Spotlight: Hendy Sentiono

Male smiling. (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

Hendy Setiono, 31
Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia
Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember
Informatics Academy
President, Baba Rafi

Like most teenagers, Hendy Setiono wanted to earn money in his spare time. But unlike many, he strategically looked for ways to turn his hobbies into profitable ventures. In secondary school, he and his friends loved riding motorbikes, so he started a business to sell motorbike accessories.

Setiono was always on the lookout for his next business idea. Some sputtered, but offered him important lessons. After secondary school, he opened a burger joint, but it didn’t stay open long because of management problems. Setiono values his failed attempts almost as much as his successes. He said that when things went wrong, he learned that a successful business is a process, not an overnight endeavor.

His startups taught him better than any university lecturer or textbook. He enjoys going by his gut when he has a business idea, but also sees hands-on experience as important. “Gut feel and business intuition are harnessed by experience,” Setiono said.

An unlikely inspiration

Although many of Setiono’s business ideas stem from his personal interests, the inspiration for his breakthrough success came from something unfamiliar: kebabs.

When he was 19 years old, during a trip to Doha, Qatar, Setiono tasted and “fell in love with the ubiquitous kebab.” The popularity of the Middle Eastern dish amazed him. He decided to import it back home to Indonesia.

Setiono borrowed 400 American dollars from his sister to build a kebab pushcart, which he towed through the streets of Surabaya. In the early days, he modified the kebab to fit the preferences of Indonesians, swapping in familiar spices and using beef or chicken instead of lamb. His version of the kebab became a smash hit with the locals.

“After being open for one week, the lines were so long that another three stands were built within the year,” said Setiono, who named the business Baba Rafi.

Setiono built his brand through advertising and adding new locations. Within a few years, Baba Rafi was growing by leaps and bounds. Setiono took the step of introducing a franchise model at industry fairs to attract more investment.

“I couldn’t imagine the business that started from a plain white pushcart would become the world’s biggest kebab franchise,” Setiono said. He now manages 1,100 kebab carts and employs 1,600 people.

Male holding food. (Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

Looking forward

After a decade of conquering Indonesia with kebabs, Setiono is setting his sights on other regions. He’s testing the market in Amsterdam, which he hopes will be a launching pad into the rest of Europe.

It’s an ambitious road to travel, one that comes marked with considerable stress for Setiono. As a husband and father of three children, he credits balancing home life with work responsibilities for helping him to not become overwhelmed in the office. Outside of family time, Setiono also enjoys mentoring aspiring business owners through seminars.

“It’s part of my passion because I love to share my skills and experiences, especially with young people.”