Nigel Hembrow: On the relevance of Jakarta for Australia 


Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance  

Nigel Hembrow has been living in Asia since 2010, making the move to Jakarta 12 months ago. As the CEO and Co-Founder of Astronaut Technologies, Nigel firmly believes that video-selfies will fundamentally change many business processes for the better, recruitment in particular. Advance caught up with Nigel to hear about how his business pivoted, why he moved to Jakarta, and what it takes to make the most out of living in Indonesia’s capital.

How did you wind up in Jakarta from the Gold Coast? 

It’s a been a bit of a journey! I grew up on the Gold Coast, studied in Brisbane, worked in London before doing a bit of backpacking around the world. I completed my MBA in Melbourne, then moved to Singapore to work in early-stage ventures, which took me to India a lot. I met my wife in Singapore, she is originally from Indonesia, she was getting her Ph.D. and working at a university there.

My experience in India made me see the opportunity to build high-potential enterprise software companies by focusing on building a great team. We were growing the business, but then my wife and I were very happy to find out we were expecting a baby, and so we moved to Jakarta to be closer to her parents, and consequently shifted the commercial focus of the business from Singapore to Indonesia.

How long have you been there for now?

I've been in Jakarta for about a year. Before that, I lived in Singapore for six years.

Do you get back to Australia often?

Yes, regularly. There were some years I went once a year, some years I went four times a year. I was in Australia a week ago, and I'll be in Australia in two weeks from now. It depends on events and family as well, but Indonesia's pretty close, it's not that difficult to get home.

What role do you think Jakarta plays in the Asia-Pacific?

There are a few different things there. In the context of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Indonesia is the most populous country, therefore it's the biggest market. More widely, it has such an interesting, rich, multicultural history that includes an element of colonialism and as a result, the nation has developed a rich sense of independence.

I think as the country grows in power and as it builds stronger international ties it will become an even more relevant country economically within the region, but particularly for Australia.

One of the things that I see as an entrepreneur is the strong analogies between Indonesia and India. In many ways, they're similar markets in terms of the age distribution, wealth distribution, and everything that comes from that in terms of consumer behaviour and style. The Indian diaspora is much wider, but the Indonesian diaspora is actually quite spread out across the world as well. As a group the diaspora are becoming more significant, both politically and economically.

When you were in the infancy of your career, did you want to live and work overseas? Was it always on the cards for you?

When I was starting my professional career, it was very easy to make the decision to go and work in Europe, particularly in London. I definitely challenged myself early on to really think what I was truly passionate about. After moving to London, and then particularly after studying an MBA with such an internationally diverse group (which included an exchange program in Shanghai), that's when I really started to think about living in Asia more seriously.

I've never been afraid to travel, I've always considered myself lucky to be exposed to it.

How would you describe your quality of life in Jakarta compared to living in Australia?

Obviously, they're different. I think the complexities and the diversity of humanity and culture, and certainly the energy that comes along with a rising economy and more young entrepreneurs doing interesting things, is very prevalent here. It's incredibly vibrant. However, you don't have access to the same kind of things you would in Australia in terms of parks and sporting facilities and living spaces. I think they only really become a significant factor when you have kids, and you're thinking about what you want them to have access to.

What opportunities are readily available in Jakarta that may not be available in other cities around the world, particularly Australia? What doors really opened for you once you started living there?

If you've got a clear vision around something you want to build, you can build it here. You can build a team, a company, there are more than enough resources here to make that happen. Here you are much more exposed to changing world dynamics; people are much more connected on mobile, for example. There's a lot more digital connection here than in other markets, including Australia. 

I am quite interested in and passionate about helping build a bridge between Australia and Indonesia in terms of people to people relationships, business opportunities, innovation, and general awareness of the two markets, particularly Australians being more aware of Indonesia. The opportunities that exist at the moment within the market in Indonesia are very real in the digital space. If you are building enterprise software, INTEC, e-commerce companies, it is quite an exciting place for entrepreneurs. My company, Astronaut Technologies, is a recruitment platform that integrates with jobs boards and applicant tracking systems and allows companies to undertake recruitment rapidly by video selfies and using asynchronous communications.

It's a very exciting place to be able to grow our business and I love living here. I haven't yet had a chance to explore all the other amazing parts of Indonesia yet, which is a bit of a disappointment for me. I know I'll get there, I'm going to be associated with the country for my whole life.

Where do you hope your business to be in 10 years?

We want to do most of our growth within the next couple of years. The nature of our business model and the nature of our product allows us to be able to do that.

I’m definitely getting smarter with age, so it'll certainly be pretty exciting! No doubt, one of the things that I enjoy most in this business is being able to mentor young future leaders, both from within my business and if they want to leave Astronaut and start their own company, that's also totally rewarding for me. That's a big focus of what I do, and I know with that approach that my business will be successful and my time will be well-spent.