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How Networking Can Help You Build a Business in Indonesia: First-Hand Experience

Hey everyone! My name is Ivan Gorkovenko and for the past 15 years I’ve been developing different businesses in FinTech, FMCG, Retail and hospitality sectors in Pacific Asia. Today I am the VP Commercial Strategy at ZenRooms and my main country of residence is Indonesia. 

ZenRooms was founded in 2015 and it was a pioneer in SaaS-based solutions in managing revenue at hotels and the first online travel agency for low-cost hotels in the South-Eastern Asia.  

Today we are the only independent company that offers a whole spectrum of technological solutions for independent hotels and small hotel chains. We help hoteliers make their businesses more effective to: 

  • Become more attractive for customers and more competitive on the market; 
  • Increase revenue;
  • Optimize and automate their business processes; 
  • Become available online. 

For the majority of local businesses going online is a challenge. For instance, Indonesia has over 45 thousand hotels, and out of those only 32% are listed online. 

Networking is something that definitely helped me build a business, and here is what I’ve learned in the past 15 years.  

Networking is what you need to start with when you’re expanding to the Asian market

The most successful communication strategy in this region is first-hand networking. Asians are highly social and they mostly use WhatsApp chat groups, local associations and other communities of like-minded people. Asians travel a lot and they keep creating communities while they do it. For instance, when you come here, you can find yourself in 5-7 groups with more or less the same people but different topics to discuss. I noticed this when I moved here and it got me thinking that a great strategy would be to look for groups that have founders in the hospitality industry. And, what I found out is that there are 2 separate national associations in tourism that don’t compete with each other. It helped me find the first contacts for my business.

You can enter the market, hire a team, start marketing campaigns, get your first sales and get stuck in Negotiation with PIC, because the level of trust between partners is critical for the asian markets. It’s important that the local ambassador builds a relationship with the local community. The easiest way to get ahead is to find the right people (e.g. team members) among the locals. Usually these are local specialists with a lot of contacts on LinkedIn. It’s more difficult to create personal, trustworthy relationships with people from the industries you’re looking at. Let’s talk about it. 

How we managed to expand in the new market with the power of networking

The company’s already on the market, and it’s successful in a few key areas of the most populated island of the region. Our task was to scale up and expand our presence in the more rural areas and start selling. Here’s how we did it at Zen.

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Thanks to networking, we found the first local employees who personally introduced us to the local communities, as we already had members of the local associations among our client base. Usually, it isn’t difficult to get a recommendation letter, where a branch of a local association recommends you as a partner to another local association. In my experience, this is the easiest and fastest way to start building trust in the local community of entrepreneurs. You start attending business breakfasts and brunches with local associations, and as they are all NCOs (non-commercial organizations), they are always looking for sponsors. 

Networking online and offline is key 

The next step is to attend a local conference. The budget will depend on the event itself, but usually it takes 1-2K USD, and it is better if you get a slot as a speaker at the event – because you can present yourself and meet new people at the same time. You need to be very open and use the “apple to apple” approach, and show your affinity to this specific country, community and region and show that you’re interested in investing in this area and developing a business. This is where your network will be critical because people always trust the people they already know more – so make sure you attend conferences with someone who can introduce you. The trust level of your local contacts will be your starting capital.

As a result, you are guaranteed to meet 30+ (the number of contacts will depend on the size of the event) potential partners, representatives of the government and others. The people who work for the government are always ready to share their experience, but they do require a more formal approach when you contact them – and you must keep it in mind. 

And then, it’s all up to you. Networking in Asia requires constant maintenance and sometimes the quality of your recommendations is even more important than the quality of your product – and you must keep it in mind at all times. 

Today we keep growing in Indonesia and we’re looking for ways of growing in Vietnam – a new and promising market, and we’re also revising our strategy in the Philippines – the market where we started. 

In case you see South-Eastern Asia as a potential market for your business, you can message me on Intch — I’m always happy to share! Networking is something that helped me create a business here from scratch, so I’d be happy to share my experience, give someone some advice or share my network. Let’s build a community of businessmen here together with Intch!


  • OH i feel you when you say you need to work with the local authorities – there is sometimes no way around it, especially if you’re in real estate

  • Conferences are in fact a tool to use – networking online is cool and all but specifically in Asia you need to sit down with people, have lunch (many times) and then you can talk things over – it’s a cultural thing and it takes time

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