next project with a few partners.
“Maker Inn. This is an initiative to bring traditional Japanese artisans who are not familiar with the Internet. We want to connect them to buyers overseas. We’re looking more at business-to-business connections, rather than business-to-consumer connections. We want to look for designers, architects or interior designers who want to design a restaurant in their country. For example, if they want to design a Japanese restaurant in Indonesia, they will be looking for something Japanese to put in the interior of the restaurant, right? We want to market these Japanese artisans so that they can make specific crafts.
Another thing that I want to do is focus on my YouTube channel. It’s not about being famous, but I want to form like-minded connections. A like-minded network of people who share common interests with me. I want to look for these like-minded people whom, no matter what nationality they are. I want to build more connections to contribute to my long-term goal, which is to have my own company, after I have enough skills, connections and experience. At the moment, if I were to form a company, I don’t have the right key people I can trust. I mean, they’re not employees. They’re partners! I haven’t found enough people to partner with. And if you’re doing what you love, and you keep doing what you love, you will find connections and meet more like-minded people. You’ll discover what you really want to do, what company you want to make, and you will have the right people, because you have been paving your way for the end goal!”
What is one of the hardest things Sam has faced?
“Committing to my own goals. Two years ago, I had a goal of wanting to pass N2.” (For those of you who don’t know, the JLPT (Japan Language Proficiency Test) has 5 levels, N5 being the easiest and N1 being the hardest).
“I want to be really good in Japanese. But here I am, just going with the flow, and I don’t even study Japanese that much anymore. But I really want to change it, and I’ve been watching more anime and listening to more songs now. It really helps if you understand intermediate Japanese, because you’ll understand 70% of it. And the rest, you just Google the lyrics and you will understand the rest. With the lyrics and translation you will understand the context, and what the combination of vocabulary and grammar really means. It’s a fun way to learn! Because if you like the song, it will keep repeating in your head.
If you go out with Japanese friends, it’s not difficult to pick up the language verbally. Kanji is another thing, though. The only way to master the language is to keep using it, and I’m trying to do so by involving myself in more Japanese meet ups as well as picking it up from anime and JPOP.”
I often ask people what they would their ideal life be like if they didn’t have any constraints. Sam has a pretty out of this world answer.
“I would want to live in luxury with less than 50% of my income. I’d like to donate 50% of my income, but not just to charity. I would like to contribute to causes that prevent humans from extinction and to advance the human race. I would want to contribute the other 50% to other people, but not to have my money go into just feeding people. Then that money is over. There’s a saying, ‘You don’t give people the fish, but teach them how to fish!’ I would contribute my money to a project or company that can do something really good, like maybe a solar renewable project in rural areas of Indonesia. Or maybe contributing to the human invasion in mars. Wouldn’t that be interesting?”
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