East and Southeast Asian nations lag behind in sex education and awareness. For some, even the simple act of acquiring personal care and intimate goods can be a daunting process.
So when Grace Natalia and her husband William Tunggaldjaja introduced Asmaraku in 2015, many were surprised yet intrigued by their concept. Asmaraku, which translates to “my romance” in the Indonesian language, is a marketplace that focuses on romance. According to Grace, romance sits between the fashion, health, and adult categories. That being said, the platform lists products that can improve a customer’s romantic and love life, from flowers to lubricants.
For this week’s entry of “Women in Tech,” KrASIA spoke to Grace about Asmaraku and the challenges in introducing this unique vertical to the Indonesian market.
KrASIA (K): How did you get your start in the digital industry?
Grace Natalia (N): It all started in 2012, when I was hired by Rocket Internet as a venture development manager. From there, I was entrusted with launching Lazada Marketplace in Indonesia. Online marketplaces and e-commerce weren’t as big as they are now. So I really started from scratch, from building the concept and structure, to approaching suppliers, hiring the local team, and so on. That’s how I learned to start a business.
K: Where did you get the idea for Asmaraku?
N: The idea came when I was working in Lazada. At that time, several girlfriends and I were planning a bachelorette party for our best friend who was about to get married. We wanted to buy a “sexy” gift as a joke, and we bought it at a big and well-known pharmacy in Jakarta. The experience of buying that gift was terrible. We were embarrassed when asking about the product and we felt that everyone judged us when we were paying for the item at the cashier.
E-commerce was just starting to grow back then and I realized that many people still preferred to shop offline for clothing or household appliances as they can try them before buying. However, most Indonesians are not comfortable with buying personal care products or intimate goods like condoms, lubricants, or fertility supplements directly from a store. I saw a gap in this market as purchasing private items here can be much more convenient through an online store.
K: Other marketplace sites also sell these items, what is your added value?
N: Privacy is a key aspect of Asmaraku. The products are packed in two layers in a plain envelope and box, the shipping label doesn’t contain information that points to Asmaraku, and the packages’ contents are marked as “accessories” to avoid unwanted attention.We’re also collaborating with automated parcel locker company Popbox, so customers can receive their orders at the most convenient locations.
The website has a privacy button feature that will divert the computer screen to other images that are unrelated to Asmaraku, so customers don’t need to worry when they browse through our website at the office or in public places.
Moreover, safety is also very important for us. All products at Asmaraku have an FDA certificate, and we’re also the direct distributor of the products we sell so that we can ensure their authenticity. The strategy works. According to our customer survey, they don’t mind paying a little more as long as their privacy is guaranteed—this is something that they don’t get from other marketplace platforms.
K: Who are your customers?
N: Mostly newlyweds. In addition to personal needs products, we also sell flowers and honeymoon packages. The portal has a blog that contains articles and information relating to marriage, sex, and reproductive health to increase our customers’ awareness in those areas.
K: As a woman in the digital sector, what unique challenges have you encountered?
N: Since most of the suppliers in Asmaraku are male, they were initially reluctant to discuss sex-related products with me. But I think it was more because the Indonesian culture is not really open to discussions about sex yet.
Other than that, I had never experienced any kind of gender discrimination or limitations in my career. At Asmaraku, 60% of my team are women. Reflecting on them, I see that many women have a tendency to doubt themselves when given a new or big project, so they need to be motivated to become more confident. Sometimes limitations come from ourselves, not from the environment. I think the current digital industry is open to anyone, regardless of their gender and status, but we must learn to be bold and always be ready to face any new challenges in order to be successful.
This article is part of “Women in Tech”, a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind Southeast Asia’s tech startups.