How One Female Founder Built a Grassroots Community in Indonesia
Apr 12, 2012
I have to confess, my interview with Aulia Halimatussadiah – also known as Ollie – was one of my favorite in Asia. After talking for almost an hour about her startup, NulisBuku, she called over a barista to take our picture, chatted about her new clothing line for chic Muslim women, and asked me what I learned on my trip. Before I knew it, I was talking about some serious emotional challenges, and somehow it didn’t feel like TMI.
Ollie must have a way with people, because she’s been able to gather a big community around NulisBuku and help build the Indonesian tech scene. A blogger and prolific writer, she started her company when publishers weren’t interested in her 16th – yes, her 16th – book. Now, anyone can use NulisBuku’s print-on-demand service to upload and sell physical books in Indonesia, splitting the royalties 60/40.
And users have been endlessly creative: on Valentine’s Day, they collected love letters using a Twitter hashtag and published a collection; one commuter wrote 2 novels on a Blackberry during Jakarta’s infamous traffic jams; and Ollie and friends created a book blending poetry and Instagram photos. NulisBuku has also partnered with brands like Acer to sponsor writing competitions offering prizes such as shiny new laptops.
Beyond that, the community now meets offline with NulisBuku clubs: monthly events where writers can launch books and share insights and progress. Ollie runs the club in Jakarta, and fans volunteered to start their own clubs in other Indonesian cities, by finding venues, alerting the media, and even signing up sponsors. At one meetup, Ollie challenged a cafe owner to finish a book in 30 days:
“That kind of support [is what] we want to do. A friend of mine called me writingologue – it’s like psychologist for writers. Because sometimes writers can start but we cannot finish; writers need some uplifting motivation to start, and I usually do that. NulisBuku.com is my engine.”
This has all helped NulisBuku grow to over 11,000 members as of last fall. Outside that community, Ollie is also an initiator for StartupLokal, a startup group in Indonesia that draws around 300 people per meetup, and for Girls in Tech.
Speaking of girls, there aren’t many female entrepreneurs in Indonesia, but Ollie doesn’t find it hard to operate in a male-dominated scene:
“We’re dealing with boys, right? [laughing] It’s easier because we are fewer, and they really listen to us actually – especially pretty girls.”
[More seriously] “It’s easier to get the spotlight, and men also respect you.”
Sounds like a good attitude to me.