Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 61

Brent Chinn, Expat Life in Jakarta, Indonesia

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Show notes

Brent Chinn, an East Asian Studies and Economics major at Harvard talks about his journey since graduation in 1992. Since he was 12, Brent had a desire to work in the Pacific Rim. After school, he worked in San Francisco but was offered a position in Indonesia by the wife of a fifth-year senior when he was a freshman. At the time, Brent had no idea where Indonesia was but saw it as an opportunity to work in the Pacific Rim. He arrived in Indonesia in 1996 and made every rookie mistake, including overconfidence and underestimating how much he didn’t know. 


An American in Indonesia

Brent talks about his job in Indonesia. The stock market had just opened, Indonesia was an emerging economy and considered one of the five tigers at the time. His job was not just to work as an analyst but to also recruit talent. Brent had a car and a driver, which was part of the expat package, less enticing was his first lunch delivered to his office. He found it challenging to get settled with utilities and getting an apartment. However, he was fascinated by the country and its culture, and he started learning Bahasa Indonesia, the official language. It was a rockin’ time. However, two years later, the Asian financial crisis hit, and everything came tumbling down. Brent made a rookie mistake when he advertised a summer barbecue and invited people to his apartment. He didn’t realize that Indonesians didn’t have the concept of summer or barbecue, because it’s on the equator and don’t have the same seasonal shifts, and he struggled to get the briquets and hot dogs. Despite the initial challenges, Brent has been in Indonesia ever since and has been working in various fields.


Indonesia’s Democracy

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, but its constitution is a secular democracy. Its democracy was messy, with demonstrations and volatility, and Americans got evacuated. In 1998, after the financial crisis, President Suharto stepped down, and for the first time, there was a democracy. Indonesia recognized that their country was full of 16,000 islands with thousands of different languages and dialects. They had to get everyone speaking the same language and realize they were better together than apart. They put their differences aside and moved forward, hacking out their differences in a democratic way. Indonesia is considered one of the biggest success stories for democracy. It’s also a great growth story. Indonesia has a lot of lessons that they can give to Americans in terms of what happens when you don’t have to dominate political parties and how to build consensus to drive a political agenda. 


Working in Finance during the Financial Crisis

Brent arrived when Indonesia was a hot market, but Brent’s personal experience was challenging, as he had been in the country for only two years when the financial crisis hit, and suddenly, nobody was taking any debt. Brent decided to stick around during the crisis, and the company he worked for became one of the largest issuers of debt. He had to print bearer bonds complete with terms and conditions. He was working with medium-term notes, which were a financial innovation at the time but are now banned.  However, when the market changed, the company got into the debt trading business and made more money selling distressed bonds than they did issuing primary debt. 

Brent talks about the riots that started during the financial crash and why he decided to stay in the country despite the fact that many Americans were being evacuated. Brent left Indonesia and went to business school at Wharton in 2001 and worked for a start-up in the US in 2004 but later returned to Asia in 2009 where he helped his old company build mobile stock applications. 


Building the Startup TimKado

He started his own company in 2017 called TimKado, which makes software tools that fit on top of WhatsApp. The company automates content contact management for different popular chat applications, primarily WhatsApp but also Telegram, and other chat applications. Their major market at the moment is travel agents, but they also serve retailers, ecommerce, and some insurance companies. 

WhatsApp is the dominant chat application for 2 billion people, particularly in Indonesia, India, Brazil, and some European countries. The company has its own API, and there are a whole group of third parties that make applications that work with WhatsApp. Chinn’s company aims to be the first SaaS-based software platform that can extend beyond Indonesia, but go to other markets like Brazil, Mexico, and Europe. They want to help corporate companies build out their own chat networks and be ready for chat GTP or whatever should come down the pipeline in terms of AI. 

Brent’s experiences highlight the risks and rewards of working in emerging markets. The market can be volatile, and financial innovation can lead to toxic products. However, there is also potential for high financial rewards. His story also underscores the importance of regulation and the need for caution when investing in emerging markets.


Life in Jakarta

Brent currently lives in Jakarta. He believes that Indonesia has a lot to offer and wants to be an advocate for the country. Despite Jakarta’s population of over 30 million people, there are plenty of parks and outdoor spaces to enjoy, and the city has a fantastic food scene with a variety of ethnic foods and organic options at reasonable prices. Jakarta has also experienced significant growth in infrastructure, including malls and public transportation, in the last 10 years. He believes that Jakarta is a safe place with a laid-back atmosphere and good music scene. 


Influential Harvard Courses and Professors

Brent reflects on his college experience and how a class on ancient Chinese art has helped him in his current job, where he is trying to use technology in innovative ways to increase productivity. He shares that the biggest lesson he learned from Harvard is to change the paradigm and do something amazing. He invites people to connect with him on LinkedIn to learn more about his work and to explore Indonesia, including Bali, and Komodo Island. 



17:47 Discussion on investment banking and the industries dealt with

18:06 Experience with emerging markets and bearer bonds

20:16 Working with state-owned enterprises and financial innovations

21:39 Explanation of medium-term notes and their downfall

23:38 Personal experience during the financial crisis

24:20 Trading debt after issuing it during the financial crisis

28:17 Working for a startup in the US and returning to Asia in 2009

29:42 Building mobile stock applications and starting his own company

30:41 Information about his current company TimKado





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Brent Chinn


Will Bachman, Brent Chinn


Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 90 G report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m here today with Brent chin. Brent, welcome to the show.


Brent Chinn  00:15

Hey, well, nice to be here. Brent. Tom, caller first time listener look just delighted.


Will Bachman  00:21

So, Brent, let’s start with just where you’re sitting today. I believe that you are in Indonesia.


Brent Chinn  00:28

Yes, that’s right. I’m in Jakarta. Been here for a while.


Will Bachman  00:31

Amazing. Fantastic. So it’s like 10am my time. It’s 9pm Your time. So thanks for joining the evening. Why don’t we start by telling us about your journey since Harvard. And probably one of those steps is how you ended up in Jakarta.


Brent Chinn  00:47

Sure, happy to do that. Let’s see. I was an Asian Studies, East Asian Studies and Economics major East Asian Studies EC. And I always had a desire to work in the Pacific Rim. Since I was 12. I read this book called mega trends. And I talked about Pacific Rim. And that’s why I majored in EAS Mac. But I really didn’t do well in Chinese. And so I got a job in the US, and I was working in San Francisco, and then a person called me up. It was actually the wife of a fifth year senior when I was a freshman. And she said that her cousin was opening up a investment bank in Indonesia. And I put my name in the hat. And they say, Hey, why don’t you come on out? I had no idea where Indonesia was. It’s just those that little lower left, lower right hand corner of the risk map. That’s all I remember. And that’s a lot of Americans. Americans.


Will Bachman  01:51

Like to listen to points.


Brent Chinn  01:54

That’s right. It’s a 2.0. It’s my favorite,


Will Bachman  01:57

my favorite.


Brent Chinn  01:59

It is definitely as a strategy starting from that corner. That’s it. Hey, yeah, I know that. Okay. Is it bigger than Bali? Is this country bigger than Bali? It’s like completely wrong. So yeah, that was my first experience. And I came out in 1996.


Will Bachman  02:16

That is, so it’s almost kind of pre internet. So it’s the days where it’s not super easy to just go on wikipedians. And let me learn about Indonesia. There was a job in Indonesia. You’re okay, it’s Pacific Rim. I’m there.


Brent Chinn  02:32

I’m there. Exactly. And it turned out that Indonesia was this country where, because they had banned, people speaking Chinese for for, for a long time. Most of the Chinese ethnic Chinese people here didn’t speak Chinese very well. And I said, Hey, my Chinese actually was really okay. And so that made it easier. That was a done deal that don’t go to China go to Southeast Asia. We don’t, we didn’t have a Southeast Asian Studies Department at the time. So you know, I studied East Asian Studies, just Japan, Korea, and mostly China. But yeah, as it turned out, I ended up in Indonesia.


Will Bachman  03:13

I’m just loving the story, Brent, I mean, to have just the willingness at the age of 2526, to say, okay, great. I’ll go to this country. I’ve never been to before and just work there. I don’t know anybody. I don’t know much about it. What are the major exports? I have no idea. That No. Okay. So all right. So narrate ME YOUR JOURNEY tell us about, you know, maybe landing your first day and weeks in Jakarta, you know, landing there, tell us about, you know, getting sorted and getting your feet on the ground and finding an apartment and just what was your what do you remember from your impressions of that?


Brent Chinn  03:55

I think I made probably every rookie mistake, someone from the US with no clue can make, but with a sense of overconfidence and overconfidence that only Harvard could give you right? So you’re like out here, you think you know everything? And you absolutely know nothing. And you don’t know how much you don’t know. And so you’re going out here? I remember the first thing I did, I was working for this investment bank. Okay, the very first story would be so they asked me Would they would I like to have lunch? delivered to me? I said sure. Why not to my office? And you know, they talked to me about what people when they move out to Asia at the time it was about this thing is expat package. And so having a car and a driver, that was a big deal. There’s a whole bunch of stories behind that is not as glamorous as it may sound. But the other part was, oh, we went to we want to give you lunch. I said okay, and my very first Just Lunch was it was boiled frogs, and it cut these frogs. And it was I opened the plate. And there was these three little frog butts staring at me on top of a pile of white rice. And I said, Okay, I’m not in America anymore. And that was my first lunch in Jakarta. It sounds delicious, actually. Yeah, it was It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad. My first time having fraud but the way that was presented. Oh, not true out. Yeah, it was. It’s probably it’s probably really cool now. But at the time, I was like, Oh, okay.


Will Bachman  05:40

So I want to get into the investment banking and understand that because I am kind of fascinated with the idea that an investment bank would think it makes sense to bring a 26 year old, who does no no nothing at all about the country to come and do investment banking. That’s, that’s quite an interesting Oh, yeah, if you like, but before we get into that, just tell me a few more of the rookie mistakes, like what was what was it? Like, you know, especially, you know, a little bit pre internet, getting an apartment, even transferring money, what was, you know, just sort of getting settled with utilities. What other adventures did you have when you when you got set up there?


Brent Chinn  06:21

Okay, well, the good news is the employer was really trying to roll out the red carpet for for these Ivy League’s that they’re trying to promote to come to the country and work. The stock market had just opened just as a emerging economy, considered one of the five tigers as well as called at the time. This is pre Fang, this is Oh, Indonesia. And my job was actually not to just work as an analyst. I came out of Robertson Stephens, and was we had just taken Pixar public, Netscape had just gone public. So this was right around that time. And I decided, but you know, that wasn’t for me. I’m gonna I want to follow my dream of this East Asian thing. So I Pacific Rim thing. So I went out. And I’ll My job was actually to recruit three or four other people from HBS. We recruited someone from Stanford, and we just a couple of people from Wharton and we just started so it wasn’t just me. So it was a team opening up with this really entrepreneurial CEO from x City Bank, Indonesian woman naming and yeah, we’re, it was a bunch of us. And it was a it was a rockin time. 1996. It was. And then two years later, was the Asian financial crisis when it all came tumbling down. Anyway, it’s there’s, there’s gonna be story after story. But I think what I’ll tell you about rookie mistakes, so I get there. My, my birthday is in June, and I said, you know, I want to have a party and you know, get to know people. I think that’s why should be doing so I said, I advertised, and we’re a bunch of brokers. And there’s all these young college age, a lot of them Indonesian, but had gone to school in the US, and we’re all sort of working in the brand new Stock Exchange was really exciting, this new capital market. And I said, Hey, I’m gonna have this party and I said, I’m going to call it a summer barbecue coming over to my apartment. And I’m going to find hot dogs and hamburgers. Have a grill grill out right. And they had put me in this apartment and there was a rooftop pool. It was perfect, you know, the little seating area, so I’d be able to have the party. The first thing I heard when they saw this poster that I sent out to everybody, which was pretty much by email, and there was like a couple Xeroxes that I put out in the office. They said, What’s summer? What’s, what’s a barbecue, and I realized, yeah, I’m living on the equator. And they don’t really have the concept of I went around looking for reconnects, you know, I’m thinking all right. I shouldn’t be too high. I just get some briquettes and hotdogs, throw them on. And this isn’t going to be any problem at all right? And I originally invited like five people. But one thing about Indonesia as When word of a party comes out, it just starts spreading and this is pre social media, but I think about 60 people showed up and I had like two packs a hot dog rather than having like you know, I asked the driver you know, you say hey, great driver give me stuff he I said give me some charcoal if we can put it on the grill. And what he got was the charcoal for satay in Indonesia. They basically have these fast Quit burning charcoal to cook chicken satay and like it lasts like 15 minutes with you wouldn’t even be long enough to roast the hotdogs. He brought back these two little pieces. I’ve got a line of like 20 People still keep coming in. I’m like, Oh my gosh. And I had like, six hotdogs need to order some frog. Yeah, good. Am I If I only knew where to order that I But luckily, a colleague in the office saved me her name was sue me. She said, you know, Breton has no idea what he’s doing. Luckily, she wants to school in the US. And she said, This guy is in trouble. So she, she did the Indonesian thing which is get on the phone, call the caterer bring in all kinds of food, make sure they take care of everything. You don’t cook anything, and bam, it was all out. And we just had a rockin time after that. But I you know, I didn’t ask for help, of course, because hey, Harvard grads are asked for help. They just do their own thing. And it would have been a disaster. But I was very fortunate. Somebody bailed me out. That’s awesome. And we people got thrown at people got thrown in the pool. I still, to this day, people come up to me and say, oh, yeah, I went to that party. I know that party. I’m like, Oh my gosh, like you were there. Anyway, it’s crazy. That was the


Will Bachman  11:20

12 hot dogs and 12 Hot


Brent Chinn  11:23

dogs with agency, the dogs that don’t leave the hot dogs even got off the grill it was it was really much a disaster. And then, you know, I wasn’t paying attention to that anymore, because people just kept coming in. And then by the end of the evening, though, all the food’s gone. Half the people in the pool. It’s just not it was weird.


Will Bachman  11:42

I love the fact that you, you know, just didn’t necessarily know ton of people, but you’re okay, I’m gonna organize an event and just, you know, put it out there and see who comes


Brent Chinn  11:53

put it out there. Don’t speak the language. Everyone’s just, you know, speaking a different language. But, you know, everyone was wearing their hottest clothes a you know, it was like this, you know, it is some are better than a club. You know, it was it was summer is what you do. Okay,


Will Bachman  12:09

so that is awesome. I am particularly excited by this conversation. Because, you know, my other podcast, which is Unleashed? I’ve done 500 Plus episodes, and I yet I mean, I’ve been wanting to have a guest on the show to talk to me about Indonesia. So oh, okay, because it’s one of the biggest success stories, right for democracy. I’ve read recently a column how it said, you know, it’s basically one of the big success stories in terms of having successful democratic transitions. It’s been a great growth story. It’s one of the it’s the biggest Muslim country in the world. And I don’t, I’ve never been there. I’d love to visit. I don’t know a lot about it. So maybe just give me a bit of an intro of I mean, you were seeing, you know, kind of the probably big swath the business world. So start with 1996. What was sort of the, you know, the main industries, the economic situation in 1996. And I’d love to hear some stories about like, what, how the economies develop, like, what are the big industries and exports? And what sorts of areas have you focused your investment banking career on? So that’s like, oh, that’s like about a 10. Question right there to narrow question that Yeah, yeah. So a lot of stuff in there, take it anywhere you want to take any direction you want.


Brent Chinn  13:35

But I think that definitely, Indonesia is a type of country where you look at the end result, but you don’t really look at how you got there. You say, hey, I want this. And then you tell your guy to do it. And he goes out and does it and it’s all you saw him doing, you freak out. But at the end, you get the product you want you just the journey wasn’t what you thought it would be. I think that’s the most humbling thing that I learned. Because I think as an American, and oh my gosh, a Harvard educated American, you go out you think, hey, we must have the best way to tell other people what to do. And I think the humbling experience I learned is that Indonesian democracy was messy. They had demonstrations. Americans got evacuated because it was so volatile. And at the time in 1998, there was a financial crisis Suharto steps down, we can talk all about the, the, the person who was in charge prior to that for the 30 years, you know, you know who he supported and the whole Cold War thing, but that ended in 1998. Have, and after the financial crisis, and it was primarily because the IMF said, Look, unless you do these reforms, we’re not going to give you money, and they had to do it, otherwise the economy wouldn’t be able to move forward. And so they did. And they rationalize economy. But at the same time, there was, for the first time a democracy. And in those elections, Everyone was freaked out because everyone is demonstrating. And there’s, it was a lot of noise. But people got through it. People got to the election happened. And four years after that person, somebody else took over. And four years after that person, somebody else took over. And no one took over for more than two terms. It was amazing. And you have to remember that Indonesia is very interesting. It is the largest Muslim country in the world. But its constitution is a secular democracy. It has what’s called the punch of sila, which recognizes a whole number of religions. It’s a little, it’s not completely freeform, there is I think, seven or nine specific religions that were boxes that they tried to put people into. But, you know, it isn’t a, it isn’t a monolith. It is definitely, they recognize that their country was full of 16,000 islands with 1000s of different languages and dialects, they had to get everyone speaking the same language and then say, Hey, we’re better together than we are apart. And let’s put those differences aside, and let’s move forward. And we’re going to hack out our differences in a democratic way. And I think that they didn’t do anything that the US government, probably they did a few. But they did it their way. It wasn’t like, Oh, we’re gonna copy exactly what the United States did. And it works for them. And I just feel that now they’re at a point where they have actually a lot of lessons that they can give to Americans in terms of what happens when you don’t have to dominating political parties, and they’re asked to actually be coalition’s formed. And how do you build consensus to drive a political agenda? I think they’re looking at the United States and seeing it, go through things that they’ve already gone through. And they realize maybe, maybe not for the first time, but they realized that the teacher, as a student, they have no more to learn from the teacher, maybe they have something to offer to the teacher. So that was, again, a humbling experience for an American having moved out here 25 years ago.


Will Bachman  17:47

So let’s talk about a bit about your investment banking. So you get there at 96. What, what kind of, I mean, you don’t even know anybody in the country. So what what sort of industries are you doing deals in tell us about some of the, you know, experiences you’ve had with that?


Brent Chinn  18:06

Well, I mean, emerging markets have already has been volatile. It was when Indonesia was the hot market, and money just kept flooding into the country. And they bought all these dollar loans. All these Indonesian companies wanted to borrow in dollar, and we help them and then 1998 It just came crashing down, the dollar stopped and people couldn’t pay back their dollar loans. And that’s where the financial crisis started. Right. So we did a whole variety of different companies. I did, mostly Indonesians stayed on that was our biggest company, you know, raising a billion dollars. But you know, this is the thing. It’s nothing like the US this is almost the Wild West. I remember, these were bearer bonds that we were we we’re printing out you remember the movie Die Hard? Sure. Movie Die Hard. And so the guys go in there to steal where do they stealing at the NAM Ozaki tower, they’re going to go into the safe to steal bearer bonds, basically pieces of paper where if you’re denominated, like at a million dollars, you had to then you could take it to a bank and they would literally exchange it, they’ll give you a million dollars. That’s what they were stealing. And what I was printing, I was given the job of you got to print this, you know, it was a $400 million issuance, I had to print up the actual certificates on regular pieces. Actually, we got some special paper but it wasn’t anything that’s special. And I had to print all the terms and conditions in like, two point font and put it all on there because that was the bearer bond, we would give it to this guy in a motorcycle and he would just carry it. You know, his job was to go deliver it to the custodial bank. That’s literally how it was done. Okay, that’s very new. $400 million about $400 million in bearer bonds, basically, I print, you know, a recent college grad prints up. And then we just stamp it with a, you know, with a rubber stamp, and then it goes to the Deutsche Bank, custodial bank and someone gets 400 million bucks.


Will Bachman  20:16

Okay, that’s very nice. Yeah. So okay, so one of your big clients was a state owned enterprise. Tell us a little bit about that, like, you know, how did you get introduced to them? Was it was your founder, CEO kind of very well connected? Yeah.


Brent Chinn  20:28

Yeah, that’s a, that’s a banker, Wheeler Dealer thing. I was just the analyst associate, right. So that those are relationships that were cultivated. And it was a crazy time. And right. And so the money was flowing, and we could issue out so much debt, short term debt, long term debt. They were called medium term notes, medium term notes are now banned. So basically, I was working the part of the market that you can’t actually do anymore, like medium term notes. They don’t exist, why don’t they exist? Because six of the investment banks that bought our stuff, they don’t exist anymore after the financial crisis. So it was a financial innovation that later died. But we made a lot of money. So we’re like the, you know, the Robert Milken that he did that kind of stuff. And then you know, bad things happen. And then you have to learn and how to repackage and doing it a different way the next time. So the regulator comes in later and says, Oh, no, we can’t do that anymore. That was bad. Oh, really? You didn’t tell us that before? But that was essentially what happens and why we’re, since that period of time,


Will Bachman  21:39

I’m why we’re medium term notes why we’re medium term notes bad. Like, what’s the bad thing about them? I’m assuming term means like, duration? Like, what are those? Like five years or seven years? Yeah.


Brent Chinn  21:49

So yeah, so Well, basically, there wasn’t any. There wasn’t any collateral specific collateral tied to it. It’s just a promise. And so it was considered a liquidity vehicle. Because, hey, because of the short tenor, people somehow felt that that would make them safe. So I mean, it was you know, it was the, what do you call it the mortgage backed securities of today, okay, or recent of recent past, at that time, the toxic thing was was called medium term notes, where people thought that, hey, there’s only one or two years, I just have to make sure I get out of it before anyone else does, it’s going to turn over real quick. I don’t want to buy that I can buy these 90 Day commercial paper products, everyone’s going to pay me back because I’ll be the first in line. But what happens if the whole economy freezes, and no one can pay back because they’re all getting Rubia, which was at 2000 to the dollar when we first issued these notes, and then it goes to 15,000 to the dollar, no one can pay back. Right. So that’s what basically what the financial crisis was, and wasn’t just for Indonesia, actually first started in Thailand. And this is a very high level overview of what happened, but in the trenches where I was, yeah, we were issuing all these notes, and all of a sudden, no one could pay back. We didn’t matter if it was two years, tenor, or it was, hey, this was only 30 days. If the if your suddenly your, your currency depreciates by seven times, no one’s going to be able to do anything. And that’s to say exactly what happened. So


Will Bachman  23:38

what was what was that like for you personally? So you’re, you’ve been in the country for two years, like two years going gangbusters, you’re selling all these debt? And then all of a sudden, there’s this crisis? What was it like for you personally, imagine like, all of a sudden, you’re not, you know, all of your potential clients, nobody’s taking any debt. They’re not able to pay their loans. So the people that you were dealing with on the other side getting their money, they’re all like, Hey, what’s going on? They’re all upset at you. Are you thinking this is a disaster? I’m gonna have to kind of do what can I afford a flight home to get out of here? Or is this gonna just be you know, am I gonna just, you know, get fired? And like, what was it like for you?


Brent Chinn  24:20

Well, I, we all the people I hired from the the other HBs grads and Stanford grads, we had a Dartmouth grad, they all left within at the early part of the financial crisis, they could see that this was going to get worse. Okay, I decided to stick around. All right. And what actually happened was we were one of the largest issuers of debt and so suddenly that business just stopped cold. No one’s no one’s ringing the phone. Yeah. Nothing, nothing to issue out day after day. And then I got this call from I just a random call. comes in, I pick it up and this guy from Korea, it was, at the time, what was LG investment bank, and they had a whole portfolio that they had to unload. And suddenly we got into the debt trading business. And ironically, we made more money, at that point, selling the distressed bonds than we did when we were actually issuing the primary stuff. So, yeah, anyway, so that’s, I mean, that’s the way a bank works, right? You, you issue the stuff out, and then when the market changes, and you sort of take it all back in and that there was a period of time when, when that was happening. And then after that I applied to go to business school. So okay, but yeah, so I was I was trading debt after issuing it for, for basically one and a half years of issuing debt and market crashes, there was a riot that tell you about the riot. And they’re burning, they’re burning. There, specifically Chinese people we’re not, we’re not seen in a good light. And the Chinese areas of Jakarta were burning. We can go into this a little bit more, if you like. But essentially, some people believe there was a coup that was about to happen. And the American government issued a warning and said, Look, if you want to get out of the country, everyone got was contacted that they could they had registered with the embassy, and said, Look, pick one, carry on bag, or come to the US Embassy ambassador’s residence, and we’ll fly you out the next day. And so I didn’t take the offer, but a bunch of other people did. And so they flew out. And I said, Oh, that’s us tax dollars at work. That’s worth something because the Britons the Brits didn’t get that the Japanese didn’t get that Canadians definitely didn’t get that. They’re, they’re still sort of stuck. I decided to stay. It was crazy. But and the one thing that saved Jakarta from having a complete coup and potentially a huge disaster was this huge rainstorm happened the day of the of the of the biggest part of the coup or the the riots, and everyone went inside, and then that gave the chance for the Indonesian military, those who had cooler heads to come out and lock down the city. By time you woke up the rainstorm was over. But there were tanks and, and soldiers at every major street corner. So yeah, that’s a separate story all in itself. But from that point forward after that, Suharto steps down, and then Indonesians democracy, Indonesia’s democracy starts for in earnest. And the last two presidential terms have been run by this guy named Jokowi. And he’s done a great job this the finance minister, this woman in Sri Mulyani, she’s probably been the best finance minister Indonesia’s ever had, and they’ve been able to weather through the lead the latest financial crisis. So yeah, okay, so you go off to business, Asia hangs out. It’s doing good.


Will Bachman  28:17

You go off to business school. And then what happens next, it sounds like you return.


Brent Chinn  28:24

So actually worked for a startup in the US with some other Harvard guys. When I first came out of Wharton, and this is 2001. I graduated right out, you know, the just bus at that point. But I’m, I’m I switched jobs, I’m selling software and in Asia. My biggest client was in Singapore at the time, we sold stuff to Japan as well. So I was in charge of Asia Pacific. And eventually, that it doesn’t go where we want to go, the VCs weren’t happy with it. And they, they eventually kicked out the founders and the company got rolled up into a fund, which is pretty typical when the VC says we don’t want to do this anymore. And they take over the company and roll it into their, their fund and mark it up. That’s a different story. But that’s what VCs to in the valley. When you when you don’t meet the financial targets, I guess. That was 2004. Then I worked at another couple of jobs, but eventually came out back to Asia in 2009.


Will Bachman  29:38

Okay, what happened then?


Brent Chinn  29:42

I worked for my old company for a little while, but rather than working as an investment banker, I helped them build basically mobile stock applications because I knew something about building software applications because I came out of this For a company and we took that knowledge, hired more people. In fact, I hired some I went out to Belarus and hired some fellow Russians, because we didn’t have enough good programmers where we were. And, you know, can’t go to Belarus anymore. But I’m glad I went out and brought them back to Indonesia. And they worked for us, Indonesia. So how crazy is that? We built the apps, we built the first real time stock trading app for certified for Android, BlackBerry, if you remember that, and iOS. And then 2017, I decided to start my own company. So I’ve been building software applications ever since.


Will Bachman  30:38

Oh, tell us about that. Tell us about your firm.


Brent Chinn  30:41

I share my company is called Tim Kado. We make software tools that fit on top of WhatsApp. And we help automate for companies help them automate content contact contact management for different popular chat applications, primarily WhatsApp but also Telegram, and and other chat applications. Our major market at the moment is travel agents, but we also do retailers, ecommerce, and some insurance companies.


Will Bachman  31:21

Now, I didn’t even know that there are apps that ride on top of WhatsApp, and by the way, was hitters we are actually speaking on WhatsApp right now. So thank you WhatsApp for making That’s right. Free international calls, which is so amazing. Absolutely. I don’t know how


Brent Chinn  31:35

many people in America use it. But the fact that you know about it, yeah, it is the dominant application for 2 billion people. So what a 1/3 of the world.


Will Bachman  31:45

It’s still I still every time I use it. I’m like, you know, because I remember when I was when we were young is call international below $10. A minute or $5? A minute or something? Absolutely. That is amazing. What sort of what sort of applications right on top of WhatsApp, but I have not seen that kind of thing.


Brent Chinn  32:05

Oh, no. I mean, WhatsApp has its own API. So there’s a whole group of third parties that make applications that work with WhatsApp. So I just think it’s not that popular in the US, because in the US, SMS is basically unlimited. iMessage is unlimited, you don’t really think about your messaging. But in Indonesia, and India, Brazil, a lot of European countries, you have to pay per per message basis. And so they all switched to WhatsApp, because it was considered an over the top application as a data application. And you didn’t, you didn’t have to pay for messaging or, or voice calls anymore. And that makes it extremely popular. And WhatsApp does it the best compared to anything else you can do out here in Asia. So it’s a dominant one. So if you’re in that type of market, which is not the US, then you’re very familiar with WhatsApp. I think most people I know who use whatsapp in the US, maybe like yourself, have international friends, and then you contact them on WhatsApp. But with your own friends inside of the United States, you wouldn’t have to do that. Right? You just use iMessage or something. Which is actually not as secure because it’s not fully encrypted end to end. But you know, that’s a different story. We don’t have to go there.


Will Bachman  33:29

Okay. And tell us about building your firm there. What sort of clients do you serve? Are they mainly clients? They’re in Indonesia? Are they global? Tell us about?


Brent Chinn  33:43

Yeah, they’re all clients in Indonesia at the moment. But our goal of our dream hopefully, is I don’t remember our remember our 25th anniversary. Mark Zuckerberg actually spoke right at our at our 50th was 25th. Yes. And yeah, ironically, yeah, my hope is at some point, I get the chance to show him how we’re building applications, how in Indonesia, and how, you know, he can do if he changes his business model, and sees how Indonesians are using the product. We can show how we want to be the first SaaS based software platform that can extend beyond Indonesia, but go to other markets like Brazil, Mexico. Even in Europe, I guess like the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, we who are all huge WhatsApp users. And I think that time is coming with now chat GDP everybody is going to see chat interfaces as a huge and primary way to interact and engage their customers. So we’re planting the seeds for that so that corporate companies can build out there own chat networks and be ready for for chat GDP are whatever should come down the pipeline in terms of AI, I guess that’s how I would put it.


Will Bachman  35:10

Tell us a bit about doing that now


Brent Chinn  35:11

for travel agents. So for travel agents, for example, it’s a complicated order process. It’s not like you click and buy like Amazon, one click, you need to be able to do a more sophisticated query, and they have to filter through the query, and then maybe people buy or maybe they don’t. And that’s where having an agent or being able to work, you know, an agent, having a co pilot that can pull the query for them makes a lot of sense. So we provide the rails for that to happen. And increase the productivity for the travel agents because they live in a very competitive market here, because it competing against the online travel agents. And so you’re going to have to justify your, your, your value add. So that’s what we do.


Will Bachman  35:55

So tell us just a bit about living in Indonesia for the past two and a half decades and, you know, family, friends, and just what it’s like, you know, growing, you’re kind of living your adult life and a place far from where you grew up.


Brent Chinn  36:14

Yeah, I guess never would have thought I’d come to Jakarta. And I don’t think anybody says, hey, I want to move to Jakarta. I think that it’s grown on me as a city, and you build a community, I think you learn to, to identify and love the community that you’re in. And this is the one city I’ve lived in the most. Since graduation, I went to variety different cities, Connecticut, San Francisco, Boston. But this is now Jakarta is where I call home. I’m from Seattle originally. And I do miss people. But it’s also given me a perspective. There are other I think there’s someone to class 91 has out here with me. There’s a few other people not a lot. There’s a bunch more in Singapore. But you know, I’m still in contact with my Harvard buddies. In fact, I’m going next month to go cat I’m going back to us and go camping with him and Arcadia National Park in Maine. So I have a chance to see a bunch of guys I hang out with from Harvard. And I’m really looking forward to that. But yeah, I think when you find your community and you find your mission, I think I’m I’m thankful that as I mentioned, I wanted to work in the Pacific Rim, I wanted to have my own company, I’m doing those things, maybe not, as in the way that I thought, maybe not as in the successfully or, you know, not the under the metrics that I had thought I originally wanted. But you know, I’m looking at it, I’m good with it. I’m good with where I am. And I just, I’m fortunate to have found my space, after so many years, and I feel that I can add value doing what I’m doing helping Indonesians get more productive and learn to be competitive. And at some point, Indonesia is going to shine. And that’s what I really want to do is to help this country, I feel I can have a chance to be an advocate for the country to let other people know, hey, yeah. And Indonesia has done a lot of these things. And you know, they’re not bad at it. They’re good at it. And I think we need more of that sense of positivity in the world. And I think Indonesia can provide some of that because they shake their head actually what’s going on in the US. And it’s a shame when you you have that perspective out here. When we first came out here, everyone looked at us as the model. But I think that the curtain has been drawn back and now the Wizard of Oz is seen and it’s a bit of a letdown. What can we say?


Will Bachman  38:52

So how do you spend your time in Jakarta? You know, you mentioned that you’re going camping with friends in the US? Is it in terms of you know, cultural life in the city or, you know, a lot of time outdoors or, you know, going out with friends tell us a bit about just what what what life is likely there any kind of hobbies you have are?


Brent Chinn  39:15

Sure it’s a big city. So there’s lots of people with different interests. But there are a lot of parks. And I think when you live in the tropics, you don’t have the diversity of of ecological things that you may have in the US. So the US has blast from that basically any ecological zone of the world. There’s a microcosm of it somewhere in United States. But I think that that doesn’t mean you can’t find community out here. This is the thing that third largest contiguous metropolitan area after the Pearl River Delta and then we have Tokyo Yokohama, and then we have the greater Jakarta area area of 30 million people, basically, the country of Malaysia is we’re bigger, you can drive from where I’m living right now in the middle of more or less than middle of Jakarta an hour in any direction. And there’ll be 30 million people in that zone. And that’s more than the total population of Malaysia, which is only 28 million. So is a huge metropolitan area.


Will Bachman  40:24

So we visit in Jakarta, just Jakarta? Uh huh. You know, people everybody knows, okay, Bali, right. But if you visit Jakarta, what are the sort of under the radar things that you would totally recommend that you would take a friend to is? Sure, not necessarily the major, most famous sites, but what are the things to do in Jakarta? If we, you know, Oh, yeah.


Brent Chinn  40:45

I mean, if you come out to Asia, I think every major metropolitan area number one thing is, it’s newer than the United States. Everything is maybe 10 years old. And in Indonesia, and Jakarta in particular, there’s been this huge growth of, of infrastructure just in the past 10 years under the joke we presidency. And so there’s this explosion of malls public transport, they just finished building their light rail system. And so and the food, there’s, you know, here you have all the variety that you have from United States. But you also have the unique ethnic food in a really amazing way. They all the organic things that you would buy in Whole Foods, you can find here at a much more reasonable price and the supply chain, the cold chain has improved so much in Indonesia. And I think, living here over the past five years, and then within the last five years, there’s very little that you’re missing, compared to when I was here in 1996. I think back then, people were thinking, Oh, you got to go to Singapore to get something good or go to Bangkok. But I don’t think people feel that way anymore about Indonesia, about Jakarta. It’s got a fantastic food scene. There’s lots of rooftop bars, the music seems pretty good. And it’s a safe place. People feel safe. It’s not. It’s people pretty laid back, relatively speaking.


Will Bachman  42:31

What are two or three local foods that anyone visiting Jakarta has to try?


Brent Chinn  42:39

Oh, okay. These are so many. I think if you never, there’s these weird tropical fruits that don’t, they’re not allowed to come to the US, then those are the ones you would like to try. So the king is called durian King tropical fruit, which is a spiky fruit that people either they love it or they hate it because it’s smells like stinky cheese. But if you eat it, it has a completely different taste in your mouth. That’s one. And then the F the king tropical fruit the queen is called mango steam, which is this fantastic. Trudeau has his deep purple shell and then but the most part that you actually eat is a pod that’s inside. And it’s this light, white colored very delicate flesh. And it just has this very remarkable sweet explosion tastes as that’s it, there’s no other tastes like it. And it’s an amazing taste. It’s I wish I could explain it to you, but I can’t you have to just try it yourself. And you know, that’s just to have a may have a number of amazing other types of things you can find here in the tropics, and we haven’t even gotten to the national dishes of Indonesia, but they’re all complex. There’s everything from steam to fried to boiled, very, very elaborate. And a lot of it is amazing. I think if you’re someone who isn’t a food adventurer, this is where you come because you’re going to taste things that you wouldn’t experience or taste in the US because it’s such a different palette that you you build out here. And then I mean, it’s gonna come I think the there’s a lot of people have tried Southeast Asian food and I think, you know, like in New York, I think, what’s his name? There was somebody had built a food Hawker stall in New York City that sells Anthony Anthony Bourdain is part nerves if I understand correctly built and it was one of Anthony Bourdain, his last projects was to build a hawker stand in. In New York City where you can have Southeast Asian food, unfortunately, super overpriced, but yeah, those flavors are coming to America. And I think that but coming out here it you just have a real it’s a foodies delight. I don’t know how


Will Bachman  45:28

to put it. All right. I feel like booking my ticket right now.


Brent Chinn  45:31

Now, you should come on out. Absolutely. Great. You’d have a great time. And I think but you have to think about this. You know, I think the biggest thing I learned is there, people who can’t survive three years overseas, and I don’t think it’s just Jakarta. I think it’s a lot of places because they’re always comparing it with the US. And those are the people end up getting food poisoning getting sick. They’re the ones getting scared, and something unlucky happens to them. But there’s another group of people who say, you know, I’m just going to go with the flow, learn with the locals do I’m just going to follow them. I’m going to eat with the locals eat. And they’re just absolutely fine. Have a blast. That doesn’t mean nothing, you know, you don’t get sick or stuff. But you don’t you get over it and you keep going. And guess what? After you blink and you 20 years have passed, and you just had an amazing time, like every day is something new. I think that’s that’s our I exceed experience out here it because there’s so many cultures, so many different experiences, people’s point of view, and all of it done in a very graceful, not in your face. Very, very gentle way. And I think it’s I when I go back to the US, I realized that America, that’s not part of its DNA is this idea of being gentle, and quiet and understated. And it’s becoming less and less like that. I don’t know if it ever was like that. But I think those are more the qualities that are valued in Indonesian ticular.


Will Bachman  47:08

Brand, I want to ask you about college. Are there any shore courses or professors that you had at Harvard, that continue to resonate with you?


Brent Chinn  47:19

You know, it’s one of those things where it’s never what you thought you want to study. And no, all I can say is I took all these AP classes, and Martin Feldstein and we were studying at the time shareholders always right maximize shareholder value. And a lot of my views at the time was based on those things. And I don’t feel those things ended up being very valuable later. In fact, they cause perhaps more problems in the financial markets. And I would like to admit that, but that’s really what happened, and people justified it under those theories. The one thing I does stick with me is when I moved into technology, is a class I took on ancient Chinese art, I do a Ming. And it was actually one of the core classes I was supposed to take it wasn’t particularly EAS space, but it just happened to be a space, but it was one of the core. And basically, it talks about how people view technology, but back from the Bronze Age. So back when you had clay pots, people were making things that look like clay pots, because that’s what the material was like. And then they discovered bronze. But for like for hundreds of years, they made the bronze pots just like the clay pots because they thought oh, this is just a shiny type of clay. And then they realized that you can scratch you can stretch the copper and it stayed in hold that shape. And then they realized they could make all different kinds of stuff. And it suddenly the pot became completely different. And that’s sort of like what AI is about. That’s sort of what technology is about. And that’s why coming out in Southeast Asia is also interesting, because you see how people take the technology and it’s completely a different paradigm than what they will use the US and say, oh my God really doing with it. And but it works. And then you become humbling, say, Hey, I’m seeing it completely differently. Or you realize you got to make sure that other people also can have a pliable mind and see how the technology can be used and that incite that. You’re going to have to look at something but realize that there are features of it that allow you to do something completely different. It’s not just a shinier version of x. That has helped me in my job now because what we’re trying to do is say, Hey, here’s something like chat application, something called WhatsApp. How can we use this in innovative ways in order to increase productivity and Do it. It’ll break what it was originally designed. It was originally designed to let two people talk with each other. Right? That was it. But that’s not where it’s going. And we know that with chat GDP already, but I’ve been doing this now and seeing how it’s evolving. That’s exciting. And I think that is the biggest lesson I learned from, from Harvard, at least that’s the one I remember a lot comes back over and over again, hey, you know, this is a person who realized that I can take this and if I change the paradigm, you know, it can do something amazing. And people were like, Oh, I had no idea you could do that. And that’s exactly what you got to do.


Will Bachman  50:39

Brent, share some links with us, for people that want to find out and follow up with what your got working on, either to your firm or anything else. Where can people find you online?


Brent Chinn  50:52

Oh, my gosh, well, you can just, you can find me on LinkedIn, I answer those messages. You can find me there. There’ll be links to my firm. From there, you can find out a little bit more about me. at LinkedIn, I keep that profile pretty up to date. And happy if anyone in the class 92 wants to know a little bit about coming out to Indonesia, maybe going out to Bali, you know, no bad things about barley. It’s a great place, but there’s just so much more. You should go out to Lone bulk if you go out to Komodo Island see the Komodo dragons if you’ve heard of Komodo dragons, fantastic. But yeah, Jakarta. I think if you had no expectations, that’s the that’s the time to come. Visit tecarta Be happy surprise.


Will Bachman  51:34

And Brent will throw you a barbecue a summer barbecue and


Brent Chinn  51:41

barbecue. We’ll do a summer barbecue in your honor. That’s right.


Will Bachman  51:45

summer barbecue in Jakarta. Brent, thank you so much for joining. This was a fantastic discussion. It was so great to reconnect a lot


Brent Chinn  51:53

of fun. All right, thank you. Absolutely. And we just all the best in the class 92 Take care