A glass half full — a glass half empty

My farewell in our legal offsite in Bandung — 22 August 2019

As I ended my journey as a Group General Counsel in Gojek this August 2019, I reflect on the amazing journey for my almost 3.5 years in Gojek. The legal team grew exponentially from about four persons when I joined in April 2016 to now about fifty people including from the companies that were acquired over the years, and our international team in various jurisdictions like Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

While I am tempted to write on the historical like the events over the years, the milestones (like if when and how Gojek became unicorn and later decacorn), and all the war stories, I choose to write something a bit deeper. Something that comes after a reflection over what has happened during the years of my journey especially during the last four months of my transition from April 2019 and how it affects me both as a person and as a leader.

I will sum them up below in three points:

1. Time and momentum;

2. Perspective; and

3. Values.

1. Time and momentum

As a proverb says, there’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth.

I remember back in 2016 I was a Senior Associate at Ginting & Reksodiputro (Allen & Overy Jakarta). I was already in a law firm for more than ten years (I started back in 2004) and at that time I have no idea what would be next, if I would be promoted to become a partner and what my life would be after that. In the deepest of me, I just want to be someone that would be impactful to others. In the course of 2013–2016 after I am back from my secondment in Allen & Overy Singapore, I have explored avenues where I can contribute from becoming a part of the Government (Jokowi was just elected President in 2014) or if I need to go to a public policy school like Harvard Kennedy School to help me getting to the place where I can be impactful.

A headhunter approach me in the months of February and March for an opportunity in Gojek. Gojek was only a 2 wheel motorcycle company at that time with both ride and also an early start of the Gofood services. I remember when I finally accepted the offer in March 2016, my friends and family were a bit shock that I want to do that big jump to an untested environment. At that time, albeit the hypes, professionals like me are a bit sceptical on start-ups, especially because there is no official unicorns yet in Indonesia (ie those companies valued more than US$1 billion). My friends all reminded me the sustainability on joining these companies, and doubt if I can survive long enough.

And yes, carpe diem, seize that time and moment! I became one of the early first movers of professionals joining start-ups like Gojek. The future favors the brave they say and I am taking that leap of faith! In few months time Gojek achieved the unicorn status (which proudly am being a part of it) and over the years we grow and developed the Gopay products (which merited its own stories, maybe later, hehe), cars/4 wheels products, merchant products, payment gateways, international expansion, life products, and many more. The legal team is being well appreciated with awards from the Financial Times two years in a row in 2018 and 2019 and we attracted great legal talents both in Indonesia and Internationally (including those admitted in the UK and Singapore) to join our fast growing and highly capable legal team.

And now after all those glories, I decided to step back and transitioning my way out of the company. This is the most asked question of my friends and community that rightfully I tried to dodge, haha. But I will take this opportunity to give an answer that hopefully provide some understanding.

The simple answer, in life you will need to know your time and momentum. And we as people are very bad on this especially if we are the incumbent. We always tried to hold on our position and do things just to maintain the incumbency. And its more true in startups where unlike traditional business, has the mantra (borrowed from a Gojek alumni that I really respected) “every season has its people, and every people has its season”.

A start-up will always have a specific people in every stage, and in later stage, it might need different people with different skills sets to reach the next level, and founders are no immune to this as well. But as high risks give you high returns, the experience in working in that start up would give you the highest returns, that moment when you just need to be started, being challenged, failed, almost get it, claimed the reward, and repeat all of that again. After you come out of it, you will always become a better person. What does not kill you, will make you stronger!

So how do you know your time and momentum and how do you come into a conclusion that this is your time. I joined Gojek in 2016 as said earlier as the first mover from the law firms, and I reaped great benefits. Those benefits come from me being challenged on giving my best, in becoming the best of me and be the blessing to others. To be a person who bring good influences in what I do and how I helped a business that make great impacts to millions of drivers, partners, customers, merchant and people in the Gojek platform. It brings the most satisfaction to me, how I can be the best of myself and be a blessing to many others. A blessing that I would say have the same or even arguable more than if I am a part of the government.

But overtime, as I developed the next generation of leaders, and as we strengthened our bench with international legal talents, you just to need to give them the same opportunity to be grown like you. Yes, we always have problems to solve every day and my presence will still be needed to help solve those. But I will need to give opportunity to those leaders (with a special mention to Denise Lioe) to be like me and exposed like me so they can help solve those problems and then grow themselves like me in leadership. I also need to give opportunity to our international legal talents to try new ways to solve these problems with these leaders. I am fully convinced that they collectively will bring greater result than just me individually if they are being given the opportunity at the right time.

As a leader your greatest success is not on what the problems you managed to solve, but in your ability to develop leaders and successors that will be able to solve this problem without you, and overtime like a relay marathon, pass the baton when they are ready and then you just trust them to do it, let go, and graduate. For me, the momentum is now and this is the most perfect moment for me. I am excited with this and will look forward to see the Gojek legal team seizes greater opportunities and solves bigger problems.

So know your momentum in (the first mover advantage always be the best) and know your time to graduate as well, and pass that baton. Mission accomplished!

Makes sense right? Haha. I know you will still be curious and then will ask another question. So what next for you? You are still young and have plenty that you can do. I will elaborate this below.

2. Perspective

One thing that I learned the past few months, is everything can be seen in at least two different perspectives. Either half full or half empty. Like the timing on my departure above, you can agree with me or you can respectfully disagree and assume that there must be other things that I did not tell you. Like a history, it can have many different versions. But for me, the above is my answer on the question and that is the deliberate choice of perspective that I am making.

So what I learned is perspective is actually a choice. You need to choose a perspective. People can say different thinks or think very differently but the choice is yours to make. This is your life not theirs. As Pastor Jose Carol says, you can’t control what happens to you, but you can always control what happens inside of you. You can choose and control your own perspective.

The past few months there are various rumors on me that I neither confirm or deny, haha. But I must admit that I do lots of reflection and exploration over this time.

As I focused solely on Gojek for more than three years, I have not been able to fully look at the whole world and explore my next steps, and in the first month I focused solely on a smooth transition for my departure. Only in and after May then I can explore at the fullest and have great talks with many great peers and friends.

When I do these talks, I have no expectation on what I can get from these talks. I just ask a time and come, and engage in deep conversations, sometime for hours. There just too many people that I am thankful of these conversations and later support and refer me to another great people to meet. You know who you are and I am really thankful. Among them, I need to at least mention Binsar Pakpahan and Dede Fikry, which were speaking also in my 10th wedding anniversary in early August 2019, and most certainly my lovely wife Lydia Arihta Sembiring in almost every night of these four months.

So what you can get from these talks? Some people see this as a waste of time. But I see this as a way to sharpen and test my perspective, and as a way to test the assumptions built over the years within you. I must admit there were times that there is nothing coming from these talks and you just too tired and exhaust the list of people that you want to meet, where there is no light in the end of the tunnel, and the lowest moments when I got discouraged the most.

When I was a fresh graduate, I think as we grow older, things will be much easier, but apparently its not. Each era has its own challenges and now since you have a family (I have two great daughter and son), its not just a matter of one only but collective as family, which make things more challenging. However, the love from my family flows and sustains me even in the most lowest moment of my life, that love and coupled with faith to God that give hope that the best is yet to come.

As I recovered from those lowest moments and see the light in the end of the tunnel, I then get a new perspective on this process. I see everything in the new lens of things like a gift from above.

So what is the chosen perspective? Actually its not new (and I mentioned it above as well) which I am reminded, refreshed, and see in a different manner.

I remember when I just turned 30, I wrote a list of resolution on what me personally wants to achieve as a person before I am 40. I am currently going to 38 years this year so close to 2 years to go. So I took stock on those resolutions, and from all of the bucket list, only one important thing remains in the works. When I first envisioned it in 2008 it was “ to be a professional in a public service” or but now it can be simply translated to “be a blessing to many others”.

When I got illuminated again with that, I prayed to God and ask the question, where I can be the most blessing? Its not the most in the money or has the most perks. But where I can give the best of me and be a blessing. I have made some progress over my years in Gojek and achieve some but I am not finished. I am still being called in the mission. I then tried to disseminate all the talks I am having and reflect that again personally. I even do a further talk with the closest friends and test it again.

And praise to God that I finally see the light in the end of the tunnel and just recently start a new full time role as General Counsel in Ruangguru. The discovery process to Ruangguru (all the introduction and talks that lead to that) and the inspiring talks with the founders merit another writing, maybe after a while am there, hehe. But for sure, am in the mission to be a greater blessing in Ruangguru!

So in a nutshell, the perspective is yours to choose but you need to be mould in the process and its not instant. Tried to look things not just half empty but also half full and vice versa. Do try to test the old perspective and embrace a new one if required after having talks with trusted friends. Most importantly, do your own personal reflection. Do write a personal journal (either in a book or in your smartphone notes, I have both) not just the glory moments, but also the lowest moments. When you are done with all of that, you will see how you have been blessed with the renewed perspective!

3. Values

To be a blessing, you just not need only the perspective but also the values. As famous startup mentors say, having a great idea (or perspective) is one thing but you also need to execute it. Ora et labora, its pray (and wishes) and the works. To get the execution/works you will need values. These values will then sustain your works over the years through the ups and down, shape your leadership and influence, and be the basis as you mentor and prepare the next generation of leaders.

When I started the legal department from the initial four people, recruit people and mentor them, I used these values as my guiding post, as my benchmark. I can recruit those who are not yet technically polished but having strong values but I will not offer anyone who is technically capable but weak on the values.

So what are the values? There are few that I can elaborate but I choose the following three that stand out from others:

a. Passionate on what we are doing and work our best in such passion;

b. Care for each team members and their collective growth and learning; and

c. Having a long term vision and goal not just personally but also for the team.

They seemed to be typical values but actually its easier said than done. There will come a time as leaders you need to choose whether you want to give time to mentor someone to grow or hire someone very capable but consequently limit that earlier person growth and exposure. There will come a time if you need to choose when you want to mentor just the superstars or also everyone else including the low performers. And ultimately there will come a time when you need to choose to prioritize the interest of either yourself or a particular team member, or the team as a whole.

As someone said, you choose a boss rather than a job. As my team entrusted me to provide that growth and opportunities, I am working hard as a leader to work on those values to the team, and as much as possible try to coach and give principles rather than command and give detailed instructions (albeit sometimes the later also necessary). Again, its not easy and there were times that I just want to micromanage or take over for the sake to get the work done, but even after that I tried to give feedback and restart the process again.

However, in the long run as the team gets bigger, I really reaped the benefit of my time in working the values. After you are leading by example, and coach your team, you will see how amazing they multiply to others and even do much better than you. I can see even the more junior team members grow and make greater impacts. I can see amazing solutions they bring to the problem they were facing. I can see that the values shape them to be great leaders.

One thing I learn from the above values exercise, is nothing permanent. A proverb once says that everything under the sun are all meaningless, and values are not exempted as well. I have a great debate with few friends on this, and I can conclude from these talks that even as you work hard years try to work values in the team, the values will definitely evolve not just because the leader depart but also because the evolution that happens in the organization as result of the constant changing of the world around us.

So as you work hard in working the values, you will also need keep in mind that the evolvement of these values are very natural, and even it can be completely different. At times there will be some moderation or equilibrium of the evolution, but as the world changes (in the Industrial Revolution 4.0) it will definitely change again.

Then what is certain? Nothing is certain. Your values might also change and evolve as well as you grow and apply it in different settings. But at least you will need to have values! You should not lead and work without values, as you will then not be able to exercise leadership, or simply you will work without your heart in it. These values are your most important compass, yes they do evolve over time, but without them you will certainly be lost.

For me, my dream is to fast forward 10+ years and excited to see the people that I mentor and/or work with grow and each become great leaders and mentors to others. I can imagine a reunion from people in all walks of my life, not to celebrate me, but to celebrate what each of them have achieved (which I will be grateful to play a small part in it).

Specifically as a lawyer, I am keen to see a next generation of lawyer, who is not just technically capable in what they do, but also innovative, commercial savvy, and most importantly passionate to be agent of changes in Indonesia and the global tech world. Lawyers have been known to be conservative, but I want to see them evolve to be great gatekeepers in the tech setting. Those who facilitate innovation by becoming the gate and aim to keep things afloat and sustainable (for the long term) in a high growth organization setting. Not just a support but an active member of the team who will be a blessing and be a great impact to many.

I want to close with a closing of the proverb as I first mentioned above:

But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do — busywork, mostly.

True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time — but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going.

I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life.

That’s it — eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Thank you for your time in reading this. God bless us all!




General Counsel - Ruangguru (September 2019 - August 2020) Group General Counsel - Gojek (April 2016 - August 2019)

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Nathaniel Mangunsong

Nathaniel Mangunsong

General Counsel - Ruangguru (September 2019 - August 2020) Group General Counsel - Gojek (April 2016 - August 2019)

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