The idea of being an entrepreneur is quickly trivializing itself, and rightfully so. Over the past five years Indonesia—and the rest of the world for that matter—has become obsessed with the idea of telling all about how you are an entrepreneur or a social entrepreneur. We talk about it as if it were the air we breathe. It’s as if nowadays, you are only as good as your business idea.
We’re obsessed. So obsessed in fact, that rather than actually be an entrepreneur, we would rather talk about it. It is, after all, safe that way. People like to talk about success; what defines it, what it means to them. They love to talk about examples. For most people, talking is what they are good at. It’s the real work they struggle with. That is why we use words like “sustainable” and “innovative”, to pacify ourselves.
And while cafes and restaurants are packed with 20-somethings floating “the next big idea” to one another, there are people like Parman, a 63-year-old from Ciputat, who has been selling tissues, socks and face masks to fight the Kopaja smoke for the last two years in the shade of the Senayan bridge in Jakarta. That’s a real entrepreneur. The next generation could learn a few things from him.
Every morning, Parman sets up shop as the sun starts to warm the pavement. He usually packs it up around 2 or 3pm. Out in front of the tall office buildings, between the bustling foot traffic and blaring horns, he smiles and invites passersby to pick up tissues or a face mask. The socks are for emergencies. You never know when you are going to need an extra pair. Parman has thought of everything.
“I used to sell snacks,” he says with an avuncular grin. “But you would be surprised how tissues sell.”
See, that’s innovation. That is sustainability. Selling snacks wasn’t working out. Parman found that what people really wanted was tissues and face masks. The snacks went the way of travel agents and the horse-and-buggy. He adjusted to the market. And while everyone is preoccupied with telling everyone their business ideas, Parman simply went out and made it happen.
One of the most successful small business owners in Jakarta, a gentleman who owns a number of popular coffee shops once told me, “Entrepreneur is just a word. If you want to sell something, sell it. The guy who sells erasers, that’s an entrepreneur. That’s what people should be doing, trying stuff. Not just going to events and talking about what it would be like. Just go out and do it.”
And that’s exactly what Parman does. And he does it every day. Rain or shine, there he is. He’s a staple. Right along with the gorengan guy and the pack of ojek drivers, there sits Parman, smiling and outselling everyone around him.
Now that’s success.