“Nowadays, love is no longer chemical, it’s digital,” says Christian Sugiono. Prestige meets up with the handsome and charismatic 35-year-old technopreneur in a music studio in Kebayoran Baru, south Jakarta. Gearing up for a typically busy Monday, he is supervising video production for MBDC Media, an online media company focusing on original creative digital content, publishing and video productions. He founded the company six years ago and he is the CEO.
Better known as an actor and model, Sugiono’s passion for tech might have been overshadowed by his entertainment career. But that has not stopped him from carving out niches in the online media and matchmaking businesses. As its “Evangelist” (a term used for top marketing positions in start-ups), he helped launch Setipe in 2013.
Offering the prospect of finding “healthy relationships for everyone”, Setipe is possibly the first matchmaking website in Indonesia to use a psychology-engineered algorithm to help its clients find their life partners. In 2015, the company – which claims to be “Indonesia’s biggest and most trusted online dating service” – was one of seven Indonesian start-ups chosen for Google’s Launchpad Accelerator programme.
This is an initiative to empower founders by supporting their start-ups through mentorship and equity-free support. The Setipe app is downloadable from both Google Play and Apple’s iTunes store.
“The idea for Setipe came in the same year I founded MBDC in 2011,” says Sugiono. “I wanted to bring something new to Indonesia, and that was an online dating service that was private, safer and committed to helping you build a healthy long-term relationship.”
Setpie’s matchmaking engine introduces clients to compatible singles through a psychology-engineered algorithm that considers their demographic, preferences, socio-economic status and personal values, as well as personality and compatibility factors.
“In the process, you will also understand yourself better through a comprehensive personality report prepared by our team of certified psychologists,” says Sugiono, who is an IT graduate of Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg in Germany.
He subsequently met Razi Thalib, who was one of the founders of Zalora Indonesia and would go on to become the CEO of Setipe; Kevin Aluwi, who eventually left the company to co-found Go-Jek; and Pingkan Rumondor, a psychologist.
“We were aware that the internet makes everything possible, so why not create a way to find a soul mate online?” says Sugiono of the team’s initial thinking. “We wanted to create an opportunity for singles to find a partner through the internet. It’s as simple as that. Razi had experience with an Australian online dating site, so he knew how the business worked. Our middle class is very tech-savvy and mobile. So rather than whining in social media about how hard it is to find a partner, why don’t we use our smartphone to solve that problem?”
Sugiono admits that it wasn’t easy to make his online dating business work in Indonesia, mostly for cultural reasons. “Most people think online dating is a form of desperation,” he says. “They don’t think it’s possible to use it to find a long-term relationship leading to marriage. Our biggest challenge is the culture. In Indonesia, it is unusual to hang out with people outside our circle of friends. We only want to befriend someone who isn’t random. She or he must be a friend of a friend or family. With Setipe, we want to show that your life partner or soul mate need not come from your immediate circle of friends. We expand your circle and also expand
the possibility to find a partner. The second biggest challenge is to eliminate scammers. Fortunately, our system is capable of doing so.”
Unlike other platforms, Setipe operates like a traditional matchmaker who values the privacy of his or her customers. It assures its users that their profiles on Setipe will be kept strictly confidential. No one can Google-search their Setipe profile, for instance. Users won’t know each other unless the system has decided that they are a match.
“Every registered user has to answer around 100 questions and after that they will receive a personality report,” says Sugiono. “Pingkan designed the questions based on five filters: demography, preference, personality, match and socio-economics.
Our system does the matching process based on the answers. This psychology approach eliminates sleazy people and scammers. We provide healthy relationships for everyone. That’s why most of our users are the ones who are looking for a serious relationship. We don’t consider Setipe to be just a dating site. It’s more than that, it’s an online matchmaking service.”
Setipe claims to have more than 600,000 users and 5 million matches, and to have married off more than 130 couples. “This is one of our proudest and most rewarding achievements,” says Sugiono.
Although its track record is excellent for a start-up, Setipe hasn’t been monetised yet. “We are still focused on increasing the number of users,” says Sugiono. “The site is not yet profitable, but we are optimistic that it will grow into a great business someday. I can say this because traditional matchmaking has been around for years and is very profitable. So far, we see three options to make profits: through paid subscriptions, selling premium features and advertising. But we haven’t finalised anything yet in terms of our business model.”
Sugiono might have co-founded a successful digital matchmaking business, but when Prestige asks if he has ever used dated online himself he laughs. “I’ve been with Titi (actress and model Titi Kamal, whom he married in 2009) for years,” says the father of three-year-old son Arjuna Zayan Sugiono.
“I did try some sites, but only to learn how they work – the flow and the content. But if I were single, I would definitely try it, because it’s fun. You can meet a lot of new people from different backgrounds. It doesn’t have to be just dating, but to find new friends as well. Isn’t it amazing how technology can bring you closer to someone who’s living far away and that person is matched to your personality?
The interesting thing that I found with doing the Setipe project is that there are a lot of twenty-somethings who are doing ‘quick moves’. Most of our users who fall in love decide to get married within less than six months. Well, that’s what we wanted in the first place – a serious relationship!”
How did Sugiono meet his wife? “I saw her photo in a magazine and I asked a friend to help meet us up,” he laughs. “At that time, Titi was a model in teenage magazines and one magazine had an event at my high school. The event was watching movies together in a theatre. My friend set me up to sit beside Titi. It was some kind of blind date, I guess. I still remember the programme. It was Never Been Kissed, followed by The Matrix. A month after that we became a couple, and five months later I went to college in Germany. We had a long-distance relationship for a couple of years. Although there were ups and downs, we finally got married in 2009.”
Referring to Sugiono’s love story – married to his high-school sweetheart and then living happily ever after – it seems the “instant couple” idea isn’t his cup of tea. “Indeed, love is digital nowadays, but it still needs a process to build,” he says. “Although our algorithm says you are matched 100 percent to someone, if you don’t make any effort to build the relationship then it won’t work. I don’t believe in love at first sight. Love should make you do crazy things. It should make you do something that you wouldn’t normally do. As for Setipe, what’s most intriguing for me is the way technology can enhance people’s lives, even in intangible areas like relationships.” Isn’t online dating too “easy” a way to find a partner, thereby somehow reducing the value of a “real” relationship? “No, it’s not,” says Sugiono.
“We only digitalise the meeting process and create a short cut to finding a potential partner. When the matched couple finally meet, it’s still person-to-person. They have to work it out and make some effort. Love can be digital, but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless.”