Ani Lee is a young and ambitious entrepreneur from China with a dream to build the best language teaching center brand in Indonesia.
She came to Indonesia in 2006 with a scholarship to study and has stayed here ever since.
Learn how she is utilizing her connections with hundreds of big Chinese companies in Indonesia and how she compares doing business with Chinese and Indonesian companies.
Starting a language training center
What made you stay in Indonesia after you completed your studies?
Indonesia has more opportunities than China. Even though China’s economy is growing fast the competition is also serious.
GDP of Indonesia is growing 6% which creates many opportunities. I also like the environment, weather and also the people are quite welcoming and open hearted.
Where did you get the idea to start your own business?
I am the secretary of Indonesian-Tionghoa Club and we also have good relations with Chinese Chamber in Indonesia. There are more than 200 companies in those organizations, all of them top companies in China so we have very good network.
I’ve been living here for more than 7 years and didn’t want to be just an employee in a company. Since I have this access to my network I was thinking how can I utilize it and do something to serve those Chinese companies.
One day my friends came to me with the idea to start a language school. That’s how we started Indonesian First Language Center. We started in September 2012 and in March opened first classes.
What is Indonesian First Language Center offering?
Indonesian First Language Center is a language training center specialized in Indonesian, Mandarin, and English training.
IF’s teachers are all native speakers of the language they are teaching. Through the courses students master the vocabulary, conversation, grammar and gradually tri-language communication skills.
Utilizing her network to grow business
How did you find your first customers?
First batch of students are mainly from our friends, so the start was pretty smooth. But gradually we’ll also advertise our business through different medias – like newspaper, radio – in order expand our network so customers will come to us.
What were the biggest challenges when starting your company and how did you overcome them?
The beginning was smoother than we had expected. The biggest challenge is how to grow faster and have more and more students studying in IF.
After they study one level, some of them don’t continue again to the next level. And we need promote our brand, let more and more people know about us.
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Building a language training center brand
How are you building a strong brand?
Right now we are still small and we will try out best to serve our students well, care about our them. Mouth to mouth is the best way to advertise.
We promise to the students that if they attend our classes and are not satisfied or don’t improve there are refunds or opportunity to take the same level again free of charge.
What is your vision for IF?
Build the best Indonesian and Mandarin language teaching brand.
When time comes, we will start to look for investors. We’re planning to open the flagship shops in the big malls. Thus greatly improving our brand image, the people will see that it is different from other Chinese or Indonesia classes because it’s not delivered in a Ruko (typical 3-4 floor narrow houses used for living and working -editor) like you see other schools everywhere.
We also plan to work together with the Confucius institute, which is the institute from Chinese government that is specialized in promoting Chinese culture and language and it has branches all over the world.
In Indonesia there are 6 branches and we’re going to cooperate with them and also with other Indonesian and Chinese well known universities. From our language center, our students can get certificate for language study making it attractive for participants.
How will your company look like in the next 5 years?
In my imagination we will be already a famous brand, like WallStreet or EF. Most people in Indonesia know what IF Language Center is.
We have shops in all the big malls in Indonesia. We have our advertisement everywhere. Billboards in the airport, everybody coming to Indonesia will know about us.
Ani Lee with her first group of students – mainly executives of Chinese companies in Indonesia
Do you have plans for online trainings?
It’s already being prepared and going to be online soon. It’s VIP “one to one”.
We also have offline VIP director and executive courses besides basic and intermediate Indonesian classes. Students can choose whether to take personal classes or join a small group.
What about your previous experience in teaching? Where do you get ideas for innovative teaching methods?
We all taught before at the university and discuss teaching methods with our friends and constantly brainstorm in order to innovate.
We also have friends in big language centers in China and get suggestions from them. Sometimes we also get ideas for trainings from the customer inquiries.
If you could turn back the time and start over again what would you do differently?
If anything, then start even earlier with my own business.
(Indosight’s Note: business visa is the fastest and easiest type of visa for foreigners to stay or frequently visit Indonesia. Check out our business visa page.)
Chinese companies in Indonesia
Chinese companies are strengthening their positions across the world, including Indonesia. What is behind their success?
Because Chinese companies are richer now, we have money and we can develop the new technology that enables us to go outside.
But the globalization is not easy, even though now many companies expand abroad but most of them are just doing trading. Trading alone is not enough.
In China, we don’t have yet big and international brands. That’s something we should improve and develop. That’s why we have the dream to make our language center become the best Indonesian and Mandarin brand.
How would you compare Indonesians and Chinese in doing business? What are the differences and similarities?
I think Indonesians are friendlier and if you want to do business with them you need to become friends with them first.
Indonesian working speed is a bit slow while in China the working speed is very fast.
Indonesian companies are usually slower in decision making so I need to more patient while Chinese are more punctual. But the people here are nice. Personal relationships in Indonesia are important.
There are many people in Indonesia with Chinese origins. If you do business with them, are they more like Chinese or Indonesian in the way they do business?
I think in between. They have Indonesian style but they also have Chinese traditions. I think because they are already here of many genereations so they have mix culture.
What are the things Chinese companies get wrong about Indonesia?
After the Anti-Chinese riot in May 1998 most Chinese think that Indonesia is still not a safe and it’s very dangerous to be in Indonesia.
Now there is a lot of cooperation between the Indonesian and Chinese governments and more companies will be coming here with the governmental support.
Advice to other foreign entrepreneurs
What are the industries or sectors do you see a lot of potential for the foreign investors to get involved in nowadays?
There are a lot potential because Indonesia has good resources and a big market.
I think restaurants are a good opportunity because no matter how bad the economy is, everybody will need to eat. There are many Chinese people here and they usually go to restaurants to have dinner to talk about business.
Trading also has good opportunities. Import goods from China to Indonesia.
Do you have any other tips to the foreign entrepreneurs who want to start business here?
First of all, take time to understand the culture and learn the Indonesian language.
Then study the needs and desires of the customers and how to differentiate your business from the competitors.
If you can do that, you have great opportunities here.