After Martin Hartono finished his studies in the U.S. and returned to Jakarta in 1998, he took the well-worn route of joining the family business. He's one of three sons of Indonesia
's richest tycoon, R. Budi Hartono
, who's worth an estimated $15 billion, so the presumption was that one day he'd be heading a major part, if not all, of the family's Djarum Group.
Martin Hartono did spend a dozen years at Djarum, but it turned out to be a training ground for his true passion--starting and investing in Internet companies. His first job at Djarum was business technology director. "I always had a passion for technology," he says. "It started with playing computer games, and then when I was in the U.S., the Internet was just taking off and I loved to Web-surf."
So in 2010 he decided to start his own business, Global Digital Prima Venture, to invest in Internet companies. The move was made easier when his father agreed with his plans. "My dad supports us in whatever we do with passion," he says. "I think loving what you do is the best gift anyone can have."
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Hartono, now 39, had noticed the rise of Facebook
and Twitter, especially among young Indonesians; they now represent one of the largest communities on those sites worldwide. "When I saw Facebook and Twitter rising up so fast, I told myself something is happening here," he says. "One of the business tactics I have learned from my father was awareness of the right timing and the right place."
Since 2010 he has gone on a spending spree, buying minority or majority stakes in some of the country's hottest websites. He's armed with reportedly $100 million in capital, which easily would make Global Digital the country's largest Web-focused investment company.
His most high-profile investment was last January when he took a stake in Kaskus, the country's biggest website, with 4.8 million members and 20 million unique visitors a day. Another bet was on Infokost, which lists studio apartments in Jakarta known as "kost" that are popular with students and young, single professionals. Others are Blibli, a popular shopping site, and Bolabob, a sports site. "We believe in different brands," he says. "These days the browsing behaviors have changed; users don't stick to just one site."
He has also branched out into companies that feed off the Internet, such as Merah Cipta Media, a digital marketing agency in which he took a controlling stake in 2010. Merah Cipta's blue-chip customers include Microsoft
Hartono takes a long-term view, saying he can wait for at least five years for a return on his investment. One of the toughest problems, he says, is finding the right staff for his companies. Most Indonesians with IT skills look for jobs abroad because they're more interesting and better paid. "Right now our focus is to build a digital platform that users can relate to easily," he says. "When the Internet becomes more mature, more advertising will come in. Our eyes will soon see more computer screens than TV screens."