Andy Sjarif: IT Entrepreneur Challenging Google Inc.

WHILE previously Internet users were passive, in the current Web 2.0 era is marked by the presence of various social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Kaskus, Plurk, Koprol, Foursquare and many others, they are becoming more interactive because the usage is no longer limited to desktops and notebooks but has expanded to hand-held mobile gadgets like BlackBerry, iPhone as well as iPad.

There is a huge social media phenomenon taking place in Indonesia with more than 26 million users placing Indonesia in the third position of the world among Facebook’s largest users just below the United States and England. Indonesia is also Asia’s largest user of Twitter while Jakarta, the country’s capital city, is the Tweet capital of Asia, not only due to the number of users but also its contribution of topic trending on Twitter from Indonesia.

Andy Sjarif, Group CEO of SITTI, describes the digital lifestyle sparked by the phenomenal presence of such social media. “There will be more dramatic changes to human lives caused by the digital world, including the social media. Google has grown from a company that earned Rp 2 billion to a current Rp 230 trillion within just 10 years. Facebook is a “country” with a population number totaling more than 500 million. Twitter is a “home” with millions of broadcasters and millions of aspirations and opinions,” he said.

Social media is not only a social network but a business network as well. It is not surprising therefore that many companies and individuals use this media as a tool to enhance their marketing strategy and popularity. The effective use of this media is a key strategy for marketing and public relations.

The unique development of social media has spurred SITTI in collaboration with OMG Consultant as well as SWA magazine to boldly make a ranking of brands along with influential personalities in the virtual world here for the first time and dubbed them “Champions of Social Media 2010”. “The methodology is not a sampling as is used in research, but this is a census,” he explained.

This is only one of SITTI’s activities because SITTI itself is an Indonesian search engine that has the capability to read more than 600 million Web pages in Indonesian language. Armed with SITTI, Andy Sjarif dares to challenge Google Inc., the most popular search engine provider in the world. “We are not fighting its search engine service, but the contextual advertisement platform like AdSense and AdWord,” said Andy, who is now 39.

According to Andy, in terms of search engines Google is indeed the champion, no doubt. He said that Google gains profit not from its search engine but the revenue from the ads that can present content according to the context of the Web page or as a result of search by Internet users. “Contextual advertising is where we challenge Google,” said the graduate of Business Administration (BBA) from the University of Missouri in Kansas City (1993) and the MBA holder specializing in Direct Marketing and International Business from University of Missouri in Kansas City (1995)

Andy is no stranger to the advertising world because he is an expert in CRM analysis. For more than 10 years, his experiences in CRM analytics and database-driven marketing blended entrepreneur, client and agency. From the agency side, Andy was a part of a 200 million advertising agency in the U.S. From the client side, he has worked with a number of CRM firms and advertising agencies across the US providing solutions for his clients. As an entrepreneur, Andy was owner of his own CRM and database marketing consulting firm where many Fortune 500 clients were listed as his clients.

Andy is quite confident that SITTI’s engine can compete with Google’s especially for Webs and blogs in Indonesian language. To test the capability of its engine SITTI collaborated with a local website for more than a month from Oct. 1 to Nov. 5, 2010, and succeeded in indexing more than 600 million Indonesian language sites and was able to present 330 advertisements of 529 brands.

In addition, SITTI placed the same ads on Google AdWord for the same period using the same keywords to compare and measure the effectiveness of SITTI’s engine in presenting contextual ads in relation to the Web pages opened or visited by Internet users.

And the result indicated that SITTI’s engine was more effective. From the impression measurement SITTI got a score of 86.5 percent while Google only 44.5 percent. Based on the total number of clicks SITTI received 51 percent while Google 49 percent. The CTR (click through ratio) of SITTI was 64.06 percent, while Google was just 20.57 percent. The other benchmarks were the same. All these have made SITTI feel more confident in competing against Google. “I hope that within the next two or three years there will be fierce rivalry for the networking ad platform,” said Andy. Because it has learned from millions of Web pages, SITTI now understands the context of sentences including teenagers’ slang.

He also hopes that Google becomes more serious about the Indonesian market and hence can contribute to the nation’s economy. According to him, Google should establish a representative office here in Indonesia, pay tax for its income from its revenue received from the Indonesian market as well as educate the small and medium enterprises so that they can avail of the advantages of the Internet.

However he admits that SITTI is much smaller than Google. Currently this newly established company has 25 employees and uses six servers. Just compare with Google which has indexed about 1 trillion Web pages in 126 languages. But Andy Sjarif is certain that SITTI can compete with the support of Indonesian community of Internet users.

“Actually this is not about SITTI fighting against or challenging Google but it’s about Indonesia challenging Google as many publishers believe in our ideas and numerous advertisers believe in us,” said the husband of Tiara Lestari and the father of daughter Rania Kencana Tadya Dalima.

Indeed this is the first step, but it is quite possible that new IT entrepreneurs will be born here in Indonesia, and not just in Silicon Delta in the United States or Bangalore, India. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, January 22, 2011

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